Conspiracy Theories Proliferate About Florida Shooting Survivors

  • February 22, 2018
parkland school shooting

Conspiracy theorists, including white supremacists, are attempting to disparage and discredit high school students who survived the February 14 shooting rampage in Parkland, Florida. 

The conspiracy theorists are claiming that the students who have articulated their views on the shooting and gun control on various news outlets, are actually “crisis actors.”  Other theories allege that the students are real but are being coached by “liberals” to speak out against guns and deprive Americans of their gun rights.

The “crisis actors" theory often gains steam in this country following mass shootings and related incidents.  A range of people on the far right contend that  the U.S. government stages mass shootings for the purpose of seizing guns and then features actors on TV to talk about the shootings to elicit sympathy for their cause.

These claims have become particularly prevalent since the shooting massacre of 20 young children and six adults at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, ConnecticutAlex Jones, who runs the conspiracy site, InfoWars has been one of the biggest promoters of the idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

Social media platforms provide a launching pad for many conspiracy theories, and those circulating about the Parkland students are no exception. After apparently emerging from discussion forums like 4 Chan and Reddit, the speculation migrated to other sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. In addition to referring to students as “crisis actors,” some theorists posited that there were two shooters at the high school, or that students were being coerced into making anti-gun or anti-Trump statements. The theories led to the harassment of some Parkland students and prompted a public outcry. In response, social media sites have removed some of the most offensive items.

A range of people have questioned aspects of the shooting in Parkland. Most have focused their ire on student activists like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, who have been very vocal about their views on gun control. 

An aide to Representative Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa), Benjamin Kelly, claimed that the two students “are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”  Kelly, who tried to “prove” his point by sending YouTube links to conspiracy theories about Hogg and Gonzalez, was later fired.

Others on the far right focused on the idea that the students were being coached.

  • Lucian Wintrich of The Gateway Pundit, a far-right site that often promotes conspiracy theories, posted an article on the site on February 19 that focused on Hogg.  Wintrich claimed that Hogg was being coached to make anti-Trump statements by “well-trained political operatives and MSM commentators.” Wintrich continued his attack on Hogg by promoting theories about the FBI going after Trump. He argued that Hogg’s father is a former FBI agent and that “many in the FBI have been working against the president from the start.”
  • Wintrich and others like former sheriff David Clarke, known for his pro-gun views, claimed that George Soros, a prominent liberal philanthropist, was behind the efforts of the students to advocate for gun control and a march on Washington, DC in March.

White supremacists took a slightly different approach to the shooting. Some, like neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, dismissed the idea that the Parkland shooting was a hoax but nonetheless attacked the students who have spoken about gun control. 

  • Writing on The Daily Stormer website, Anglin asserted that that Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg “are either not from the school at all and were brought in after the shooting to pretend to be students or, more plausibly, were chosen from the school and coached to play the role of actors running a movement to strip Americans of guns.” 
  • Lee Rogers, who runs the white supremacist site, Infostormer went further in his article. He used disparaging words to describe Hogg and Gonzalez, claiming that they were performers who are reading from scripts. Ominously, Rogers suggests that “someone needs to find this Hogg bozo and confront him on all this shit.”
  • Marcus Cicero, a pseudonym for a white supremacist writing for the website Occidental Dissent was much more explicitly anti-Semitic in his article on the shooting and the students speaking out against it. He titles the article, “Sniveling Little Brats Team Up to Demand Goyim Gun Seizures.”  Cicero claims that alleged shooter Cruz is Jewish. He writes, “Only in America will you find that a massacre of Jews…by a Jew typically leads to demands that the White Man surrender his weapons to the caring and compassionate authorities. Later, Cicero claims that if whites had “banned Jews and Hispanics during the  heyday of the White Race in America, Cruz would never have even existed—let alone go full Baruch Goldstein inside a random Florida school.”