- Conspiracy theorists keep targeting David Hogg, who survived last week’s shooting at a Florida high school, making several false claims about him.
- Hogg told CNN the conspiracy theories were “absolutely disturbing.”
Far-right conspiracy theorists are targeting David Hogg, a survivor of last week’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, with some falsely claiming that his yearbook photo proves he did not attend the school and others saying he’s actually 26 years old.
Hogg has recently become the target of several conspiracy theories spread by far-right outlets such as The Gateway Pundit and True Pundit, as well as through social-media accounts, that center on baseless claims that Hogg is an actor working in cahoots with the FBI.
Hogg, a student journalist who says he interviewed classmates during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has become one of the most prominent student voices, calling for stricter gun-control measures and characterising the response of politicians – and specifically President Donald Trump – as “disgusting.” He has been featured as a guest on networks like CNN and CBS.
A Twitter user identified as “Laguna Beach Antifa” on Tuesday posted what they said was a photo of Hogg and his classmates in a yearbook, claiming it was from Redondo Shores High School in California and that Hogg graduated in 2015.
The post has been retweeted more than 4,000 times and replicated on other social-media sites like Facebook.
“David Hogg didn’t attend #Parkland high school,” the Twitter user wrote. “I went to school with him at Redondo Shores High School in California and he graduated in 2015. Here he is in our yearbook from 2015. He always wanted to work for CNN and be an actor.”
The claim was quickly debunked. People on Twitter pointed to the student wearing a shirt with “Eagles” on it two photos above Hogg. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s mascot is an eagle.
???????????? he moved from California our freshman year and hasn't transferred since. I've worked with him in many tv production project and sorry @davidhogg111 but he isn't that great of an actor. Everything you see is real. pic.twitter.com/rAAgWMfR7X
— Daniel Williams (@danielwillims) February 21, 2018
Others on Twitter claimed that Hogg is 26 and was once arrested in South Carolina. The photo of that David Hogg, however, bears no resemblance to the student.
Hogg’s classmates were quick to defend him.
@davidhogg111 is smart, funny, and diligent, but my favorite thing about him is undoubtedly that he’s actually a 26 year-old felon from California.
— Cam (@cameron_kasky) February 21, 2018
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California also defended Hogg on Twitter, saying he knew Hogg before his family moved to Florida.
“THIS CONSPIRACY THEORY IS INSANE,” Lieu wrote. “Our kids know David Hogg. My wife and I know his mum, who taught at our kids’ elementary school before they moved to Florida. Although David is very articulate, he is not a crisis actor. He is a student who lost 17 of his classmates to bullets.”
The conspiracy theories first started to bubble up online after far-right outlets began pointing to Hogg’s father’s status as a retired FBI agent to suggest something nefarious in the student’s frequent media appearances.
Pro-Trump accounts on social media have shared the stories on Twitter and in some cases have thousands of retweets. The far-right One America News Network promoted a tweet suggesting Hogg may be “running cover for his dad who works as an FBI agent at the Miami field office.”
The stories gained more attention when Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., liked two tweets related to them.
The conspiracy theories have spilled into the ranks of government, too.
Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Republican Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison, told a Tampa Bay Times reporter on Tuesday afternoon that Hogg and a fellow student were “actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.” Kelly was fired later that day.
The prominence of the conspiracy theories led Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to publicly condemn those spreading them.
“Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
During an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night, Hogg said the claims about him were “absolutely disturbing.”
“I am not an actor in any way, shape, or form,” he said. “I am the son of a former FBI agent, and that is true. But as such, it is also true that I go to Stoneman Douglas High School, and I was a witness to this. I am not a crisis actor. I am someone who had to witness this and had to live through this.”
Meanwhile, an expansive network of Russian social-media bots has zeroed in on Hogg.
Researchers at Hamilton 68, a joint venture between the Alliance for Securing Democracy and the German Marshall Fund that has closely tracked Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations, found on Tuesday that “Hogg” was the top trending topic within the network it follows.
Thanks to Gateway Pundit, the name of a child (David Hogg) who survived the Florida school shooting is now the #1 trending topic in Russian-linked influence networks, per @SecureDemocracy's Hamilton 68 dashboard. They're spreading conspiracy theories calling him a crisis actor. pic.twitter.com/U9Bw3VvAZU
— Caroline Orr Bueno, Ph.D (@RVAwonk) February 20, 2018