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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

School Shooting Spawns Conspiracy Theories

The internet has been rife with rumors about the school shooting that left 17 dead in Florida on Feb. 14. We’ve debunked several of them.

Initially, the rumors focused on the alleged shooter himself, Nikolas Cruz. But, as students who survived the shooting started advocating stricter gun controls, new rumors focused on the most vocal among them. Those falsehoods grew into full-fledged conspiracy theories, one of which briefly topped the list of trending videos on YouTube.

That one claimed that David Hogg, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was actually a “crisis actor.” Similar theories claiming that many of the teens are “crisis actors” popped up on Facebook along with claims that they are part of a “deep state” conspiracy involving CNN and the FBI. These rumors got extra exposure when they were highlighted by public figures and amplified on social media with the help of Russian bots.

There also was a rumor that Hogg graduated in 2015 from Redondo Shores Continuation High School, which is for at-risk students, in California. That rumor, which appears to have originated on a hoax Twitter account, purported to show his yearbook photo from Redondo Shores.

The fact is Hogg is a student at Stoneman Douglas High School. He’s a member of the school’s television news show and was pictured in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in 2015 running in a cross-country race for Stoneman Douglas.

For more, see our Feb. 22 story, “No ‘Crisis Actors’ in Parkland, Florida,” and our Feb. 25 item, “Phony Yearbook Photo.”

Another rumor, one of the first to show up online, claimed that Cruz is a registered Democrat.

He is not. According to records from the Florida Department of State, he is not a registered voter.

That claim originated on a conservative website called Gateway Pundit with the headline: “BREAKING: Don’t Let The MAGA Hat Fool You, Hispanic Shooter ‘Nicolas de Jesus Cruz’ Was A Registered Democrat.”

Although that site later changed its headline to say that Cruz was not, in fact, a registered Democrat, it was too late. Other websites had already copied the inaccurate version and promoted it on Facebook, contributing to an unsupported narrative that mass shooters are often Democrats. rep. Claudia Tenney of New York later continued spreading that narrative, telling a radio show host: “It’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn’t talk about that.”

She offered no support for her statement.

For more on the claim about Cruz, see our Feb. 20 story “Florida Shooter Not Registered Dem.”

Another early rumor with a political bent claimed that former First Lady Michelle Obama had blamed President Donald Trump for the shooting.

She didn’t. At the time that claim was made – based on a fabricated quote – the only statement she had made publicly was a retweet from Barack Obama’s account expressing grief.

She has since tweeted about her support for the students who are advocating changes to gun laws. Still no mention of Trump.

For more, see our Feb. 21 story “Made-up Michelle Obama Quote.”