Emma Gonzalez, seen here wiping her tears at a town hall meeting in Florida, has come under fierce attack over her campaign against guns. Photo: AP
In the wake of the Florida school shooting, survivors like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez have become faces of the fight for US gun control – and targets for far-right pundits and conspiracy theorists who paint the students as puppets of the political left.
In a polarised climate where the most fervent supporters of President Donald Trump are quick to cry “fake news”, the students had barely started calling for action to stop mass shootings when wild theories began swirling on the far-right internet.
At the forefront were websites Infowars and The Gateway Pundit – known for relaying bogus theories including the notion that the shooting of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was a hoax.
“Evidence mounts Florida attack is a giant false flag,” ran the title of one video on Infowars. Gateway Pundit lashed out at “string-pullers” it said were manipulating the students, in support of a “vehemently anti-gun, anti-American, and anti-Trump” agenda.
The site namely implicated organisers of the “Women’s March” – which has voiced support for a student-led gun control march on Washington on March 24.
Hogg, a student journalist and one of the movement’s most visible faces, and Gonzalez, who called out Donald Trump over his links to the National Rifle Association in an impassioned televised address last weekend, have been on the receiving end of particularly fierce attacks.
Infowars alleged the pair were coached by CNN – the cable network regularly assailed by the American right for its supposed liberal bias – interpreting their ease in front of the camera as evidence they were in reality “crisis actors” working on behalf of the far left.
Meanwhile, Hogg’s father’s status as a retired FBI agent – an organisation in Trump’s crosshairs over its probe into Russian meddling in his election campaign – served as further conspiracy fodder.
A YouTube video presenting the theory was the site’s most shared footage Tuesday with around 200,000 views – before it was taken down. Similar allegations were circulating on social media under the hashtags #CrisisActors and #ParklandHoax, triggering immediate calls for the accounts to be blocked.
Still, another Parkland survivor, Cameron Kasky, who launched the movement’s rallying cry #NeverAgain, said on Wednesday he was suspending his Facebook account after receiving death threats from radical supporters of the National Rifle Association.
Conservative anchor Bill O’Reilly – who was fired by Fox News last year over sexual harassment allegations, but still broadcasts on his website and to his 2.6 million Twitter followers – also questioned the movement’s genesis. (AFP)