The longer the Parkland students continue their protests around gun control, the more they are being targeted by worsening insults, lies, and unhinged accusations. Two of the school’s highest-profile activists, David Hogg and Emma González, have become the focus of a particularly troll-like strain of pro-gun anger and this week were likened to Nazis, Communists, and anti-American traitors.
The attacks now come not just from the alt-right and anonymous Twitter louts. Since the weekend’s massive marches for gun control, more and more prominent figures in media and politics are aiming previously unfathomable public attacks at the youngsters.
The derision came early, in the form of the conspiracy theories from the usual sources. Radicals on Twitter were accusing the students of being actors even as news reports of the Feb. 14 shooting were still coming in, and conspiracy-theory king Alex Jones quickly spread these falsehoods further—despite eventual pushback from internet platforms.
Fast-forward a month, and we began to see fabricated attacks like this viral GIF altered to show Emma González appearing to tear up the U.S. Constitution, which caught on during the March for Our Lives. At its peak, it was shared by actor Adam Baldwin, who in the caption of the now-deleted tweet compared her to a member of the Hitler Youth. (In the real video, published by Teen Vogue, González tore up a gun-range target.)
Hogg, meanwhile, has been repeatedly smeared in memes likening him to Adolf Hitler.
In notable instances of prominent people making bizarre critiques of the Parkland students, Iowa Rep. Steve King’s campaign Facebook page mocked González for wearing a Cuba flag patch on her jacket. “This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens,” the Facebook post read. “[H]ence their right to self defense.”
The campaign team then defended itself by saying the “meme in question” was “obviously” not an attack on González’s heritage but “merely points out the irony of someone pushing gun control while wearing the flag of a country that was oppressed by a communist, anti-gun regime.” (It also seemed to say that González should speak Spanish, despite the fact that King has said before that “Assimilation, not diversity, is our American strength.” Also, the Cuban flag predates Castro’s regime.)
King might be the most prominent politician to attack the Parkland students individually, but he isn’t the only one. As a testimony to the pervasive influence of conspiracy-mongering pro-gun conservatives online, local political figures have given in to liking, sharing, and echoing arguments untethered to facts but strong in conviction, intended only to undermine the efforts of these teenage victims. Or, feeding off partisan anger, they have simply resorted to insults. Here are more examples of such attacks from political figures:
Benjamin Kelly, Aide to Florida State Rep. Shawn Harrison
On Feb. 20, Ben Kelly emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter, unsolicited, with a then-shocking statement about Hogg and González. “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen,” he said in the email.
When the Times asked for evidence supporting his claim, Kelly sent an email, still from his official government account, linking to a conspiracy video showing Hogg in a news clip in California as evidence he was a crisis actor. “There is a clip on you tube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California,” Kelly wrote. “(I guess he transferred?)”
Harrison told a reporter that Kelly should not have sent the email. He then said he placed Kelly on leave and that Kelly shared the statement “without my knowledge.” Kelly was then fired by state House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
The day before, on his personal Twitter account, according to the Times, Kelly liked a tweet calling González a “brown bald lesbian girl.”
Leslie Gibson, Republican Candidate for the Maine State House
Just over two weeks ago, when Gibson was running unopposed for the seat, he said in a since-deleted tweet that “There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me and there is nothing that she has to say unless you’re a frothing at the mouth moonbat.” The tweet was referring to González, who is openly bisexual and who has a buzz cut. He also called Hogg a “moron” and a “baldfaced liar.”
In the outrage that ensued, some state legislators condemned his comments, and Hogg took to Twitter to ask people to run against Gibson. Two challengers surfaced just days later, and Gibson withdrew from the race. “I am walking away with my head held high,” he said.
Anthony Testaverde, Longtime Aide to New York State Sen. Martin Golden
On Saturday, Testaverde shared on Facebook a photo of Hogg holding his right fist in the air at the March for Our Lives demonstration. Next to it was a historical photo of Hitler saluting. Below, an image of Hogg wearing a black mourning band was compared to a photo of a Nazi swastika armband. “I knew something was off about this kid,” the post declares.
The comparison of the Parkland activists and other gun control advocates to Nazis cites a historically flawed argument that has long persisted in pro-gun circles about the Third Reich taking away German citizens’ guns, preventing effective resistance. “The Democrats are doing exactly what Hitler did,” Testaverde wrote in another post. “He used the youth to disarm and control the people. This is scary!”
Sen. Golden faced loud criticism for the actions of his aide, and he publicly condemned Testaverde’s posts as “offensive” and “misguided” but refused to say he would fire him. On Tuesday, Testaverde was fired.
Mary Franson, Minnesota State Representative
On Saturday night, Franson shared a Facebook post that referred to Hogg as “Supreme Leader.” She then shared a quote, via the conservative site the Daily Wire, from the March for Our Lives speech by Delaney Tarr, a 17-year-old Parkland survivor, who said, “When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile!” Franson’s commentary above that quote was “And there you have it friends … the anti gunners, the high school students who speak for all, aren’t interested in an ‘inch’. They want the mile. They want your guns. Gone.”
The kicker, though, came about 15 minutes later when she posted a link from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website titled, “Shaping the Future: Indoctrinating Youth.” Above, she quoted Hitler talking about indoctrination. Later, as she faced criticism over linking Parkland survivors to Nazi youths, she argued that the indoctrination post was unrelated to her earlier posts and denounced the media for making the connection.
If more proof was needed that insults and conspiracy theories have mainstream power, Donald Trump Jr. liked two tweets attacking Hogg. In one, conservative TV host Graham Ledger linked an article from Gateway Pundit and suggested Hogg, whose father is a former FBI agent, was “running cover” for his father because the FBI “botched” tracking down the shooter. Trump Jr. liked another tweet peddling the same conspiracy with a post from a far-right website about the “Outspoken Trump-Hating School Shooting Survivor” that doubted Hogg was an actual victim and blamed the “Deep State media” for giving him a platform.
Given that the Parkland student-activists are still working to encourage more town hall events and more demonstrations, it seems likely these teenagers will face evermore vile personal and public attacks in the months to come. Although we cannot expect any personal responsibility from internet trolls, Americans should expect better from public officials, who have the power to lend legitimacy to the more disgraceful arguments circling around social media. But in the instances above, the public responded by rejecting the hateful arguments, and proved we have the power to hold these politicians to account.