An aide to a Florida lawmaker has been fired after claiming that survivors of the Parkland shooting who spoke out in favor of gun control were crisis actors.
On February 20th, Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary tweeted that an aide of Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison had sent him an email claiming that two of the survivors weren’t actually students at the school. According to Leary, aide Benjamin Kelly said that “both kids in the picture [referring to students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez] are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.” When Leary asked him for evidence of his claims, Kelly allegedly sent an email referencing “a clip on you tube [sic] that shows Mr. Hogg out in California,” with a link. The video, which Leary called “a YouTube conspiracy video,” showed Hogg in a California news broadcast discussing a dispute with a lifeguard over a boogie board. Kelly allegedly sent both emails from his work account.
After Leary tweeted at Representative Harrison to ask whether he was aware of the email, Harrison released a statement saying that he hadn’t been aware of Kelly’s “insensitive and inappropriate” claims and that he had been placed on leave. Later that night, Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, tweeted that he had fired Kelly with Harrison’s “full support.”
After his firing, Kelly tweeted that he “made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting,” and stressed that he “meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland.” According to the Washington Post, Kelly’s twitter handle was later deleted after he tweeted a quote from the Bible: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Kelly was condemned for his words, both on and offline. Florida representative Marco Rubio, who has clashed with several of the survivors over his connections to the NRA, said that those who claimed they were actors were “a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.” Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Tampa Bay Times that the teens were indeed members of his district and that Kelly’s comments were “outrageous and disrespectful.” And, the same day the story went national, 11th-grade class president Jaclyn Corin tweeted, “We are KIDS — not actors. We are KIDS that have grown up in Parkland all of our lives. We are KIDS who feared for our lives while someone shot up our school. We are KIDS working to prevent this from happening again. WE ARE KIDS.”
But Kelly’s email is only part of a broad trend of right-wing news sources and lawmakers criticizing the survivors. Hogg has been criticized for having a father who is a former FBI member and allegedly having been“coached” on “Anti-Trump lines” in an article that Trump Jr. “liked” on Twitter (above). The right-wing commentary site Infowars said it was a “peculiar coincidence,” since “the FBI has come under fire for not preventing the Parkland massacre despite being warned about suspected killer Nikolas Cruz repeatedly beforehand,” and also criticized him for becoming an “overnight celebrity” after the shootings.
The suspicion has been frustrating for the student leaders, especially for Hogg, who has born the brunt of the allegations. “I am not a crisis actor,” he said, on CNN’s AC360. “I’m somebody that had to witness this and live through this and I continue to have to do that.” When asked about the accusations that Kelly and others have made, he continued, “The fact that some of the students at Stoneman Douglas high school … are showing more maturity and political action than many of our elected officials is a testament to how disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America. But we’re trying to fix that.”
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