It’s a Wednesday morning at Liberty University and the basketball arena is packed with nearly 10,000 people. Students reach their arms skyward, eyes closed, entranced in deafening Christian rock music.
Backstage, administrators and students dote on Candace Owens, that day’s convocation speaker, who has quickly built a career trashing liberal politics with a millennial fierceness. She hasn’t rehearsed. It protects her authenticity. But she knows her beats.
Onstage, she speaks for about 24 minutes, calmly gliding back and forth across the stage in heels, attacking some of her usual targets: Planned Parenthood, feminism, the welfare system.
She builds to the moment. Then, she goes for it.
“Kanye West. Man, he’s a wonderful man,” she says to applause and cheering — breaking the quiet of what had become a calm, attentive audience.
“What is it that President Donald Trump, Kanye West and Candace Owens have in common?” she asks rhetorically. “Kanye West describes it as ‘dragon energy’ and to me I think it’s individualism. It’s believing in yourself. It’s standing up in the face of everybody telling you you can’t.”
Owens embraces her role as the young black woman defending conservatism, attacking liberals and praising two of America’s more complicated men.
Since April when West tweeted, “I love the way Candace Owens thinks,” she has never been far behind the star, playing his chief defender as he lurched from one controversial headline to the next. She accompanied West to TMZ when he said slavery “sounds like a choice” and posted a photo of herself with West after his headline-making White House visit last week. People ask her to autograph West’s CDs.
Owens, 29, regularly appears on Fox News and travels six days a week to speak at college campuses. It’s made her friendly with Trump and the first family, some of whom she’s met for dinner.
But barely more than a year ago she was an unknown YouTuber.
What changed her life was a video about the Charlottesville rally, wherein she blames the media for creating racial hysteria. That video prompted Fox News host Jesse Watters to invite her on the network for the first time late last year.
Fox News amplified Owens, who was then hired by Turning Point USA, an organization aimed at bringing conservative ideas to college campuses. Her Twitter following quickly grew to 108,000. West’s tweet brought hundreds of thousands more, ballooning her audience to 850,000 today.
The president also took notice. Trump said Owens “represents an ever expanding group of very smart ‘thinkers.'”
Her rapid rise gives her a massive political voice for someone with such a brief career — or even interest — in politics. Owens says she has never voted. Not for Trump, or any other candidate, and only recently registered as a Republican, but previously identified as liberal.
“I had no interest in politics whatsoever prior to 2015,” she said.
Owens illustrates a political fact stamped and sealed by Trump: that strong voices can break through regardless of prior experience.
Owens defends Trump’s comments after Charlottesville: “I still agree with him. There are morons on both sides.” She doesn’t believe in white privilege and often criticizes Black Lives Matter. Feminism, she claims, has become radicalized. Planned Parenthood is “murdering” people using abortion, which has slowed black population growth. The media causes dissent. And lately, amid Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court: “I’m really passionate about defending men.”
She’s now preached politics to hundreds of thousands of students, said Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk. Her reach isn’t contained to conservative havens like Liberty, where its president Jerry Falwell Jr. is an outspoken Trump supporter. Most recently Owens and Kirk spoke at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Washington and the University of Georgia.
After the speech at Liberty, Owens jumped off stage and was hounded by a group of students, black and white, seeking selfies. Security had to step in to control the crowd. On Twitter, the speech was mostly praised.
But outside the arena at a small protest, Liberty senior Abigail Ferris held up a pro-#MeToo sign. It’s the day before Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, testified before a Senate committee. Owens often dismisses the #MeToo movement as a Democratic political ploy and called Ford a liar who should serve time in prison.
“We’re not directly protesting her,” Ferris said. “But we are showing while she has made some disparaging remarks to the movement, that there are students on campus who respectfully disagree with her.”
More than anything, Owens preaches against victimhood, particularly among African Americans, a pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps mindset.
“I consider myself insanely privileged to be in this country,” she said. “I try to tell people how much value there is in seeing yourself as privileged … because if you see yourself as a victim, you’ll have that shade over your eyes in life and you’re not going to accomplish much.”
She bolsters her message with an intriguing personal story, one that starts in poverty, involves a traumatic episode of racism and an I’ve-seen-the-dark-side political awakening. She sees it as the perfect antidote to liberal attacks on Republicans over race.
A ‘victim’ who hates the word
Owens grew up in Stamford, Conn., the middle child of three girls. Her father was a property manager and her mother an executive assistant. Even as a toddler, Owens didn’t back down in a debate, her dad Robert Owens Jr., said.
The family grew up in poverty, she claims, living in a small apartment before moving into the home of her grandfather, who laid tobacco out to dry on a sharecropping farm at age 5 and faced the Ku Klux Klan.
“He is a man’s man,” Owens said. “That masculinity is now being taught as toxic, when in reality it’s the one thing that grounded me as a child.”
In 2007, Owens’ senior year at Stamford High School, came an experience that shaped her personally — and eventually politically.
Four boys called her from a blocked number and left voicemails with racial epithets and threats of violence.
“They were calling me the N-word, they were saying they were going to put a bullet into the back of my head as they had done to Martin Luther King. They were calling me Rosa Parks. They were telling me that they were going to tar and feather my family,” she told the Liberty crowd.
The episode became enflamed because one of the boys was the son of then-Stamford mayor Dannel Malloy, the current Democratic governor of Connecticut. Owens, then 17, faced threats and harassment in school for weeks afterward, according to a lawsuit her father filed against the Stamford Board of Education. Robert Owens, in his filing, said the school district failed to protect his daughter from the harassment. The school board later settled with the family for $37,500, according to a settlement agreement provided by the board.
The Stamford Police Department said documents related to the case were sealed because those involved were minors and a spokesman would not confirm the outcome. But the Danbury News Times reported police arrested at least one student.
Owens was out of school for weeks because of the incident, which drew the attention of the NAACP, which defended her in the media. But Owens felt like a public relations pawn.
“I would come out of school and they would be outside with cameras and speaking, and I would stand there,” she said. “It was really awful because then it sort of gave people that fire of like, ‘she’s doing this for attention.'”
The incident, Owens said, set in motion years of anorexia, which lasted through college and into her working years.
“It was really just a manifestation of trying to control something in your life,” she said.
Today, she complains about the media framing her as the victim.
“What it taught me was how little value there was in victimhood,” she said. “Now, according to the left, that should have been the best moment of my life.”
In 2016, she wrote an op-ed in the Stamford Advocate defending the boys, which hints at what has become her candid speaking style.
“I’ll be the first to say I am sorry,” she wrote, “To all of them, having to endure that experience; a group of children dissected and labeled.”
Years later, Owens chalks up the voicemails to poor decision-making, not racism.
“They were labeled these racists, and I never felt that they were racists,” she said. “I felt that they were people who did something that was really stupid.”
She said some of the boys have since thanked her.
“People should be allowed to evolve,” she said.
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Source: USA Today