Candace Owens: from Stamford High ‘victim’ to conservative firebrand
STAMFORD — In just one year, Candace Owens has exploded from a novice Youtube vlogger to a rising conservative voice on college campuses and Fox News, earning praise from Kanye West and a meeting with President Donald Trump.
Owens, who is African American, has built her national media presence praising Trump as the best president for Black America and dismissing the Black Lives Matter movement, as a group pretending to be oppressed.
She opposes abortion and advocates for the end of welfare, although she says she has family on it. She decries police brutality as a myth invented by Democrats “to manipulate black minds” on Twitter, where she takes her message directly to the people.
“A big part of my mission is exposing the media for what it is, which is just a massive propaganda machine,” she said last week.
As communications director for the national conservative group Turning Point USA, Owens, 29, commands the spotlight — not for the first time.
In 2007, Owens, a senior at Stamford High School, made headlines for a very different reason: she was the victim of an alleged racial hate crime, which, peripherally, involved the son of Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, then-mayor of Stamford.
The incident set off a chain of events that, she said, eventually sparked her political ideology. Two years ago, Owens wouldn’t even have called herself a conservative.
Early media glare
The voicemails left on Owens’s phone by four boys in a car altered her life, Owens says.
“They started off by telling me that they were going to kill me ‘just because’ I was black,” Owens wrote in a 2016 op-ed published in Hearst Connecticut Media. “They warned me that if they found me at home, they were going to unload a bullet into the back of my head.”
Owens told the principal and the story spread quickly to state and national media, especially when Malloy acknowledged that his son was in the car.
The NAACP held press conferences with Owens. Police and FBI investigated the incident and one seventeen-year-old boy, who Owens says was a friend of hers, was arrested.
Owens’s family sued the Stamford Board of Education for failing to protect her and won a $37,500 settlement.
“If I was a leftist or if I was a true Democrat, I would relish in victimhood. I would love that. I would say I’m black, I’m a woman, I can’t do anything and it’s all your fault. That situation in high school would be the pinnacle of my life,” she said. “But I hated it. I cowed away from it. It ate me alive because I felt there was permanence in what was said about me.”
In response to Owens’s experience in high school, she decided to launch an anti-cyberbullying website - essentially a searchable database of offensive speech found on social media. She launched a Kickstarter to fund the effort and received a flood of criticism in response. She somehow jumped to the conclusion that liberals posing as Trump supporters online were behind the attacks because they did not want her to “unmask” them, Owens said.
This experience was Owens’s “red pill” - or conservative awakening, a la “The Matrix.”
She devoted the next year to re-educating herself. She read works by Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Carson and Thomas Sowell.
She dropped out of the University of Rhode Island in her junior year, and went on to educate herself. She read works by Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Carson and Thomas Sowell.
Now 29, no one would dare mistake Owens for a victim.
In her first Youtube video posted in August 2017, Owens came out as a conservative.
In the parody video, Owens’s parents - played by Owens - are accepting when she says she is a lesbian (she is not), but appalled that she is a conservative. In real life, Owens and her parents did not have a sit-down about her new ideology, Owens said.
“I was not surprised,” said Robert Owens, Candace’s father who now lives in Arizona. “We don’t agree on some issues, which I care not to mention, but I will say I support her in bringing both sides to the table; Democrats should not assume they have our vote because we are African Americans and Republicans should not ignore African Americans because they assume we are going to vote Democrat.”
A knack for controversy
She followed her first videos with others controversially titled “I don’t care about Charlottesville, the KKK or White Supremacy,” “How to escape the Democrat Plantation” and “Nobody Likes Feminism: that’s what happened, Hillary.”
Owens was quickly tapped by Turning Point USA, which promotes conservatism on college campuses, to be their director of urban engagement. She was soon promoted to communications director, and has made more than 20 appearances on Fox News and MSNBC.
In April 2018, rapper Kanye West tweeted “I love the way Candace Owens thinks,” boosting her profile higher. In May, Trump tweeted she was having “a big impact on politics” and “represents an ever expanding group of very smart ‘thinkers.’”
Owens had a 20-minute meeting with the president in the Oval Office later that month. They discussed prison reform, she said.
“There is something about Kanye and there is something about Candace and there is something about President Trump that connects us,” she said.
Promoting conservatism around the country, Owens rarely has time for stops in Connecticut, which called a “light blue” state. In an interview in the Greenwich home of a woman she met at a conservative conference, Owens peered out the window and wondered if the rain would cancel her flights to Arizona and Illinois the next day.
Owens, who will publish an autobiography next year, still keeps in touch with some of her teachers and friends from Stamford High, she said. Still not everyone embraces her new politics, she knows.
Scot Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP who helped Owens in Stamford in 2007, declined to comment on her political evolution, except to say: “It’s a sad situation, and I will continue to pray for her and her family!”
But in an April interview with the website mic.com, Esdaile was far more critical of Owens.
“It’s the same type of thing [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas did,” he said. “[Thomas] reaped all the benefits of affirmative action and then tried to roll over on it. It’s that kind of mentality and disrespect.”
Owens, who now lives in Philadelphia, shrugs her shoulders at the local reaction.
“You can’t be a prophet in your own town,” she said, paraphrasing the Bible.