As students rise up to demand gun control the right aims to take them down, along with anyone who offers them support
After Parkland’s mass shooting, the wind seems to have changed. Students are speaking out, demanding that politicians act. And they’re getting some traction.
Many found their voice on Twitter and directly attacked Donald Trump’s strange and distracted online response to the massacre. David Hogg, a student journalist who interviewed his classmates as the massacre was happening, has been one of the leaders of a chorus of students calling for tough action on gun control. Emma González made a widely shared, impassioned speech which attacked the president directly, calling out the funding he has received from the National Rifle Association. Today, many of them are making their way in buses to the Florida State House to demand change.
The survivors are not elementary school students, or public employees, either shielded from media intrusion or disbarred from speaking out. They are confident young adults, many of them media savvy, and more than capable of matching the president when it comes to online snark. Several made it clear that “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of slaughter isn’t welcome.
So what is a rightwing media apparatus dedicated to the maintenance of unrestricted access to powerful assault weapons to do?
By and large, the answer has been to attack the students, along with anyone who offers them a platform or any other form of support. The nature of such attack has varied with the self-perceived seriousness of the outlet, but almost the entirety of the right has joined in. Unremitting support for the current interpretation of the second amendment and the advocacy of the NRA is one of the single issues that unites them.
The sleaziest and most direct attacks on individual students have come from the right’s more conspiratorial fringe. On Jim Hoft’s pro-Trump, conspiracy-minded website, Gateway Pundit, Lucian Wintrich performed a hatchet job on David Hogg, suggesting that he was “heavily coached on lines and is merely reciting a script”. Wintrich once told the Guardian that he learned about the perfidy of the left while attending Bard College. In his new piece, he claimed that because Hogg’s father works for the FBI, he may well be part of a broader anti-Trump conspiracy.
Gateway Pundit has been retweeted by Donald Trump senior and junior in the past, and they say that last year they managed to get White House Press Corps accreditation.
Conspiracy kingpin Alex Jones, who once told Piers Morgan that “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms,” published a similar attack on his Infowars website. His minions trawled through Hogg’s past, unrelated media appearances, saying that they “raised questions”. The piece then quoted one of their bevy of retired military “experts” who had appeared on Infowars, who repeated the FBI conspiracy theory, claiming that the bureau “has been hiring Social Justice Warriors for years”.
Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
It’s not that Jones doesn’t want to hear from students at all. The site, and Jones show, has highlighted commentary from a witness who claimed that there was a second shooter, and gave a lot of airtime to another who bolstered Jones’s now-reflexive “false flag” take on any given massacre. They just don’t want to hear from any who think that others should be spared the trauma they have endured through some measure of gun control.
Another approach was to find individual survivors of this massacre who did not happen to support the call from a large number of their classmates for gun control. The Daily Wire managed to find a pro-gun Marjory Stoneman student who accused the media of “politicizing” the massacre to talk about gun control. Glenn Beck’s outfit, The Blaze did their best to extract criticism of the FBI, not Trump, from one student’s CNN interview.
Others reached back into history to feature the wisdom of survivors of massacres in the more distant past. The Washington Times spoke to Columbine survivor and Colorado Republican Patrick Neville, who wants to remove restrictions on concealed carry in K-12 schools. His thoughts were reliably disseminated by Breitbart and other outlets.
The Federalist, a would-be purveyor of considered debates, considers itself a cut above such vulgar attacks – instead, under the guise of big tent commentary, they featured writers who have merely tried to undermine the students’ credibility by claiming they have no special status in the debate. On Monday, Chandler Lasch complained on the site that “Media tends to treat survivors like Hogg as if they are policy experts … Yet enduring tragedy does not make anyone a source of wisdom on legislation.”
Just because your school has been shot up by a disturbed young man with a semi-automatic weapon, the logic seems to run, you don’t deserve a more extensive hearing than a Hillsdale College student, hundreds of miles away.
Talk radio heavyweight Rush Limbaugh also likes to affect a certain gravitas. He was invited to discuss the massacre, and the students’ activism, on Fox News Sunday. Speaking to Chris Wallace, he defended the status quo, and recommended that more guns be introduced to schools to defend them from mass shooters. He lubricated the message with a few crocodile tears about the students’ pain.
Conservative movement stalwart the National Review is similarly fastidious – but they’ll reliably put their shoulders to the wheel to prevent measures that might lessen the incidence of large scale, random slaughter. Ben Shapiro spat out a would-be demolition of the students, and the left, arguing that their activism should be dismissed because in adolescence, “the emotional centers of the brain are overdeveloped in comparison with the rational centers of the brain”.
Dan McLaughlin, who has long blogged and tweeted under the moniker of The Baseball Crank, added that “if you have ever been, or known, a teenager, you know that even comparatively well-informed teens are almost always just advancing arguments they’ve heard from adults”.
Even, it seems, teens who have recently been shot at by a mass murderer.
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