One could have predicted the result of inviting Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA to a congressional hearing. And one would be correct.
Asked by the House Judiciary Committee to offer testimony on the subject of hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism, Owens instead used her time at the microphone to broadly disparage Democrats in terms familiar to anyone who’s heard her speeches.
“Let me be clear,” she said in her opening statement. “The hearing today is not about white nationalism or hate crimes. It’s about fearmongering, power and control. It’s a preview of a Democrat 2020 election strategy, same as the Democrat 2016 election strategy.”
Her theory, in vogue among conservatives, is that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are targeting right-wing voices unfairly to suppress their views, and that a hearing focused on white nationalist rhetoric being spread on those platforms is an effort to facilitate similar censorship. There’s no evidence, though, that conservatives are being systematically targeted for their political views on major social media platforms.
“What they won’t tell you about the statistics and the rise of white nationalism is that they’ve simply changed the data set points by widening the definition of hate crimes and upping the number of reporting agencies that are able to report on them,” Owens later said. “What I mean to say is that they are manipulating statistics. The goal here is to scare blacks, Hispanics, gays and Muslims into helping them censor dissenting opinions; ultimately into helping them regain control of our country’s narrative which they feel that they lost.”
It’s true that part of the 17 percent rise in the number of hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2017, relative to 2016, stemmed from an increase in the number of law enforcement agencies reporting data — but the number of reporting agencies only increased by 6 percent. Nearly all of the year-over-year increase was a function of crimes that were included in 2016′s reporting. Most law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, don’t report hate crimes at all.
Owens’s rhetorical style builds arguments backward from her desired conclusion (as when, later in the hearing, she told Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) that Adolf Hitler wasn’t a nationalist because a nationalist wouldn’t kill his own countrymen). Here, she believes that Democrats are insincere in their professed advocacy for minority groups and assembles a theory in which the party is manufacturing a crisis of oppression to maintain its hold on voters. That more than 4 in 10 Democrats are nonwhite, offering the party some seeming legitimacy on speaking for minority groups, goes unmentioned.
As Owens was preparing to testify, another bit of data inconvenient to her argument was published by Pew Research Center. In a broad analysis of how Americans view relations between racial groups, Pew determined that most Americans believe that, since President Trump took office, it’s become more common to encounter racist or racially insensitive views.
While half of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) said that it was about as common now to hear racist views as it was before 2016, even 42 percent of Republicans said such views were more common now. Overall, 65 percent of respondents said that such expressions are now more common. Black and Hispanic respondents were about 15 percentage points more likely to say it’s more common now than were whites.
A plurality of respondents also said that it appeared to be more acceptable to express such views since Trump’s election. Republicans were slightly more likely to say such expressions were now less acceptable, but in most other groups, about twice as many people said it had become more acceptable since 2016.
These statistics from Pew, we are confident in saying, have not been “manipulated.”
There is a gap between expressing racist views and committing criminal acts centered on those views, of course — which is presumably what the Judiciary Committee was hoping to explore in its hearing on Tuesday. Owens’s testimony doesn’t seem to have done much to help figure out how people move from the first act to the second.