Among conservative pundits and celebrities, few have built as high a profile in as short a time as Candace Owens.
Prior to President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, Owens, who is black, briefly came out as an anti-bullying advocate who was inspired to the cause because of racist attacks she experienced as a teenager.
Since 2017, though, Owens has filled a specific niche as one of the president’s most visible African American supporters. She uses social media to critique and ridicule liberals and has stirred up controversy with some of her public comments.
A recent video Owens posted criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd angered liberals and largely cemented her role as the contrarian black conservative. But she has won fervent praise from conservative viewers for her unorthodox opinions regarding popular social causes and her quick, assertive style.
Candace Owens’ early years
Owens was raised by her grandparents in Stamford, Connecticut, following the divorce of her parents. While details about her family are scant, Owens has said that her grandfather, Robert Owens, grew up picking cotton in North Carolina but eventually started his own business and retired on the land where he had grown up.
As a high schooler, Owens’ family received a US$37,500 settlement payment from the Stamford Board of Education for having failed to protect Owens from racist attacks. Her family sued the school district for not doing anything after death threats as well as racist and sexual slurs were leveled at Owens in a series of voicemails.
The alleged callers were four white boys from her class, including the 14-year-old son of Stamford’s then-Mayor Dannel Malloy.
After high school, Owens studied journalism at the University of Rhode Island, but did not finish her degree, dropping out after her junior year due to an issue with her student loans. Following a stint with Vogue magazine, Owens says she worked at a private equity firm in Manhattan, eventually becoming vice president of their administration.
Candace Owens, the anti-Trump blogger
In 2015, Owens branched out with a friend to create the now-defunct marketing consulting website, degree180.com (still viewable via web archive). The site’s copy said, “Degree180 is the axis for change. We are a creative agency that is in step with the shifting consciousness of today’s world. We offer consultation, production, and planning services for our private clients.”
Included on the website was a blog that featured posts about body positivity and feminism, as well as one post by Owens entitled “We Are All Ignoring Donald Trump.” The entire post, from October 2015, reads:
“Dear Mexicans, (and everybody else offended by Donald Trump’s remarks) As an American, I want you to know that as is the case in most countries, people with a public voice many times misrepresent the public. We are not a racist country and we are all aware that this country was founded by immigrants. We appreciate all of your hard work, and we apologize on behalf [sic] his lost soul. With the exception of Native Americans, of which there are very few remaining, no one has the right to state vicious [sic] claim to America. Let’s see if we can work together to find a more viable solution to all of these border issues. We hear you and we see you and we want to help you.”
Candace Owens, the anti-bullying advocate
After Degree180 shuttered, Owens joined a group of women to launch an anti-cyberbullying and troll website, called SocialAutopsy.com. In a 2016 interview with the Connecticut Post, Owens referred to the racist bullying she experienced as a teenager as the impetus for tackling cyberbullying.
The website was intended to be a suppository for publicly made online comments. It would have allowed social media users to upload screenshots of offensive or bullying comments, which then could be discovered by Social Autopsy’s database of people. Critics pointed out that the site would make it easy to dox people and could become a serious, and perhaps legal, risk to online privacy.
Owens launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise US$75,000 for the website that would “put an end to [online-bullying] once and for all.” The campaign received 54 backers and US$4,244 in pledged donations.
In response to the venture’s struggles, Owens turned to Twitter where she claimed that the site’s failure was the result of a concerted conspiracy against her and Social Autopsy. Owens tweeted a series of accusations alleging that outside parties were trying to sabotage the effort.
Candace Owens, the Trump supporter
Since the collapse of Social Autopsy, Owens has embraced a new identity: a Trump-supporting, outspoken conservative who happens to also be black. She has built up a following of millions across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Her videos frequently criticize the black community as well as white liberals and other opponents of Trump.
Her praise of the president got his attention. In June 2018, Owens met with Trump at the White House, posting a picture of the encounter on Twitter with the caption, “This is the greatest President of our lifetime. As a matter of fact, not opinion.” She regularly includes #MAGA in her tweets and the rapper Kanye West, another vocal black supporter of Trump, has become a fan.
Owens has twice spoken before a committee for the House of Representatives. In April 2019, she appeared at the “Hate Crimes and White Nationalism” hearing at which she stated that “Democrat policies” did more harm to black people than white nationalism.
In September 2019, she returned to the House to speak at the “Confronting White Supremacy” hearing. There, she reiterated her criticism of Democrats, saying “Black Americans are basically used as props” by the party.
Controversial comments on nationalism and Hitler
In 2019, Owens was widely criticized for comments she made at a December 2018 Turning Point UK meeting in London. In a response about nationalism, she seemed to give an uncritical assessment of Adolf Hitler that suggested his actions were “fine” up until he invaded other countries.
“I actually don’t have any problems at all with the word ‘nationalism’. I think that it gets … the definition gets poisoned by elitists that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want. Whenever we say ‘nationalism’ the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. You know, he was a national socialist, but if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, okay, fine. The problem is that he wanted… he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize. He wanted everybody to be German, everybody to be speaking German. Everybody to look a different way. That’s not, to me, that’s not nationalism. So, in thinking about how we could go bad down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism, I really don’t. I think it’s important to retain your country’s identity.”
Owens responded to the backlash her comments elicited by saying that she didn’t think nationalism and Hitler should be conflated.
Candace Owens criticizes George Floyd
Owens has once again stirred up controversy in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that have broken out after a black man, George Floyd, was killed by a white police officer.
On June 3, Owens uploaded a Facebook video with the title, “Confession: I DO NOT support George Floyd and I refuse to see him as a martyr. But I hope his family receives justice.” In the nearly 20-minute video, she calls Floyd a criminal and reads through his “rap sheet” of criminal convictions. She says the Black Lives Matter narrative is purely political and only an “election year” issue.
After acknowledging that the white police officer, Derek Chauvin, should be punished for what he did, Owens states, “I also am not going to accept the narrative that [George Floyd] is the best that the black community has to offer.” She goes on to say that black people are their own “biggest problem” but they don’t admit it.
In response to her video, GoFundMe canceled a campaign Owens started for the Parkside Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama. The owner, Michael Dykes, sent out text messages saying that Floyd was a thug and that protesters were idiots. After Parkside employees shared the texts, three employees quit and a social media backlash resulted.
Owens’ GoFundMe campaign was intended to support the bar through the backlash.
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