How the Candace Owens–Ben Shapiro Feud Set Off a Right-Wing Meltdown

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When Candace Owens, the far-right political commentator, parted ways with conservative media company the Daily Wire in late March, the news unleashed something strange on the internet. Factions emerged to yell at each other about theology, censorship, and bigotry. Extremists chatted with establishment right-wingers in audio chatrooms on social media. Content creators wrote blog posts and produced YouTube videos with their take on one particular phrase: “Christ Is King.”

That phrase gripped the right for days, leaving movement leaders struggling with layers of infighting that proved difficult to parse for all but the most egregiously online people. It was also, for those tracking the right’s strange coalition-building, a warning sign: The establishment conservatives’ pragmatic alliance with hateful white supremacist groups may finally be breaking under the awkwardness of having avowed antisemites in a pro-Israel movement.

“There is no way to explain to a normal person what’s happening on conservative Twitter right now,” conservative Christian podcaster and writer Allie Beth Stuckey posted on X on March 25.

Christopher Rufo, the political strategist behind the anti–critical race theory movement, agreed. “It’s getting insane,” he wrote in a response to Stuckey’s post. “We have a problem on the Right.”

Owens’ relationship with the Daily Wire had been rapidly deteriorating for a while, over antisemitism generally and the war in Gaza. Owens, who began hosting a talk show with the Daily Wire in 2021, has never displayed sensitivity on the matter of antisemitism: Back in 2022, she defended Kanye West even as he posted that he would “go death con 3 on Jewish People.”

But in November, after the war began in Gaza, her critical views on Israel became a problem for her colleagues. She highlighted the death of Christians in one Israeli airstrike. In one post, she wrote, “There is no justification for a genocide. I can’t believe this even needs to be said or is even considered the least bit controversial to state.” (She is not the only far-right figure accusing Israel of pursuing a genocide; Infowars host Alex Jones has done the same. In his case, he vocalized a fear of Palestinian refugees’ coming to the U.S.)

Ben Shapiro, the co-founder of the Daily Wire, is Jewish and adamantly pro-Israel. In a Nov. 14 video responding to Owens’ comments, Shapiro said, “Her behavior during this has been disgraceful.” That interaction kicked off quite a feud.

Owens responded the same day by posting, cryptically, “No one can serve two masters. … You cannot serve both God and money.”

Shapiro responded: “Candace, if you feel that taking money from The Daily Wire somehow comes between you and God, by all means quit.”

Owens then called Shapiro “unprofessional and emotionally unhinged,” adding, “You cross a certain line when you come for scripture and read yourself into it.” Some thought the exchange smacked of antisemitism: that Owens was implying that Shapiro’s Jewishness made him “serve money” or that, as a Jew, he had no right to speak to her faith. The conflict soon escalated after Owens added a comment under her first post in the exchange: “Christ is King.”

The phrase “Christ Is King” has a very particular and ugly recent history. In January, the avowed white nationalist Nick Fuentes, leader of the Groyper movement of far-right, antisemitic provocateurs, gave a speech to his supporters about getting “rid of Jewish power in America.” When he proclaimed, “We are here to say that America is not a Jewish nation; America is a Christian nation,” he was met with chants of “Christ Is King.”

It wasn’t the only time. The Groypers chanted the same phrase at the “Million MAGA March” in Washington in November 2020, for example. There is no question that for the group, “Christ Is King” is meant as an aggressive trolling of Jews, not a mild profession of faith. Fuentes has said that the phrase is the “spiritual and moral foundation” of his America First movement—an explicitly antisemitic campaign. And in the months that followed Owens’ exchange with Shapiro, right-wing users on X took to posting the phrase as a reply to Jewish accounts, usually with an aggressively bigoted subtext.

Last month, Owens’ antisemitic comments grew more explicit. She claimed that there was a “sinister” “ring” of Jews in Hollywood. In an online feud with a famous rabbi, she liked a post on X asking if he was “drunk on Christian blood again.”

Fuentes was delighted. “Candace Owens has just been on a tear lately,” he said on his March 19 show. “She has been in a full-fledged war against the Jews, and specifically some of these Zionist rabbis. And I’ve been watching her evolution. It’s been remarkable to witness.”

On March 22, Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing posted an update on X: “Daily Wire and Candace Owens have ended their relationship.” (Owens posted on X that she doesn’t know Fuentes.)

During the weekend that followed—that of Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week in Christianity—“Christ Is King” trended on the platform, in part because of the holiday, and in part because of Fuentes gleefully pushing his followers to spam the site with a coded antisemitic rallying cry.

This was met with protest by some notable figures on the mainstream right, including several prominent conservative Christian podcast hosts; the CEO and managing editor of the conservative satire site the Babylon Bee; and Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, in addition to a number of people associated with the Daily Wire.

Several of these posts in turn were received with vitriol and mockery from antisemitic X users. In some cases—Fuentes was likely pleased to see this—the critical posts were met with a backlash by people who either missed the context or were feigning ignorance. Other users, meanwhile, said they believed that people on the right should always assume that “Christ Is King” is said in good faith and that, regardless, speech should never be policed. Still others responded to the chaos by adding their own “Christ Is King” posts to the mix, as a stand against “wokeism” suppressing religious speech.

