An aide to a Republican lawmaker in Florida was fired Tuesday for spreading a bizarre conspiracy theory about survivors of the Parkland school shooting. Benjamin Kelly, a staffer to state Rep. Shawn Harrison, used a government email account to email the Tampa Bay Times, claiming that two students filmed speaking out against gun violence were "not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen." Asked to back up his claim, Kelly emailed back with a YouTube conspiracy video containing a news clip showing 17-year-old student David Hogg in California last summer. After he was contacted by a reporter, Harrison said Kelly would be suspended because of the "insensitive and inappropriate allegations."
Kelly, whose comments were strongly denounced online by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, was later fired by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. But the conspiracy theories go far beyond Harrison's office, the New York Times reports. Right-wing media hosts have also accused the student activists of being "crisis actors"—or of being coached by adults to call for gun control and defend the FBI. "Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks," Rush Limbaugh said Monday. "It has the same enemies: the NRA and guns." BuzzFeed reports that Donald Trump Jr. liked two tweets Tuesday that claimed Hogg, son of a retired FBI agent, was being coached to denounce Trump and defend the agency. Hogg called Trump Jr.'s attitude "immature, rude, and inhuman."