PARKLAND, Fla. - Just days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the internet was awash with conspiracy theories, targeting a group of students who appeared in television interviews and urged more gun control. But in recent days the false stories about these student activists have proliferated after they organized the massive "March for Our Lives" in Washington, D.C.
Here are five of the most prominent false stories about the Parkland survivors circulating on the internet:
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THE MYTH: The activists are actually "crisis actors."
THE TRUTH: This is was the original Parkland conspiracy theory, but despite being repeatedly debunked by major media outlets, the myth remains prominent on the web. The activists who have featured prominently in television interviews and speeches at last weekend's "March for Our Lives" are enrolled at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and live in and around Parkland.
Many of the students are polished on camera because they had experience in journalism, public speaking and, yes, acting before the shooting.
"I've been acting since kindergarten in Ms. Blakely's production of 'The Rainbow People.' I was the narrator and since then I've been lucky enough to be in 'Little Shop of Horrors,' 'Fiddler On The Roof' [pictured above] and if you've seen those you'd know I'm not somebody who deserves any money for acting," student Cameron Kasky has said.
THE MYTH: Emma Gonzalez tore up the Constitution
THE TRUTH: Gonzalez recently took part in a photo shoot for Teen Vogue. The photographer filmed a video where Gonzalez rips a gun-range target. However, the video was later altered to make it appear that Gonzalez was ripping a copy of the Constitution and widely spread on the internet. The doctored video was meant to imply the Gonzalez was against the Constitution and by extension, the Second Amendment.
Gonzalez and the other student activists have called for strict regulations on gun sales including banning semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 rifle, but they have never advocated banning all guns or doing away with the Second Amendment.
THE MYTH: Gonzalez supports the Castro regime in Cuba
THE TRUTH: During Gonzalez's speech at the "March for Our Lives" she wore an olive-green jacket and with a patch of the Cuban flag. Gonzalez is of Cuban descent. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, came to Gonzalez' defense after Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, criticized the patch as a sign of support for the Castro regime.
"I spoke to Jose Gonzalez, who explained that Emma is proud of her dad and abuela’s Cuban heritage and in no way was it a sign of support for the Castro dictatorship," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Many Miami homes also have Cuban flags, Steve King. That doesn't equal support for Castro. Folks should learn about our community before criticizing a high school student."
THE MYTH: David Hogg wasn't at school at the time of the shooting and is part of the "Deep State."
THE TRUTH: The conservative website Red State reported this week that Hogg wasn't actually at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the shooting. However, Hogg, the news director of the high school's TV station, actually filmed his experience while he and his classmates were in lockdown during the shooting. The website later retracted the story.
Other fringe sites maintain that Hogg is plant of the "Deep State," a so-called cabal of federal officials in agencies like the FBI and CIA that secretly run the government. How is a high school senior an agent of the "Deep State?" Conspiracy theorists point to the fact that Hogg's father is a retired FBI agent.
THE MYTH: The activists bullied gunman Nikolas Cruz before the shooting
THE TRUTH: This myth is often paired with the #WalkUpNotOut meme. The meme argues that students shouldn't walk out of school to protest gun violence, but they should reach out to students who have been shunned and bullied so they don't become violent.
"The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors," Stoneman Douglas student Isabelle Robinson wrote in op-ed titled "I Was Kind to Nikolas Cruz. He Still Killed My Friends" for The New York Times.
Social media commenters have frequently accused Gonzalez of bullying Cruz.
The myth comes from Gonzalez's first public speech after the shooting. "Those talking about how we should not have ostracized him. You didn't know this kid," she said.
But according to multiple interviews with more than a dozen students, Cruz's peers stayed away from him because he was obsessed with weapons and exhibited disturbing behavior like posting pictures of dead animals on social media. The students said they shunned him because he was violent. He didn't turn violent because of bullying, they said.
Cruz's younger brother, Zachary Cruz, did admit that he and friends bullied Nikolas, and he told deputies that he wished he had been nicer to his brother.
Gonzalez and the other students merely said they kept their distance because they were afraid of him, which is different than bullying.
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