The Right Comes for the Parkland Shooting Survivors


Sean Posey | Politics & Government | Commentary | April 24th, 2018



Only hours after one of the ten deadliest mass shootings in modern American history, an outpouring of national grief was accompanied by a concerted attack on the credibility - and even the existence - of the victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The assault on a group of underage student survivors encapsulates all the worst traits of the alt-right, in a campaign of hate and disinformation that stretches from the putrid bowels of 8chan to the halls of the nation's capital.

In the days after Nikolas Cruz murdered seventeen students in Parkland, the Washington Post reviewed thousands of posts on 8chan and 4chan (popular message boards for the alt-right and right-wing conspiracy theorists), as well as Reddit. They found an orchestrated disinformation campaign, sometimes referred to as "4chan attacks," aimed at destroying the creditability of news reports about the incident.

That campaign soon spread to attacking the survivors themselves, the Post shows.[1] "They began crafting false explanations about the massacre, the Post explained, "including that actors were posing as students, in hopes of blunting what they correctly guessed would be a revived interest in gun control."[2]

Within a very short period of time, wild alt-right conspiracy theories spread throughout social media and into so-called news outlets. Gateway Pundit, a bizarre, conspiracy-oriented website that actually gained White House press credentials in 2017, tweeted a fake BuzzFeed news story in the wake of the shooting. Reporter Lucian Wintrich, who holds White House press credentials, retweeted an article entitled, "Why We Need To Take Away White People's Guns Now, More Than Ever," which itself emanated from 4chan and was picked up by the Twitter account MagaPill. The account is known for spreading untruths, from the infamous "Pizzagate" story of 2016 to accounts of various so-called "false flag" attacks.[3] Sean Hannity and the Drudge Report, among others, have linked to or referenced articles in Gateway Pundit.

YouTube has played an important role in disseminating false information about the shooting, particularly the idea that students were actually "crisis actors," paid to act out a staged event. Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia, looked at 256 videos on YouTube on the subject of "crisis actors." He then followed the videos suggested to him by YouTube's recommendation engine. This ultimately revealed a network of nearly 9,000 conspiracy related videos. A video that suggested that the Parkland students are crisis actors (paid by George Soros and CNN) actually became the top trending video on YouTube before it was removed. [4]

According to Albright's study, "the view count for 50 of the top mass shooting-related conspiracy videos is around 50 million. Not every single video overlaps directly with conspiracy-related subjects, but it's worth pointing out that these 8842 videos have registered almostfour billion (3,956,454,363) views." [5]

The idea of suggesting that recent mass shootings are either hoaxes or "false flag" attacks, that is attacks orchestrated by the "Deep State" or other forces, dates back at least to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Perhaps the most well known purveyor of these types of conspiracy theorists is Alex Jones, who runs a daily radio show on Infowars.com. "The Alex Jones Show" reaches millions, and Jones, a close friend of Trump ally Roger Stone, actually hosted Trump on his show in December 2015. After the election, Trump called Jones to thank him for his support.

Jones called the Sandy Hook shooting a "hoax" and has refused to apologize for his assertions.[6] "I've watched the footage, and it looks like a drill," Jones said. [7] He has taken a similar approach to the Parkland shooting. After initial reports that gunman Nikolas Cruz was linked to a white nationalist group were corrected, Jones claimed the mistake was part of a liberal conspiracy against gun owners. "We said the perfect false flag would be a white nationalist attacking a multicultural school as a way to make the leftists all look like victims and bring in gun control and a war on America's recovery, and now, right on time, what we've been warning of, their main card, the thing we said was imminent, appears with all the evidence." [8]

Since then, Jones has run a segment showing footage of Parkland survivor David Hogg speaking with an Adolph Hitler speech dubbed over his voice. Instead of showing footage of the actual crowd at the 'March For Our Lives Rally,' the video instead cuts to historic footage of Germans saluting Hitler with outstretched arms. Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez, a bisexual woman of color, is also shown spliced together with footage from Nazi rallies. Incredibly enough, Jones goes on to say that he is not actually calling the students Nazis. [9] This is the level of rhetoric going out across the nation from a show that garners an estimated two million listeners a week. One of Jones's followers has even started a website solely aimed at besmirching Hogg's character. [10]

