By Shawn Ness, Julia Ross-McGuire, and Vince Gasparini | October 4, 2023
Candace Owens on stage during TPUSA’s Live Free Tour.
Photo Credit: Bee Meyer / ASP
The Campus Center Ballroom was packed with over 500 attendees awaiting Candace Owens to take the stage for Turning Point USA’s (TPUSA) Live Free Tour on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. Cheers could be heard throughout the room as a 15-minute countdown clock was displayed on the projector at the front of the ballroom as viewers anxiously awaited for Owens to take center stage.
The event was not sponsored by TPUSA’s local UAlbany chapter. Rather, the national branch rented out the ballroom space from UAlbany. In any case, many TPUSA-Albany students attended and volunteered at the event. Reservations were necessary for all attendees. Though TPUSA hired its own security for the event, NYS Troopers and the University Police Department (UPD) were present. UPD did not play any role in the ticketing or controlling Ballroom access.
“We were just in the general area to ensure the safety of the broader campus community,” UPD Chief Paul Burlingame said.
The ASP talked to a number of attendees in line for the event.
“I think the event is just great,” UAlbany Student Association (SA) Senator Jacob Velasquez, who is a member of TPUSA, said. “It allows for both student voices to be heard. You get a good crowd when you’re in situations like this.”
“I’m happy to see a conservative-colored American woman. A patriot, someone who loves this country, loves the constitution, believes in freedom of speech, acknowledges history but doesn’t use it as an excuse for failure,” Claudia Cavanagh, a spectator of the event said. “I was surprised that there wasn’t more publicity about her being here. I saw nothing on TV. There are a lot of very patriotic colored people, especially us Black rednecks. We have a redneck spirit of love of America.”
Several students stated that they were attending the event, despite disagreeing with Owens. “I’ve heard some people say to hear her out, but it’s kinda crazy how she says stuff like homosexuality is a disease,” UAlbany junior Gracie Shover said.
Other students were excited. “I want to see what everyone has to say and how everyone interacts,” said UAlbany senior Afraa Kolaib.
Owens spoke on a variety of topics that centered around youth taking up the liberal agenda and the nuclear family unit being destroyed by liberals. Within these broader topics, Owens spoke to the importance of gender norms and the “biological differences” between males and females.
Owens expressed these differences when she spoke of her two children. Of her son, she stated he “wakes up every day and he wants to fight me, to literally fight me, he's aggressive. He wants to punch, he wants to kick.” When speaking of her daughter, Owens used descriptors including “dainty” and “sweet.”
Speaking of gender norms, Owens said she was disappointed by the feminist movement and a more liberal society. “When you actually look at happiness, women are not happy anymore because we’re being told that we still have to be a woman, but also be like a man. It shouldn’t be like that…. We [women] were just cooking. I love cooking. ”
Owens spoke on transgender people, stating “You have to either believe that really deep down everyone was trans and suffering which if they were, they would have come out now.”
She also stated that climate change is a recurring 10-year call to action, yet the Earth is still here.
Owens argued that liberals “need to demonize the nuclear family to make it seem like that's something that is perverse” in order to promote an LGBTQ+ agenda.
Owens spoke to the destruction of Black America stating that liberal policies “actually modernized and updated [slavery] if you examine what's going on today.”
Once Owens finished her set talking points, the floor was given to members of the audience for a question and answer period.
“I always stood up for my LGBTQ community whenever I needed to… do you not realize that people like you who continue to have this idea of us are the reason we feel that we have to be so openly proud of who we are,” UAlbany sophomore and transfer-student Tyler Johnson said. “Your demented, homophobic, transphobic rants just further prove that we have to fight these fear factors loudly. The reason LGBTQ+ suicide rates are so high in this country is because of people like you who make us feel like we don’t belong.”
“So if this is going to be a pure boogeyman thing and you’re pretending that someone’s committed suicide because of Candace Owens. I sat down with a man named Walter who was convinced to chop his penis off after your community told him that there was something wrong with him,” Owens said in response. “An actual charity that is dedicated to people with sex-change regret of people who have gone and changed their parts and can’t go back. You know what happens? Suicide rates go up after they transition. I am not the person that chopped his penis off. I am not that person that caused them to have depression after that transition.”
“I don’t think she answered it [my question] as fully as she could,” Johnson said after the event when asked about Owens’ response to his question. “She just kind of tried to flip it onto the LGBTQ community, kind of like she always does…. Conservatives don’t want to take accountability for the fact that they are at fault.”
Flyers TPUSA put on all seats in the CC Ballroom
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness, Julia Ross-McGuire / ASP
“Candace Owens is someone that continuously tries to tear down my community and I’m not one to stand around and just let that happen,” Johnson responded when asked why he chose to attend the event.
“I have an article pulled up on my phone from May 27, 2023, and its title reads ‘Charlie Kirk’s TPUSA Teamed Up With a Registered Sex Offender,’” UAlbany SA Law and Government Senator Jalen Miller said to Owens. “The TPUSA second-annual Pastor’s Summit was partially funded by a known convicted pedophile Shawn Bergstrand. So would you feel comfortable to have your children joining an organization in part funded by a convicted pedophile?”
