The moral bankruptcy of fringe right-wing sites is well established, but that doesn’t mean they have lost all capacity to shock. For instance, look at the conspiratorial smears about Florida teenagers who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week being pushed on several far-right sites.
As so often happens, the conspiracies first percolated up from the social media fever swamps and into the pro-Trump blogosphere. They claimed that the students’ calls for gun control are in fact part of a deep-state plot to take down the president.
Here’s the headline and picture for a story at Gateway Pundit, a site that frequently acts as a bridge for hoaxes traveling between the pro-Trump underworld of Reddit and 4chan to popular right-wing figures like Sean Hannity:
The story goes on to suggest that Hogg, a 17-year-old high school senior who urged lawmakers to take action on gun control following the shooting, “was heavily coached on lines and is merely reciting a script.” The sole piece of evidence for this claim by Gateway Pundit writer Lucian Wintrich appears to be that Hogg’s father is a retired FBI agent. The story concludes:
Why would the child of an FBI agent be used as a pawn for anti-Trump rhetoric and anti-gun legislation? Because 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.
A site called True Pundit published a similar take with an accusatory headline adorned with Hogg’s picture. InfoWars, meanwhile, dug up footage of a local CBS story about an altercation between one of Hogg’s friends and a lifeguard. What it purports to illustrate about Hogg’s character is beyond the limits of my imagination:
It’d be easy to shrug off such attacks as the work of nihilistic frauds like Wintrich and Alex Jones. But that would belie their reach among high-level political figures, conservative media outlets, and even the mainstream media.
It’s clear that the anti-student narrative is spreading beyond the fringes. On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. liked two tweets—one of which, by One America News Network, has since been deleted—linking to both Gateway Pundit and True Pundit’s stories:
Bill O’Reilly, for years among the most popular conservative pundits in America, implied that an opportunistic media is using students like Hogg as pawns:
And National Review, the supposed beacon of conservative thought, published a take by boy-wonder Ben Shapiro slamming the students as left-wing shills. “What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?” Shapiro wrote. “They were present during a mass shooting, and they have the right point of view, according to the Left.”
You would think that the mainstream media might at least pull up the drawbridge to keep such smears out of its own coverage. But CNN analyst Jack Kingston, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, said on air this morning—to an audience likely in the hundreds of thousands—that students’ plan to hold a nationwide rally against gun violence could only be the work of George Soros.
“I just think it’s a testament to the sick immaturity and broken state of our government when these people feel the need to pedal conspiracy theories about people that were in a school shooting where 17 people died and it just makes me sick,” Hogg told BuzzFeed on Tuesday. “It’s immature, rude, and inhuman for these people to destroy the people trying to prevent the death of the future of America because they won’t.”
He’s right. But with such claims already just one degree of separation from the president, the question now is whether they’ll make the final jump to our Tweeter in Chief.