An aide to a Florida state representative was fired Tuesday after telling a reporter he believed some of the teens speaking out about last week’s Parkland shooting, which left 17 dead, were paid actors.
Benjamin Kelly, an aide to Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison, started a firestorm when he sent Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary an email claiming the students giving TV interviews weren’t actually students at all.
Asked to back up his claim, Kelly sent Leary a link to a conspiracy video on YouTube.
Rep. Harrison was quick to condemn the remarks and announced Kelly’s termination just a few hours after the email was made public.
The news drew the attention of other Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, who called the conspiracy theorists a “disgusting group of idiots.”
Misinformation began rocketing around the internet almost immediately after news of the Feb. 14 school shooting broke, including allegations that the teen gunman was linked to a white supremacist militia. A flood of Russian bots were also observed aggravating the gun debate on Twitter.
Those false reports picked up steam as prominent conspiracy theorists began weighing in. InfoWars’ Alex Jones suggested the shooting could be a “false flag” attack from Democrats, while Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich alleged shooting survivor David Hogg’s eloquence was a result of coaching from outside interests as a way to attack President Trump.
Even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., joined in the speculation, liking conspiracy tweets and videos — one of which suggested Hogg was a “Deep State media” plant attacking the president and covering for Hogg’s father, who worked in the FBI.
This isn’t the only issue high-level officials in the Trump administration have had with spreading misinformation online. The same day Kelly made the Parkland allegations, a top official at the federal department of Health and Human Services was placed on administrative leave after a CNN inquiry into his social media posts of conspiracy theories, the network reported Tuesday. Trump also recently caused an international incident after retweeting fake videos from a far-right Islamophobic group in the U.K.