A little more than five years ago — it seems so much longer — a gunman armed with an assault weapon walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children aged six or seven, along with six staff members who had tried to protect them.
The children who survived Sandy Hook were too young to speak publicly about their trauma, and the parents who tried to do so quickly became targets of a right-wing conspiracy theory alleging that they were all actors hired to play parts in a highly organized hoax. That gruesome theory, championed by Alex Jones and other then-fringe outlets, became widespread enough to ensnare Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones, leading him to post a tweet claiming that that the FBI “confirms that Sandy Hook was a hoax!” (He later deleted the tweet and apologized.)
It’s a different situation for the survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 of their classmates were murdered by a gunman with an assault weapon. They do have a voice, that voice is eloquent, angry and powerful, and they are using it to profound and righteous effect. Through social media, TV appearances and public pressure, they are directly confronting the inaction and illogic of elders who continue to act as if mass shootings are some act of God that must be accepted rather than a manmade tragedy that can and must be fought.
“… being in school, our lives are put at risk every day, and that’s unacceptable,” as senior David Hogg put it in one interview. “But what are we going to do about it? We felt like the rest of the country — there’s nothing to do. When this happened, we knew that this was our chance to say, ‘No more kids are going to die.’ We’re going to hold these sick politicians who prefer the murder of children to [losing] their reelection, we’re going to hold them accountable.”
As at Sandy Hook, that courage has provoked a conspiratorial backlash as right-wing and pro-gun activists try to discredit the students. Hogg, for example, is the son of a retired FBI agent, which not long ago would have boosted his credibility among conservatives. These days, it became an excuse to dismiss him as an anti-Trump plant.
Hogg and his fellow students also face accusations of being paid spokespeople, as if the experience that they survived was not sufficient to explain their outrage. One of those leading the attack has been Jack Kingston, former Republican congressman from Georgia. In a tweet Sunday night, Kingston accused the students of somehow being linked to antifa and to George Soros, the bogeyman of the right.
Later, in an appearance on CNN, Kingston continued his attack, again trying to claim, without evidence, that the Parkland kids were being put up to this by left-wing political groups. He went on to blame Hollywood violence and the removal of God from the classroom, and even downplayed the lethality of the weapon that had just been used to kill 17 at Parkland, 58 at Las Vegas, 25 at Sutherland Springs, Texas, saying that the caliber of bullet used in assault weapons is too small to even hunt deer.
Maybe so, but for its designed purpose of killing large numbers of human beings, it has proved quite good.
If it weren’t so tragic it might be funny. When these kids step forward to condemn “stupid politicians,” calling them “pathetic” and “disgusting” for not wanting to take action, Kingston and others step in front of the TV cameras as if summoned by a casting agent, demonstrating just how deadly accurate such descriptions have become.