Right-wing websites and an aid to a Florida lawmaker spread false conspiracy theories that the students who survived a recent shooting in their school and are now advocating for gun control in the country are “crisis actors”, claims flatly rejected by the students as well as officials at their school district.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, are among those targeted by conspiracy theories about the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people.
An aide to Florida State Representative Shawn Harrison was fired Tuesday after he falsely accused the two students of being actors, the New York Times reported.
The aide, Benjamin Kelly, emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter a screenshot of them being interviewed on CNN and said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”
He then sent a second email to Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary with a link to a conspiracy video saying, “There is a clip on youtube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California. (I guess he transferred?)” The clip showed Hogg being interviewed in 2017 in Redondo Beach over an incident between a friend of his and a lifeguard.
The clip was a top trending video on Youtube Tuesday before the streaming website took it down Wednesday and apologized for its placement as part of the “trending” section.
The clips were shared on social media sites and even Donald Trump Jr, the president’s eldest son, had reportdely liked a couple of tweets promoting the conspiracy theory against the surviving students. The tweets have been since deleted but screenshots were shared by media outlets.
Responding to the bizarre allegations Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Tampa Bay Times that the legislative aide’s comments were “outrageous and disrespectful.”
“These are absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas. They’ve been there. I can verify that,” Runcie told the newspaper. Hogg also responded to the claims, telling CNN: “I am not a crisis actor. I’m somebody that had to witness this and live through this and I continue to have to do that.”
The two students are among those who have become the faces of a new movement for gun control and campaign for a ban on assault weapons in the state after they witnessed one of the deadliest shootings in their country’s history.
Similar conspiracy theories targeted survivors of previous mass shootings, including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Runcie further slammed such attacks as “part of what’s wrong with the narrative in this country. If someone just has a different type of opinion, it seems that we want to somehow demonize them or color them as being somehow illegitimate instead of listening. . We’ll never get beyond that if, as soon as you show up, you’re demonized.”