Conspiracy theorist Dinesh D'Souza also quickly got in on the act. "Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs," he tweeted after a bill calling for a ban on military-style weapons failed in the Florida Legislature in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. Even the blog RedState, edited by Caleb Howe - who has positioned himself as an anti-Trump moderate - published an article that questioned whether David Hogg was actually on campus during the time of the attack. (Journalist Sarah Rumpf later walked her claim back.) Former Congressman Jack Kingston, who now appears regularly as a pro-Trump talking head on CNN, questioned whether students could really organize a march on Washington - instead suggesting that George Soros, Antifa and the Democratic National Committee were behind the rally.

Nor have these kinds of attacks been limited to right-wing media. Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Representative Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa), claimed that surviving Parkland students pictured in the media were not actually students "but actors that travel to various crisis [sic] when they happen." Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, referred to Emma Gonzalez as a "skinhead lesbian" before a popular backlash led to his quitting the race.

An even more appalling attack came from Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), a darling of the alt-right. A post from King's official Facebook page attacked Gonzalez's heritage and attempted to tie her to Communist Cuba. Conflating Gonzalez's jacket patch of the Cuban flag with support for communism quickly led many to question King's basic knowledge of history, not to mention his decency. Rebecca Bodenheimer explains that the Cuban flag "has been deployed by both sides of the political spectrum and whose meaning has been perhaps more contested than at any other time in Cuba's history."[11]

It should not come as a surprise that King is involved in the assault on the Parkland students. After he quoted Dutch far right-politician Geert Wilders on Twitter in 2017, Andrew Anglin, editor of the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, called King a "hero" who "is basically an open white nationalist at this point." [12] "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," is the King quote Anglin was referring to. Perhaps that is why King is attacking Gonzalez, who is the daughter of an immigrant.

But the Parkland teens have not taken these attacks lying down. After Fox News Host Laura Ingraham ridiculed Hogg for speaking publically about his having failed to gain entrance into several California colleges, he called for companies that advertise on her show to withdraw their ads. After over a dozen advertisers pulled their ads, Ingraham conveniently began a week-long vacation. Hogg has since rejected her subsequent apology. However, as the Parkland students continue their activism, and as calls for gun control grow louder, there is little doubt that forces on the far right will continue to launch attacks on Hogg, Gonzalez, and anyone else who attempts to stand up to the NRA - regardless of their age. It will be up to us to have their backs.


Notes



[1] Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell, "We Studied Thousands of Anonymous Posts About the Parkland Attack - And Found a Conspiracy in the Making," Washington Post, February 27, 2017.

[2] Ibid.,

[4] Jefferson Graham, " 'Crisis Actors' YouTube Video Removed After it Tops 'Trending' Videos," USA Today, February 21, 2018.

[5] Jonathan Albright, "Untrue-Tube: Monetizing Misery and Disinformation," Medium, February 25, 2017.

[6] NBC, "Megyn Kelly Reports on Alex Jones and Infowars," NBC News Web site, https://www.nbcnews.com/megyn-kelly/video/megyn-kelly-reports-on-alex-jones-and-infowars-970743875859 (accessed March 30, 2018).

[8] Genesis Communications Network, "The Alex Jones Show," February 15, 2018.

[9] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSdtT_TdkRE (accessed March 30, 2018).

[11] Rebecca Bodenheimer, "Emma Gonzalez Isn't Endorsing Communism, She's Living Her Truth," CNN, March 28, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/28/opinions/steve-king-has-emma-gonzalez-cuba-flag-wrong-bodenheimer/index.html (accessed April 1, 2018).

[12] Andrew Anglin, "Hero Steve King Calls for White Racial Supremacy in America," The Daily Stormer, March 12, 2017.