Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg isn’t the first human flashpoint for conspiracy theorists—he’s not even the first school shooting survivor to become one—but the 17-year-old does have a strategy for dealing with them.
It appears to be this: Call bullshit with abandon.
In a conversation with VICE in March, Hogg and his family responded to the various claims that have been repeatedly lobbed at him: he’s a crisis actor, he’s a communist, he’s basically Hitler reincarnate, he’s a lackey of George Soros.
“I don’t care,” Hogg said. “I don’t. I have bigger, more important things to focus on than these stupid conspiracies that aren’t true in any way, shape or form, have no validity, and don’t hold their weight. At all … these people are going to keep trying to take us down but that’s how we know what we’re doing matters … whenever someone tries making a change that matters, and a change for the better, there’s always someone that tried stopping them.”
Pointing out the absurdity of the threats and conspiracy theories has acted as somewhat of a buffer. “These people have no fucking life. To go after a witness of a school shooting, it’s pathetic, and as my dad was saying, it’s fucking weird,” he said.
This attitude is consistent with Hogg’s previous declarations. He’s gone after everyone from former sheriff and noted media hated David Clarke—he said “You disgust me” after Clarke tweeted that the Parkland teens were connected to George Soros— to Fox News host Laura Ingraham and her advertising revenue. He chalks this approach up to his age, which is both encouraging (today’s teens know how to harness and handle the internet better than any of us) and depressing (this is likely the only version of the internet they’ve experienced.)
“[We’re] the generation of 9/11, the recession, cyberbullying, and school shootings,” he said. “We’ve had to live around that and through that our entire lives. We’ve had to learn to deal with these sick fuckers that are saying this stuff, that are out there, claiming that we’re not real people, claiming that we’re actors—and we know not to let this stuff online affect us.”
(The attitude may also come from his mother, who at one point said, in reference to online threats made against her family, “You fucked with the wrong mama bear.”)
“To the people that are out there that actually believe what he says, do some fucking research and show me some credible evidence to what he’s saying about me.”
Hogg brings up several incidents—he said an “NYPD officer” showed up in his DMs and called him a “little bitch”—but he reserves particular ire for Alex Jones, the face of InfoWars and an infamous conspiracy theorist who has floated the idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax.
“The lovely man that is Alex Jones, who believes that water turns people gay, sells snake oil, which, by the way, great snake oil, it’s called Jones brand snake oil … he’s a conspiracy theory-peddling alt right fuck who doesn’t do any research,” Hogg said. “Honestly, the guy’s pretty smart in the sense that he’s able to fool all these Americans—well over two million—into believing all the crazy shit he says, just so he can sell them stuff.”
Part of the reason Hogg and his activist classmates have stuck out so much is because they have an unusually sophisticated grip on what makes movements like this successful. It’s notable that they’re viewed as beacons of light, because in some ways, they’ve proven themselves adept at recognizing humanity’s darker impulses.
“There was a short time when I was like, ‘oh god, this is like, scary and stuff,’ but then I realized, this is great advertising,” he said of the conspiracy theories. “It’s keeping us in the press, it’s keeping us relevant, and it’s continuing our story.”
“I think this is somewhat of a problem with platforms, and it always will be, in the sense that you can’t control every single person that makes these things,” Hogg said at another point. “But the power in politics and the power in media lies with the advertisers and the people that actually give you money."
“To the people that are out there that actually believe what he says,” he added, “do some fucking research and show me some credible evidence to what he’s saying about me.”
In some ways, it’s refreshing to hear these kinds of zero-tolerance statements—particularly given that the call to boycott Laura Ingraham’s advertisers was met with a whole lot of bad-faith hand-wringing—though they can come across as perfectly clipped soundbites.
But given that this sort of fear-mongering is likely to happen again (and again, and again, as long as massacres like Parkland continue), Hogg and the other teens have helped create a new kind of blueprint for how to respond. Jones, Clarke, and Ingraham aren’t the only attention-grabbers anymore.