In a series of tweets this Tuesday, conservative spokesperson and vocal Trump supporter Candace Owens addressed the case the Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old student who went missing on July 18 after she went out for a jog. On Tuesday, authorities charged 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera with her murder — a development seized on by conservative commentators who are pushing the narrative that Rivera is an illegal immigrant.
“Mollie Tibbits was killed by an illegal immigrant,” Owens tweeted late Tuesday afternoon. “There will be ZERO outrage from Democrats and the spineless celebrities who march to their orders because they need open borders for votes.”
Mollie Tibbits was killed by an illegal immigrant. There will be ZERO outrage from Democrats and the spineless celebrities who march to their orders because they need open borders for votes.
How many more AMERICAN lives is the left willing to sacrifice for elections?
— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) August 21, 2018
Owens followed up with another tweet, this time mentioning outrage over President Trump’s policy of separating families at the US-Mexico border, claiming that liberals reserve their outrage for the way illegal immigrants are treated while ignoring American citizens killed by immigrants.
“Leftists boycotted, screamed, and cried when illegal immigrants were temporarily separated from from their parents,” Owens tweeted. “What will they do for Mollie Tibbetts? What did they do for Kate Steinle? They will NEVER see their parents again.”
While Owens’ sentiments received praise from the usual gaggle of anti-immigrant ideologues on Twitter, many pointed out that her attempt to correlate crime with immigrants from Latin America as just another talking point from pro-Trump conservatives looking to paint the immigrant community with a broad brush based on the actions of a few.
One of those people was Tibbetts’ cousin.
In a tweet replying to Owens, Sam Lucas pointed out that her family isn’t “so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals” and asked Owens to “stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. [Take] her name out of your mouth.”
hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth. https://t.co/xxZNBF0Uv9
— sam (@samlucasss) August 22, 2018
The tweet immediately blew up and went viral. As of this writing, it has received almost 200,000 likes and retweets. Lucas followed up with another tweet telling Owens that her politicization of Tibbett’s death is “not helping” her grieving family.
Owens then accused Lucas of being more angry at Trump supporters than the person who killed her cousin.
“I find it strange that you have directed obscenities and hate towards people that support the President, but you have not directed a single bad word toward the monster who committed this terrible crime,” Owens tweeted in response.
Lucas quickly responded and slammed Owens again for politicizing her cousin’s death and questioning her motives for speaking out.
“I don’t have this mans twitter handle, or any way to contact him, but trust me, I have had nothing but evil thoughts about this man,” Lucas tweeted at Owens. “HE is a devil. That doesn’t mean that everyone like him is. I think it’s despicable that you’re using her death to push a political agenda.”
Others expressed disgust at Owens’ choice to pick a fight with Lucas after highlighting the death of her cousin.
.@RealCandaceO is seriously picking a Twitter fight with one of the cousins of Mollie Tibbetts right now. What is wrong with these people?
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) August 22, 2018
imagine being a communications director and not understanding that arguing with a family member of someone that was just murdered about how they just hate trump is a… bad idea?
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) August 22, 2018
Shaming a murder victim’s family to own the libs.
— Justin Parisi (@NFSDudeAbides) August 22, 2018
Even GOP strategist Frank Luntz thought Owens’ take was out of line.
I’m sorry for the loss of your cousin, Sam.
And I’m in admiration of how valiantly you’re dealing with the toxic politicization of her death. pic.twitter.com/TPYyoXUruY
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) August 22, 2018
Other members of Tibbetts’ family rejected attempts to make her death a talking point against immigrants. In a Facebook post from Tuesday night, Tibbets’ aunt Billie Jo Calderwood reminded people that her niece’s murder has nothing to do with immigrants.
“Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color,” Calderwood wrote.
“Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
UPDATE: A previous version of this article identified Rivera as an illegal immigrant. Subsequent reports say Rivera’s lawyer clarified that was in the country legally at the time of Tibbetts’ murder, contradicting claims by authorities that he was undocumented.