Now 17, the self-described populist conservative is mastering a new kind of political commentary. He blasts out short videos on Twitter to his 310,900 followers, reacting to the news of the day and taking aim at Democratic talking points with his homegrown Georgia drawl.
It’s made him plenty of enemies. One of his regular opponents is Roland Martin, a prominent African American political commentator and former CNN contributor. In one particularly testy exchange, Martin warned that Pearson would get his “[obscenity] whipped” for getting into “grown folks’ business.” Pearson fired back that “I don’t remember ANY journalist directing such violent hate towards the Parkland kids. Different rules for conservatives, I suppose.”
Anthony Bradley, author and professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York City, has tracked the burgeoning online activism of young black conservatives with interest. He says the unexpected nature of the combination of young, black, and conservative—“in the era of Trump of all eras”—explains some of the rancor the group has drawn.
“To me it’s absolutely ridiculous that you’re going to attack a bunch of teenagers and college students,” Bradley said. Teenagers naturally fight for causes and challenge the establishment, he said: “It just so happens that this iteration of black youth rebellion against existing norms happens to be in favor of Donald Trump … and because of that, people are losing their minds.”
Pearson has had some well-documented political missteps, including a stint when he disavowed the Republican Party and backed independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2015. Not long after, he recommitted to conservatism and landed on the Trump campaign. He partially attributes his missteps to not having mentors or a community around him back then.
A little over a month ago, Pearson encouraged his followers to share why they had left the Democratic Party with the hashtag #BlackNotDemocrat. Within hours, the hashtag rose to one of Twitter’s trending topics.
In a phone interview he told me he started the hashtag because “stigma is the biggest thing we have to tackle.”
Pearson said he did not specifically brand the hashtag as Republican because his goal is not necessarily to convince African Americans to switch parties. Pearson said he’ll question both parties when necessary, though he thinks Democrats should be challenged not to take the black vote for granted.
Nothing quite prepared Rondeau to deal with the amount of verbal abuse she would get for disavowing the Democratic Party. Strangers called her ugly, accused her of betraying her race and of being an “Uncle Tom,” and cast other racist slurs. She said she had to report one threat to come and find her from someone who lived nearby in Maryland.
Rondeau said she believes some of the hateful comments stem from “a huge misconception that black people who consider themselves Republican are anti-black or secretly white supremacists or hate themselves.”
At first, a somewhat shaken Rondeau locked down her social media accounts to private. But she decided to resurface after considering her reasons for speaking up in the first place: “I consider myself very pro-black, that’s why I decided to be an activist and outspoken; I believe Democrat policies harm black communities the most. … That’s why I want to make a change.”
She made a YouTube video responding to the insults to show “I wasn’t taking it that seriously, that I was laughing at the stupidity of people who would refuse to debate me but just call me names.”
Another young black conservative unafraid to spar with critics is 17-year-old Khaliq Rodriquez. Hailing from Harlem, N.Y., Rodriquez said almost everyone he knew voted for or identified with the Democratic Party.
So when he started identifying as a conservative online in 2016, “people I thought I could call friends … completely disavowed me as soon as I chose to think differently.” Classmates accused him of going against his race by voicing support for Republican policies.
Rodriquez had started to question Democratic policies after experiencing a night-and-day difference in quality between public schools in his Harlem neighborhood and the private school he attended after earning a scholarship. He still doesn’t understand why, faced with abysmal reading proficiency statistics, fights breaking out in the halls, and outdated textbooks in some of the worst public schools, local Democratic politicians dismissed school choice as a racist Republican idea.
After that, he started to look into other conservative ideas. “Schools were the big red pill for me,” Rodriquez said.