Even by the whiplash-inducing standards of Trumpworld, Candace Owens’ rise has been fast.
Ten months ago, the 26-year-old posted her first politically themed video to YouTube, a reenactment of “coming out” as conservative to her parents. In November, amid allegations of racial bias, the conservative campus advocacy group Turning Point USA hired Owens, who is black, as its director of urban engagement. Last month, Kanye West tweeted his approval of Owens’ thoughts. Last week, President Trump tweeted that Owens was part of a group of “very smart ‘thinkers’” and that she is “having a big impact on politics.” And this week, Owens mingled with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the dedication of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
Yet Owens, suddenly a new face of the American right, was less than two years ago the CEO of an online publication that frequently mocked then-candidate Trump, including conducting a mock “investigation” into his penis size. (The story determined that it was likely very small.) And in a 2015 column for the site lambasting conservative Republicans, Owens wrote that it was “good news” that the “Republican Tea Party ... will eventually die off (peacefully in their sleep, we hope).”
Indeed, the speed with which Owens has gone from running a frequently anti-Trump, anti-conservative website to being one of the president’s most prominent new supporters illustrates the wild land grab still going on for influence in the pro-Trump ecosystem.
Owens did not immediately respond to requests for comment via email and Twitter, though she did stress in tweets earlier today that the writers for the site, called Degree180, were young. She also described the reporter as a "despicable creature."
(She also accused BuzzFeed News, falsely, of "threatening" the former writers for the site.)
Though Degree180 is now defunct, the Internet Archive has preserved much of its content — a mix of Thought Catalog–style personal essays, bloggy political musings, woke admonishments, and relationship advice. Many of the writers for Degree180, which Owens registered in 2015, were college students.
And many of them expressed their displeasure with Donald Trump. In a December 2015 story, “Serious Question: Is Donald Trump a Social Experiment?” the site’s editor, Zoe Weiner, wrote of Trump’s now-notorious pledge to end Muslim immigration to the US, “You guys remember Nazi Germany, right?” (Weiner, now a freelance writer, declined to comment for this story.) In a sarcastic post titled “Thank You Letter to Donald Trump” in April 2016, one contributor to the site wrote: “The idea of you being my future President makes my skin crawl, but you did provide me with a new sense of political awareness.” An article from March 1, 2016, explained that even though Trump was married to an immigrant, he could still be racist. And a March 18, 2016, article titled “Does Donald Trump Actually Have a Small Penis?” concluded that “Donald Trump most likely has a penis the size of an infant. ... Hitler is the one guy that comes to mind that may have topped him.”
Much of Owens’ recent popularity comes from her forceful disavowal of liberal narratives around structural racism, systemic inequality, and identity politics. But the site she ran trafficked heavily in such tropes. One story, “The Problem With Humanism and All Lives Matter,” made the case why the counter–Black Lives Matter slogan was misguided. Another story begged Caitlyn Jenner to reconsider her support for Ted Cruz — who, the author claimed, wouldn’t be a good advocate for transgender people. And a self-explanatory story is called “Your Issues With Dating Shorter Men Are Misogynistic.”
The site did offer the occasional story by a conservative, such as a column by a Republican woman on the challenges of attending a liberal university. And most of Owens’ writing for Degree180 was not political. Much of it was personal, including essays about her struggle with anorexia, inspirational exhortations, a fierce essay titled “Fuck Girl Code: I Can Hook Up With Your Ex-Boyfriend If I Want,” and advice about how to get prescription stimulants “without so much as a doctor’s evaluation.” (The site seems to have stopped publishing new material in December 2016.)
And though the site bashed Trump with some regularity, at least one of Owens’ posts was consistent with her future fame. Her first story for the site, from July 13, 2015, was called “Kanye Rants the Truth.”
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at email@example.com.
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