When the smart, caring students of Parkland, Florida, burst onto the scene last weekend, launching their Never Again campaign, I asked myself, “Who could possibly be against these high schoolers? Who could possibly attack the survivors of a massacre for opposing gun violence?”
How naive of me. This is America, where so many bottom feeders dwell beneath the bottom of the barrel.
Trump himself hasn’t assailed the students (so far). He hasn’t coined “Dopey David” for 17-year-old David Hogg, and he hasn’t made fun of 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez’ shaved head. But of course he doesn’t need to. His flying monkeys have swooped down to do his dirty business, and the results have been predictably repugnant. The fake news falls into four categories:
1. These empty-headed kids are being manipulated!
According to this theory, David and Emma and their friends are incapable of thinking for themselves. Therefore, they’re being “coached.” Therefore, they’re merely pawns whose heads have been stuffed with lefty rhetoric by crafty manipulators. Trump buddy and disgraced talking head Bill O’Reilly says, for instance, that the media is exploiting the kids’ “emotional state,” and applying “extreme peer pressure” to force them to support gun control.
And Jack Kingston, a former Republican congressman and Trump supporter (natch), insists that the kids’ “sorrow” has been “hijacked” by lefties: “Do we really think, and I say this sincerely, that 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally? I would say to you plainly that organized groups that are out there like George Soros are always ready to take up the charge.”
Someone should tell Kingston that, in the hashtag era, you don’t need “George Soros” to plan a national rally.
2. These kids have biased ties to the evil FBI!
Lucian Wintrich, who writes for the right-wing hacksite Gateway Pundit, endorses the aforementioned pawn theory: “[Hogg] and many of these other students are being used as marionettes by the far left and deep state … There is no credibility there and it’s disgusting to watch.”
But he takes it a step further. Bear with me as I try to connect his dots.
Wintrich claims that David Hogg in particular has no credibility as a gun-reform spokesman because Hogg’s father used to work for the FBI. The same FBI that missed some clues about the shooter. The same FBI that’s helping to investigate Trump. Wintrich writes, “the FBI is only looking to curb YOUR Constitutional rights and INCREASE their power. We’ve seen similar moves by them many times over. This is just another disgusting example of it.”
That theory has gone viral. In a tweet yesterday, one loon said he’s “just wondering” whether young Hogg is “running cover for his dad.” That particular missive was retweeted by Trump’s eldest son.
Yes, folks, we’ve reached the point where fever swamp denizens think it’s bad to have a familial tie to the FBI.
3. These kids aren’t even students at all!
Another theory is that these young people do not actually attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; instead, they are trained “crisis actors.” There’s faux-evidence about this on YouTube. Some fake-news purveyors have circulated the “crisis actor” theory on Facebook (“ARE YOU READY FOR A HEAPING HELPING OF TRUTH? THESE SO-CALLED STUDENTS ARE NOT STUDENTS”), and some posts have been shared more than 100,000 times.
At least one jerk in government joined in. Benjamin Kelly, an aide to a Florida Republican state legislator, sent out links to the YouTube video and told a Florida reporter yesterday that the students are actually “actors that travel to various crises when they happen.” The good news is that Kelly was fired last night; his boss apologized “for any pain this has caused the grieving families of this tragedy.”
4. These kids are really slackers who wanna party!
According to this theory, the gun thing is just the kids’ latest fad. Someone wrote yesterday on YouTube, “Soon enough the kids will go back to eating their Tide Pods and math class.” But the quintessential insult was authored by Dinesh D’Souza, a right-wing pundit and convicted felon (for making illegal campaign contributions).
A busload of Parkland students trekked 400 miles to the Florida state capitol yesterday, to watch lawmakers vote on a bill to ban assault weapons; after the bill was predictably nixed, D’Souza tweeted a photo of the saddened students and wrote:
Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs https://t.co/Vg3mXYvb4c
— Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 20, 2018
A few hours later, he was slam-dunked by student Sarah Chadwick:
Actually for me the worst news I got was that 17 people died in my school. One of my best friends was shot twice. And many more were injured. But sure keep making us look like we don’t know anything when in reality what we’re doing is much much much bigger than you can imagine. https://t.co/CUn4BfffSX
— Sarah Chadwick// #NEVERAGAIN (@sarahchad_) February 21, 2018
These young people — who are wise to the ways of the social media cesspool, and eligible to vote for president in 2020 — can handle the smears. The big question is whether they can sustain their commitment, weather the inevitable political setbacks, and help change the game over time.
Yesterday, David Hogg quoted the anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That’s a good start. And I bet he invoked Mead without being coached.