Sunday, September 23, 2018
Politics

Berkeley Prep students express their conservative passion with web site

TAMPA — Three seniors from Berkeley Preparatory School decided last spring that the conservative message wasn't getting out among high school students.

They wanted to form a political club at school, they said, but the school doesn't allow political clubs. So they created their own online outlet.

The Conservative Nut, as the website is called, seems to be catching on like tax cuts in a red state. The site has about 70 mostly high school-age contributors from around the nation and other countries. Its co-founders — Tristan Yang, Glenn Shell and Brayden Jenkins, all 17 — say the site has garnered nearly 1 million views through Apple News and has about 10,000 regular followers on Instagram.

Articles found on the site, theconservativenut.gop, address such issues as political correctness in Hollywood, building up the Navy, preserving Confederate monuments and "borderline propaganda" on late-night TV shows. Sample headlines include: "Dissecting the Left's Confusion on North Korea," "The Paternalistic Democratic Party" and "Revitalize the American Worker! Cut Taxes!"

The presidential election boosted interest in politics among high school students, with liberals bashing the Republican agenda, according to the site's founders. Shell estimated that 75 percent of the politically aware students at Berkeley are liberals.

"We wanted to give a new perspective," he said.

They chose the Conservative Nut name to indicate that they are conservative fanatics. But conservative to a point. A key purpose of the organization is to "destigmatize" the Republican party and counter critics who accuse the party of being part of the "alt-right," racist and fascist.

"The Conservative Nut stands as a generally moderate Republican organization, which means that though we have strong roots and ties to our own traditional American beliefs, we still understand that Democrats and other parties shed truth and pragmatic solutions at times, and at times we must compromise," according to the website.

Yang said the site has received varied reactions from students and teachers. Some seem to be less cordial than before, he said. Others, including some teachers who don't share their philosophy, applaud the three for getting involved.

"We've actually seen great support," said Jenkins.

Conservative politicians have also shown their support by posing with the site's founders. The three are pictured with such prominent Republicans as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina; U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Florida gubernatorial hopeful and state Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs.

"The future of our great country is dependent on the leaders of tomorrow engaging in the development of creative solutions to challenges we face,'' Bilirakis said in a statement released by his office. "When I met with these particular students, they expressed their excitement about conservative principles and their desire to share their beliefs with their peers.

"I am reminded of my own start in the political arena, when I became passionate about the candidacy of Ronald Reagan and began volunteering on his campaign while in high school."

Yang, Shell and Jenkins say that in addition to "de-stigmatizing" the GOP, they want to promote civilized debate between Republicans and Democrats.

"If we don't listen to each other and work together, we will get nothing accomplished," Jenkins said.

The young men say they started forming their political views as early as elementary school. Yang mentioned the influence of a mock vote that his third-grade class held during the 2008 presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain, in which McCain won 97 percent of the vote.

All three are planning to attend college and all mentioned political science as a possible major, along with international relations, economics and law.

They likely will have a head start in college, having experienced the give and take of real-life politics while still high school students.

Contact Philip Morgan at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]

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