Candace Owens, a top figure in a conservative advocacy group with close ties to President Donald Trump, on Friday was at the center of a social-media firestorm over recent comments she made about nationalism and Adolf Hitler.
Owens, the communications director for Turning Point USA (TPUSA), was answering questions about nationalism at an event in London back in December. At the time, Owens said she didn’t have “any problems at all with the word ‘nationalism,'” a word she characterized as too often associated with Hitler.
“I think that the definition gets poisoned by elitists that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want,” Owens said. “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, OK, fine.”
She continued, “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. 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 that it’s OK.”
Owens’ comments at the London event were first made public via a BuzzFeed News report.
A clip of her remarks was shared on Twitter not long after and quickly went viral. By midafternoon on Friday, Owens was among the top 10 trends in the US on Twitter.
Trump in October 2018 was widely criticized when he unabashedly declared himself a “nationalist” at a campaign rally for GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Houston, Texas.
In the US, the word is frequently associated with white-nationalist groups, often ones labeled as extremist, and therefore has negative connotations. Supporters of nationalism say it’s merely a matter of placing a primacy on one’s national interests.
Francis Fukuyama, one of the most prominent political scientists in the US, in his famous 1989 essay “The End of History?” summarized nationalism as such: “The vast majority of the world’s nationalist movements do not have a political program beyond the negative desire of independence from some other group or people, and do not offer anything like a comprehensive agenda for socio-economic organization.”
More recently, Fukuyama in August 2018 expanded on this, saying, “The trouble is in ethnonationalism. Nationalism can be democratic if based on principles of constitutional government, on the rule of law, equality of all human beings — the way American identity evolved in the 20th century.”
As former President Bill Clinton reportedly put it in October 2017, “Everybody is a nationalist. The question is are you an inclusive nationalist or a tribal nationalist.”
Many journalists and public figures on Friday weighed in on Owens’ comments on Hitler, including Chelsea Clinton.
Owens responded to the backlash in a Periscope video posted on Twitter with the caption: “Was Hitler a nationalist? (And Leftist journalists are still insane).”
Attempting to clarify her remarks, Owens said, “Nationalism is sort of conflated with, for some reason, Hitler,” adding, “That’s really, really wrong and we that we have to almost correct the record on that.”
Owens rejected the notion that Hitler — the infamous leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, more commonly known as the Nazi Party — is a “nationalist.”
“He wasn’t a nationalist,” Owens said of Hitler. “He was a homicidal, psychotic maniac.”
In defending her position, Owens pointed to Trump’s “America First” doctrine as an example of her philosophy. She defined nationalism as “believing in the sovereignty of your nation first.”
“[Hitler] wasn’t about putting Germans first. There were German Jews that he was putting into camps and murdering,” Owens said. “He was a mass murderer.”
Owens first gained national notoriety on her YouTube channel “RedPillBlack” with a viral video titled, “How to Escape the Democrat Plantation (an easy guide).” She is now a leading figure in the “Blexit” movement, which encourages African-Americans to leave the Democratic Party.
She has also been praised by Trump on Twitter.
In May 2018, the president tweeted, “Candace Owens of Turning Point USA is having a big impact on politics in our Country. She represents an ever expanding group of very smart ‘thinkers,’ and it is wonderful to watch and hear the dialogue going on…so good for our Country!”
TPUSA is led by Charlie Kirk, a close friend of Donald Trump Jr. who is routinely retweeted by Trump.
Responding to the uproar over Owens’ remarks, a TPUSA spokesperson on Friday told INSIDER that her comments on Hitler “are of course being misconstrued and taken out of context.”
The spokesperson then emphasized that TPUSA is a “proud supporter of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” adding that “it goes without saying that Hitler is an evil mass-murderer who is responsible for millions of deaths including the horrific slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.”
Defending Owens’ remarks, the spokesperson added that the discussion in London was on “nationalism vs. globalism,” and said “it is indeed true that one of the aspects that made Hitler uniquely evil was the desire to export his reign of terror on a global scale.”