That contrarianism and aggressive Trumpian delivery, combined with a talent for angering those on the left, has led Owens to amass 560,000 Twitter followers in the last year, and her YouTube videos have racked up 7 million views. She’s moved from appearing on fringe online conspiracy websites to guest hosting gigs on Fox News.
“Everybody in our immediate family has met Candace on multiple occasions,” Donald Trump Jr. told NBC News, “and deeply appreciates what she has done to bridge the polarizing delta left by leftist politicians and their media cohorts, who wish to see this country divided.”
Owens isn’t just pushing buttons on the left. After she blasted the #MeToo movement for having “turned sexual assault into a trend,” predicated on the idea that women are “stupid” and weak,” Charlie Kirk, her boss and the president of Turning Points, asked members in a group message not to walk out or boo Owens during her speech at an upcoming women’s leadership conference. (Owens called reports of internal discord “fake news, and says conservatives critical of her or her message generally are “secret socialists.”)
She recently dove into Twitter feuds with Fox News’ Tomi Lahren over Kanye West and warned Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of the popular right-wing news website Daily Wire: “Don’t talk down to me. Ever again,” after he tweeted critically about the president’s recent meeting with Kim Kardashian West, Kanye’s wife.
At a time when the digital pundit economy rewards division over consensus, those episodes have only helped to magnify the profile of the self-described “most controversial black woman in America.”
“What is Ben Shapiro, the god of my thoughts, now that I’m a conservative?” she asked. “No. I’m Candace Owens.”
Just a couple of years ago, Owens was like many other 20-somethings in New York City.
She grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, and, according to her telling, was raised by her grandparents after her parents divorced. Owens rarely speaks of her immediate family, but often invokes her grandfather as a model black American.
At Turning Points events and in videos, she says her grandfather Robert Owens was born in segregated North Carolina, picking cotton and laying out tobacco from the age of 4 on a sharecropping farm. She says he went on to start a business, raise a family and eventually retire in North Carolina, buying the very land that he had once worked.
Owens went to the University of Rhode Island to study journalism, but she said she was forced to leave because of an issue with her student loan. A representative for the university said Owens dropped out after her junior year.
By 2015, Owens was living and working in New York, paying off debt and looking for her next move when she and a co-worker founded Degree180, a marketing agency that offered consultation, production and planning services. The site included a blog that featured writing from Owens on a variety of topics including anorexia, acne, breakups and dating — and occasionally politics. In one post, she wrote about the “bat-shit-crazy antics of the Republican Tea Party,” adding, “The good news is, they will eventually die off (peacefully in their sleep, we hope), and then we can get right on with the OBVIOUS social change that needs to happen, IMMEDIATELY.”
In the spring of 2016, the women of Degree180, led by Owens, launched a $75,000 Kickstarter campaign for a new website called Social Autopsy. The idea, according to the promotional video, was to create “the first-ever search database that compiles and allows the public to easily access the digital footprint of individuals and companies.”
“Wave goodbye to cyberbullies and trolls,” it announced.