The article that Miller referenced discussed how the summit was partially funded by Bergstrand’s fashion company, Rightside Up Apparel. There are no available records to indicate that this is true, however, Rightside Up Apparel follows TPUSA’s main Instagram account and one affiliated account.
In her response to Miller, Owens suggested that what Miller was reading may have been fake news, and continued to say that “if that is the truth, which I have a feeling it’s not, then I would openly denounce the funding of anything by a group of pedophiles.”
Owens’s response was followed by a clashing of cheers from the audience against a repeated chant of “Candace get off our campus” started by Senator Miller. The chant was answered by a repeated chant of “USA” from people in the audience.
Ousmane Diallo, a Black senior at UAlbany, asked Owens if she felt hypocritical for attacking Black authors on the basis of them only being in their position because they are Black. Owens responded by asking him “Are you telling me that you walked into this room today afraid a white supremacist was going to kill you? I asked this to Black people, are you afraid that a Klansman is going to come down the street on horseback and pick you up? Be honest.”
Diallo confirmed that he was not afraid. Owens then went on to say how she does not know any Black people who are afraid to walk down the street because they fear for their lives or that the KKK will come for them.
ASP reporter, Julia Ross-McGuire, had the opportunity to ask a question during the Q&A period. Ross-McGuire referenced an earlier statement from Owens about the importance of literacy in freedom of thought, asking “What do you think about that when we’re thinking about book bans happening in Florida?”
“I'm talking about, you know, true education, like people actually learning hard academics and not fluffy ideologies,” Owens responded.
Upon confirmation that LGBTQ+ titles were amongst those banned, Owens stated “Yeah, I think sexuality and little five-year-olds don't mix.”
“Behind transgenderism is pedophilia, there was absolutely no reason that there are teachers fighting to talk to five-year-olds about their genitalia, it’s sick, it’s weird…and if you show me a person that believes that they have a right talk to my child about pedophilia, you're gonna have a very upset Candace Owens,” she added.
The ASP spoke to several attendees and TPUSA representatives following the event.
“She was talking about dismantling the Department of Education (DoE). I homeschool my children. I’m in politics in the city of Albany and my children are not part of the Albany [City] School District because of how poor the education quality is,” multimedia journalist Alicia Purdy said, wearing a shirt that read “Keep homeschooling weird.”
Purdy has five children ranging from eight to 12, all of which are homeschooled. “I want to teach my kids the value of getting an excellent education, of demanding what you’re worth and to be unwilling to silence your voice in the face of oppression… I’m teaching my daughters an ideology where there’s a higher power than themselves and that matters in this world… We are making sure that they understand the role of God and government.”
“I could not tell you how many people were here, but it was obvious we had a line out the door. I really appreciated the kids that came out who didn’t agree and not making a scene which was something we were worried about,” Jobob Taeleifi, a TPUSA contributor, said after the event. “A bunch of kids got up and talked and said what they wanted to say, which is awesome. We really like having the discussions that aren’t often had on campuses.”
After the event, a group of students alleged that TPUSA security “put their hands on another student” while trying to keep the student, who did not have a ticket to the event, from entering the venue. They also alleged that TPUSA security profiled them and did not allow them into the event even though they had tickets because they looked like they were “definitely not here for her [Candace Owens].” The students continued to say that they were turned away because they “looked like protestors” and “looked too liberal.” The ASP was unable to verify these claims.
“I can tell you that I was in the Ballroom most of the evening and did not see anyone turned away except for those who were turned away after the room was at full capacity,” Chief Burlingame said. “I did talk with some students in the CC who shared concerns about access, and I encouraged them to file a report if they felt that a bias-based incident had occurred.”
One TPUSA member told the ASP that many TPUSA staff members and volunteers were followed off-campus to a restaurant. “They appeared outside the restaurant right after the TPUSA staff arrived. We initially didn’t think much of it until we realized they didn’t even bother coming into the restaurant.”
The last time TPUSA invited a prominent speaker to campus was in April 2023 when the UAlbany TPUSA chapter invited Ian Haworth. The event was met with a large counter-protest that believed Haworth to be transphobic. The original event was unable to be held due to the volume of protesters occupying the space, which prompted university officials and UPD to move the event to a private space that only those there to see Haworth speak were allowed to attend. The protests ended in two arrests of UAlbany students, one for disorderly conduct and the other for governmental obstruction.
“At UAlbany, we know our diversity makes our scholarship stronger, our creativity richer, and our community more vibrant. I want to be crystal clear – at UAlbany, we unequivocally reject racism, anti-Semitism, anti-trans, and all other forms of hatred and bias, and we are committed to fostering a culture in which everyone is and feels welcome,” Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Michael Christakis said in an email sent out the following day. “I know that members of our community are hurt and angered by the fact that our University is legally required to protect speech we may vehemently disagree with and which may even fundamentally conflict with our core values. But that protection does not mean we endorse the message….”
The event served as a precursor to TPUSA’s America Fest which is happening in Phoenix, Arizona in December.