WASHINGTON -- The White House's embrace of a prominent Black advocate for Donald Trump who made inflammatory remarks about George Floyd has caused turmoil among other African Americans close to the president, threatening their support for his reelection.
The dispute began earlier this month, shortly after Floyd's death in the custody of Minneapolis police. Candace Owens, a Black author and pundit known for her aggressive support for Trump and provocative views on race, called Floyd a "violent criminal" and a "horrible human being" in a video she posted on Twitter.
She also criticized Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man allegedly murdered by two armed White men in Georgia in February, accusing him of breaking into homes before he was killed.
Trump has consistently polled in the single digits among Black voters. After Owens' remarks, which drew criticism from other Black conservatives, Vice President Mike Pence invited her to the White House for a private discussion of U.S. racial divisions. That caused the small community of conservative Black pastors, Republican strategists, businesspeople and celebrities that act as public surrogates for Trump, advocating his reelection, to nearly rupture, according to interviews with several of them.
"We're all in damage-control mode right now," said Angela Stanton-King, a surrogate for the president who met with Pence on June 9. "Her delivery harms the work we're trying to do in the Black conservative movement."
"You have Black America crying out and hurt," she added. "It kind of feeds into the narrative that this is a racist administration."
Without mentioning Owens by name, Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor who has been one of Trump's most visible African American proponents, said that criticism of Floyd and nationwide protests that followed his death "sparked a doggone firestorm" and that "it almost caused a conservative civil war" among Black Trump supporters.
Owens' meeting with Pence amplified concerns about her comments on Floyd. Scott said that he spent days on the phone, working to hold together Trump's coalition of Black surrogates. Other Black Trump supporters he didn't name told him that if Trump's campaign was identifying with Owens's message on Floyd, they would sit out the election, he said.
Scott and Stanton-King are both members of "Black Voices for Trump," an outreach effort to the Black community within the president's campaign. Scott is often at Trump's side for announcements on initiatives intended to benefit the Black community.
Trump has not gone so far as Owens to criticize Floyd personally. Arbery's family was among a group he invited to the White House earlier this month for a private meeting before signing an executive order to encourage better use-of-force training for police.