Why do Republicans in Congress keep inviting Candace Owens to testify on white nationalism?

Why do Republicans in Congress keep inviting Candace Owens to testify on white nationalism?
Candace Owens image by Gage Skidmore, Shutterstock

In an age when media stardom apparently confers some kind of universal expertise, it’s probably not a complete surprise that Republican House leaders keep trotting out pundit/provocateur Candace Owens to testify in congressional hearings on what should be a matter requiring the utmost seriousness and gravity: white nationalist terrorism and its toll on the American social fabric.

After all, who else are they going to find who would be willing to just openly gaslight members of Congress, telling them not to believe the evidence of the dead in Pittsburgh and Christchurch and El Paso and many other mass-killing sites, by wielding her blackness like a shield? Other than, say, Diamond and Silk or Michelle Malkin, who have about the same amount of experience and expertise regarding domestic terrorism as Owens does—which is to say, none whatsoever.

Last week, it backfired on them.

Owens made another made-for-viral-video appearance last Friday before the House Oversight and Reform subcommittees on national security and civil rights and civil liberties, launching into one of her patented tirades in which she lectured both members of Congress and academic experts who had been called by Democrats to testify. Afterward, she dismissed one of them—the University of Chicago professor Kathleen Belew, who has published multiple peer-reviewed works on the issue—as a “made-up professor.”

“White supremacy is indeed real, but despite the media’s obsessive coverage of it, it represents an isolated, uncoordinated and fringe occurrence within America,” Owens told the committee.

Unfortunately for Owens, the Department of Homeland Security that very morning published its findings that white nationalist terrorism was a major national security threat that warranted the full attention of all components of American law enforcement: "The continuing menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly white supremacist extremism, is an abhorrent affront to our nation, the struggle and unity of its diverse population, and the core values of both our society and our department," said acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a Brookings Institute speech.

Owens, however, was undaunted.

“You know that white supremacy and white nationalism ranks nowhere near the top issues that are facing black America,” she added. “And the reason that you are bringing them up in this room is because it is an attempt to make the election all about race, as Democrats do.”

The performance was essentially a reprise of her earlier testimony in April before the House Judiciary Committee, when Owens insisted similarly that “white supremacy, racism, white nationalism, words that once held real meaning, have now become nothing more than election strategies. Every four years, the black community is offered handouts and fear. Handouts and fear. Reparations and white nationalism. This is the Democrats’ preview.”

Her claims echo the whitewashing job attempted by Tucker Carlson around the earlier House hearings, as well as his more recent claims that “white nationalism is a hoax.” As with Carlson’s soft-pedaled version of things, Owens’ insistence that the threat of far-right white terrorism doesn’t matter to the black community doesn’t meet the reality smell test.

Owens defended herself Friday by insisting that her blackness was credential enough to claim expertise in domestic terrorism. “This hearing is a farce,” she said. “It is ironic that you’re having three Caucasian people testify and tell you what their expertise are. Do you want to know what my expertise are? Black in America. I’ve been black in America my whole life, all 30 years, and I can tell you guys have done the exact same thing every four years ahead of an election cycle, and it needs to stop.”

As committee Chair Jamie Raskin pointed out at the time, “[T]he title of our hearing is ‘Confronting Violent White Supremacy: Addressing the Transnational Terrorist Threat’”—that is, it was an attempt to consider the global reach of the white nationalist movement. It was only incidentally about the impact of white nationalism on the black community.

Belew sharply contradicted Owens’ testimony. “Well, we have a history of treating it like it doesn't matter, and the result of that has been death and destruction and the disruption of all kinds of people's lives,” she observed. As for the lack of numbers, she explained, one only need look at the history of civilian surveillance in the U.S.:

From the outset, surveillance in the United States has been a profoundly political project. So we can go all the way back to the 1960s and think about how things like the FBI Counterintelligence Program were unequally targeted. COINTELPRO, people in this room might know, was a project that sought to disrupt fringe activism on both the left and on the right. But we know from the history that it was profoundly more focused on the left and on activists of color than on the right. So Klan groups were infiltrated, but there were no deaths of Klan activists in this period at the hands of FBI informants, nor was there a cohesive effort to disrupt those groups the way that there was on the left. Similarly, our resources have been overwhelmingly dedicated to confronting Islamic or international terror rather than white or domestic terror. The reason we don't have these numbers is because there hasn't been an aggregating data project within the federal government.

The Department of Homeland Security also contradicted Owens, though in a separate setting. “The United States faces an evolving threat environment and a threat of terrorism and targeted violence within our borders that is more diverse than at any time since the 9/11 attacks,” McAleenan said on Friday. “We are acutely aware of the growing threat from enemies, both foreign and domestic, who seek to incite violence in our nation’s youth, disenfranchised, and disaffected, in order to attack their fellow citizens.”

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