Taken together, it was often impossible to tell apart the ostentatiously pious from the confused, the trolls, or the hateful white nationalists.

And Fuentes’ people seemed to rise in legitimacy by their participation in the discourse. In a conversation on Twitter/X Spaces about the phrase hosted by a Turning Point USA contributor and show host for the Blaze, Boreing ended up in conversation with a group of notable right-wingers that included anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer—and Fuentes, who also took the opportunity to spew antisemitic nonsense. Some observers were shocked to hear Boreing—again, the CEO of the Daily Wire, a company that is so influential it has its own film studio and, now, streaming network—tell Fuentes he wouldn’t be opposed to debating him on a Daily Wire platform. “I listen to your show quite often,” Boreing said. “I think you’re one of the most talented people out there, and I’m very concerned about some of the things that you’re saying.” On that same call, Fuentes praised Hitler as a “statesman” and complained that “Jews run our society.”

To Ben Lorber, a senior researcher at Political Research Associates, a think tank that monitors right-wing movements, this was a remarkable moment in showing just how far the window of acceptable discourse has shifted among establishment right-wingers. Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk has discussed “Jewish dollars” funding “cultural Marxism”; Elon Musk has amplified a conspiracy theory claiming that Jewish people are promoting “hatred against whites” and bringing “hordes of minorities” into Western nations.

“All these things were the stuff of 4chan a few years ago,” Lorber said. “Suddenly, it’s acceptable to think Jews shouldn’t have leadership positions in America.”

In another way though, the argument was literally an ancient one. The confusion echoed some of the oldest and ugliest sectarian conflicts in the Western world. Even as the news cycle itself amounted to a triumph for Fuentes and his trolls, the group succeeded by raising a question among Christian nationalists: If your animosity toward another religion and its adherents is based in your own religious beliefs, why is expressing that animosity not considered legitimate speech—especially when your political party claims to stand for religious freedom?

Undoubtedly, some of the backlash to Owens’ firing came from people who were purely hateful and gleeful at sowing chaos—edgelords with a taste for offense. But the religious core of some of the backlash was visible in the response the Daily Wire’s Andrew Klavan received after he spoke up against harassing Jewish accounts with “Christ Is King”: “When you use that phrase to mean God has abandoned his chosen people, the Jews, through whom he came into this world incarnate … you are quoting Scripture like Satan does in the Bible,” he said. “You are quoting Scripture to your purposes, and that to me is specifically wicked.”

Andrew Torba, the CEO of the right-wing social network Gab—a platform that welcomes open bigotry, slurs, and hate speech—and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist, responded in his newsletter: “First of all the Bible is very clear: God’s Chosen People are Christians, not unbelieving Christ-rejecting Jews.” He, like many other participants in the conversation, was incensed that he was being told by his own allies not to publicly proclaim such beliefs. “New ‘sins’ are being fabricated from thin air not by the Christless pagans on the left, but by those who claim to be Christians on the conservative right.”

Conservative Christians overwhelmingly support Israel, in part because of their fondness for the peoples of the Hebrew Bible. A smaller subset of evangelical Christians support Israel because they see it as necessary (along with the conversion of Jews) to pave the way for the Second Coming. There’s no simple unified stance within Christianity toward Jews and Israel. But there is one common stance, held by a large portion of churches, including the religion’s single largest denomination: the Catholic Church. The church is aware of the centuries of persecution against Jews that it fostered and the remaining modern-day dangers of antisemitic dogmas, and it officially rejects “supersessionism”—the theology Torba is promoting, which argues that Christians have replaced Jews as God’s chosen people.

“It’s dismissed at least in theory by most Christian traditions for being antisemitic,” Zack Hunt, a Christian nonfiction writer and the author of Unraptured: How End Times Theology Gets It Wrong, wrote in an email. “But in practice, at least among laity, but also many pastors, especially in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, there’s an unspoken understanding that it’s basically true.”

So, if you spent any time on right-wing social media during this debate, you saw a portion of those in the conservative movement arguing over not just whether they are allowed to say edgy things but whether they are allowed to openly profess that they, as Christians, view Jews as inferior at best and culpable in their savior’s murder at worst. For leading Jewish conservatives, such as Shapiro, it must have been pretty unpleasant. But people who believe this are the bedfellows that people like Shapiro have chosen to make.

“Now mainstream conservatives are forced to debate Is it OK that Jews don’t believe in Jesus?” Lorber, the researcher of right-wing movements, said. “Is it OK to have Jews in your movement if it’s a Christian nationalist movement? What’s the place for people like Ben Shapiro?

So, while the war in Gaza naturally brought out conflicts between isolationists and Israel-supporting conservatives, it also revealed—with the help of internet trolls eager to erode religious pluralism on the right—the fragility of the working relationship between extreme right-wing Christians and conservative Jews in their coalition.

A week later, the heat has died down. Conservative Christians were able to unite over a less dicey stance: condemning the Biden administration for celebrating National Transgender Day of Visibility, which this year fell on Easter Sunday. But the rift over Jews on the right was, for a week at least, exposed—and it remains a raw subject. For the trolls who managed to occupy space alongside leading members of the right, it was a major victory.