By Stephen Neukam
Embattled Turning Point USA (TPUSA) national Communications Director Candace Owens received public support from the organization’s chapter at Rider following her viral remarks, regarding Hitler.
Owens, who is massively popular on social media and one of President Donald Trump’s well-known advocates, made the inflammatory remarks at an event in London in December. The question posed to her was about nationalism in world politics.
“When you think about whenever we say ‘nationalism,’ the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler,” Owens said at the event. “He was a national socialist. But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize.”
Owens’ comments were quickly criticized for the mischaracterization of Hitler’s politics and the seeming disregard of Hitler’s genocidal domestic policies toward Jews, LGBTQ people and other minorities in Germany at the time.
The controversy garnered so much attention that a number of TPUSA chapters around the country called for Owens to step down as communications director.
But TPUSA at Rider doubled down in its support of Owens in a statement posted to its Facebook page on Feb. 21.
“[We are] grateful for Candace’s leadership and we encourage her to stay with Turning Point USA as Communications Director for as long as she can,” read the statement. “Candace is a role model for many conservatives on campuses throughout the country and we do not believe that the schools who [sic] engaged in putting down Candace were doing so in a justified manner.”
TPUSA at Rider President and Co-Founder Joshua Aminov responded to a request for comment from The Rider News via email.
“Our chapter at Rider chose to stand up for Candace Owens because we recognize that a great amount of Turning Point’s success is due to her work as an effective Communications Director,” wrote Aminov. “[Owens] is undoubtedly one of the most important conservative figures in winning the ongoing culture war in our country today.”
Aminov insisted that Owens’ comments were taken out of context and that she simply meant that there is nothing wrong with nationalism when not paired with socialism.
“In essence, the socialism aspect of Hitler’s National Socialism is why he was such an evil-minded man,” wrote Aminov. “The TPUSA board at Rider, including myself are mainly comprised of students with minority backgrounds. As a Jew, I am personally insulted when hearing people foolishly call us ‘Nazi sympathizers.’”
Rider Assistant Vice President Jan Friedman-Krupnick, who is also the advisor to Hillel, a Jewish student organization on campus, pointed out that TPUSA may be missing the larger picture.
“No matter how you interpret what was said by Candace Owens, Hitler legalized discrimination and committed mass murder,” wrote Friedman-Krupnick via email. “Understanding how this happened and preventing other holocausts is more important than debates about the difference between globalism and nationalism.”
Adam McMahon, an assistant professor of political science at Rider, emphasized the importance of a diverse spectrum of political ideologies on campus. He provided that he would love to see the organization of “super conservative” groups all the way through the political spectrum to “even communist” groups. However, McMahon asserted that there is a fine distinction between healthy political discourse and hateful rhetoric.
“You have to draw the line somewhere [for] racist groups and neo-Nazi groups. That contradicts what the mission of the university is,” said McMahon.
McMahon found the response to Owens’ comments from TPUSA at Rider to be problematic. At the same time, he aired a feeling of empathy and optimism.
“Students make mistakes. To me, it’s a mistake not to call out Candace Owens’ comments,” said McMahon. “Rider’s Turning Point chapter still has the opportunity to refute what she said and they should.”
Even more problematic for sophomore history major Ryan Leighton was Owens’ lack of historical accuracy about Hitler and Nazism,
“Overall, what Candace Owens said was stupid and she was trying to use modern terms to describe the complicated ideology of fascism and Nazism,” said Leighton. “I would not consider her a reliable source on all things World War II.”
TPUSA at Rider has a vexed past in the community. The organization was originally denied recognition in December 2017 because of Student Government Association concerns about TPUSA’s national reputation and right-wing views. The concerns included TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist,” which encouraged chapters to post the names of professors promoting “radical agendas” and the number of controversial speakers that TPUSA hosted around the country at different universities. The Rider chapter was granted recognition by SGA in April 2018.
Aminov asserted that, after approval, the relationship between TPUSA at Rider and the university community has been satisfactory.
“Following our approval, TPUSA immediately started being active on Rider’s campus by uniting the Rider community through non-partisan principles,” wrote Aminov. “We are satisfied by the overall acceptance of our chapter by students and faculty, both from the left and right side of the political spectrum.”
TPUSA at Rider frequently hosts guest speakers to discuss a variety of topics. In October, conservative activist Cabot Phillips brought his “Liberal Privilege Tour” to Rider in association with TPUSA. The next month, the organization hosted Mark Meadows to speak on the importance of state policy. Aminov said that all speakers are provided to the chapter by TPUSA and the Leadership Institute (LI), which states on its website that it “teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media.”
Both TPUSA and LI are categorized as 501 (c) (3) non-profit organizations. Under this categorization, both organizations are required to be non-partisan and are prohibited from campaigning or helping political candidates directly or indirectly.
TPUSA at Rider continued its efforts to engage the community as the organization hosted Will Witt, who spoke about ongoing tensions between the left and right on college campuses on March 5 in the Cavalla Room.