OPED: Conspiracy about survivors easily debunked

Christopher Brennan
Tribune News Service

Beyond failing to protect a generation of young people from regular mass shootings, the worst parts of the American public have now begun to question some of their existences.


Outlets such as InfoWars and the Gateway Pundit have reported that there are "questions swirling" over the media appearances of those who survived the attack on Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Wednesday.

The conspiracy, which resulted in the firing of the aide to a Florida state congressman who believed it, says that survivors David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez are paid actors who "travel to various crisis when they happen."

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez wipes away tears during a CNN town hall meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

YouTube videos have focused on the fact that Hogg, a 17-year-old who has been particularly vocal in his criticism of the U.S. gun violence epidemic, gave an interview to a Los Angeles TV station last summer after he took a "viral video" of his friend's confrontation with a lifeguard over a boogie board.

Beyond the obvious fact that having once been to Southern California does not make someone an actor, conspiracy theorists interested in spinning shooter Nikolas Cruz's slaughter of 17 people could have debunked their own claim if they took their internet stalking one step further.

A reporter for Stoneman Douglas' student newspaper, The Eagle Eye, wrote her own account of her classmate's brush with the media, which happened when Hogg was on vacation.

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The conspiracy videos also focus on the fact that Hogg has said his father formerly worked for the FBI and that he is seen in one clip practicing lines for a camera, though the CBS segment that aired later acknowledged that he was reading from an essay.

FILE- In this Feb. 15, 2018, file image made from video, David Hogg talks about his experiences at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High when a gunman opened fire and killed over a dozen students and faculty in Parkland, Fla. Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, two students who survived the Florida school shooting and spoke publicly about it, are not "crisis actors," despite the claims of several conspiracy-oriented sites and an aide to a Florida lawmaker. (AP Photo/Joshua Replogle, File)

The Eagle Eye also contains other mentions of Hogg, who has said he wants to be a journalist, including him interviewing local Rep. Ted Deutsch last month and acting as president of the school's drone club.

Another article has a picture of Hogg from last December, and mentions that both he and Gonzalez, also 17, were part of a weather balloon project.

Gonzalez was also mentioned as the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and condemned a crackdown against gay rights in Egypt last October.

The "questions swirling" in the dark, nihilist corners of the internet come as students have taken the lead in calling for an end to the inaction that has normally followed mass shootings.

Some survivors were present at the Florida legislature on Tuesday and cried as lawmakers refused to take up a bill banning assault rifles such as the AR-15 that Cruz used.

One of those voting against it was the Tampa area's Rep. Shawn Harrison, whose aide Benjamin Kelly told the Tampa Bay Times that Hogg and Gonzalez were actors.

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Kelly was later fired, and Harrison said he was "appalled" by the comments.

Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie also confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that Hogg and Gonzalez are students, and said that it was "outrageous and disrespectful" to say otherwise.

"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," he said.

— Christopher Brennan wrote this for the New York Daily News.