Longtime National Rifle Association (NRA) board member Ted Nugent became the subject of controversy on Wednesday after sharing an article on his official Facebook page that promoted a conspiracy theory about the victims of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Seventeen people were killed and 15 others were injured when a lone gunman entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus on February 14 and opened fire. The alleged gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 style rifle which he had purchased legally one year earlier, officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said.
In the wake of the shooting, scores of Stoneman Douglas students have begun passionately lobbying for tighter restrictions on gun sales and stricter background check requirements. Teens across the country have followed suit, staging walkouts and holding rallies at various state capitol buildings and the White House, to protest gun violence and call for change.
In certain right-wing circles, their efforts have been maligned and the students themselves mocked as “crisis actors” — paid demonstrators who supposedly show up at the scenes of tragic shootings to promote an anti-gun agenda.
On Wednesday, Nugent, a former hard rock musician who has gained notoriety over the years for his far-right views, joined the growing chorus of conservative figures promoting that conspiracy, sharing an article by Natural News, titled, “It’s all THEATER: Florida high school shooting survivor caught on video rehearsing scripted lines, coached by camera man.” The article alleged, without any proof, that Stoneman Douglas student and shooting survivor David Hogg, who has been interviewed by several mainstream news outlets, was a paid “crisis actor.”
Beneath the article, Nugent appears to have “liked” a comment from a follower, which read, “He is NOT a student! He is 26 years old and is a paid crisis actor. News organizations hire him to be a scripted witness or survivor. He has been at multiple shootings as a ‘survivor’. He is also a meth user recently arrested in South Carolina.”
Nugent also “liked” several other user comments, including one that claimed Facebook was erasing stories about the “crisis actor” conspiracy theories because the social media platform “does not like it when liberals get caught using tragedies for their political agendas,” as well as another that claimed, “Something [fishy] is going on here… SMH.”
Nugent shared the post on the eve of a CNN town hall for the Parkland shooting survivors, at which the NRA was slated to be in attendance.
The NRA itself has so far maintained a low-profile and avoided commenting on the shooting directly, opting instead to share articles on its social media channels meant to counter the arguments being made by student activists.
The organization’s decision to appear at the CNN town hall, then, is a break from tradition.
“I just hope that people are respectful and that it’s a civil discussion,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch told NRA TV this week. “We’re not going to get anywhere in this country by screaming at people and impugning their characters simply because they believe as they do. …I hope we can be respectful and have a civil debate without anyone screaming murderer at me.”
— NRATV (@NRATV) February 21, 2018
The NRA has given hundreds of millions of dollars to various political candidates over the years, lobbying hard for pro-gun efforts and staunchly opposing any efforts to study or regulate firearms or gun violence. It spent more than $31 million on the 2016 presidential race alone, with at least $11 million of that sum going to then-candidate Donald Trump. The NRA conversely spent more than $19 million in opposition of Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, according to OpenSecrets.
The NRA has also given around $10,000 to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) in the past few years alone. Rubio is expected to make an appearance at Wednesday’s CNN town hall.
Spokespersons for Nugent and the NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.