An aide to a Republican Florida politician was fired after suggesting two Parkland school shooting survivors who are the subject of conspiracy theories are "crisis actors."
In an email, Benjamin A. Kelly, district secretary for Florida State Rep. Shawn Harrison who represents Hillsborough County, said that two students – David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez "are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen."
Hogg and Gonzalez have been vocal on social media and on television about their efforts to prevent further mass shootings.
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However, the grief they face is being corrupted online as the false conspiracy theories spread.
Hogg is targeted in the theories. He is a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who works at the school's TV station.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie confirmed to media outlets that both are students at the school.
"These are absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas. They've been there. I can verify that," Runcie said.
Following the shooting in which 17 people, mostly his peers, died, Hogg has been outspoken about enacting gun reform to prevent similar tragedies as part of the #NeverAgain movement.
Specifically, Hogg has directed his outrage at the NRA and politicians who have received donations from the gun-rights group.
In the unfounded conspiracy theories, individuals and online groups have used images of Hogg to portray him as a "crisis actor" – definition of which being an actor that travels from crisis to crisis to propagate a specific ideology usually for a political goal.
One post uses as its evidence an interview Hogg conducted with CBS Los Angeles related to a story about a confrontation between a lifeguard and a body surfer – an altercation Hogg caught on camera.
The conspiracy theory further gained traction among fringe parts of the internet after it was mixed with fact: Hogg's father is a retired FBI agent.
The theory seemingly spread to upper levels in state legislature.
Following Kelly's email, Harrison said his aide was "terminated from his position."
"I am appalled at and strongly denounce his comments about the Parkland students. I am again sorry for any pain this has caused the grieving families of this tragedy," Harrison wrote on Twitter.
Harrison said that he does "not share [Kelly's] opinion and he did so without my knowledge."
Kelly on Twitter said he "made a mistake."
"I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland," he wrote on Twitter before deleting his account.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio did not mince words in his condemnation of the conspiracy theories.
"Claiming some of the students on tv after #Parkland are actors is the work of a disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency," Rubio wrote on Twitter.
After outrage following reports, Facebook said it would remove images perpetuating the conspiracy theories.
"Images that attack the victims of last week's tragedy in Florida are abhorrent," Facebook content policy head Mary deBree said. "We are removing this content from Facebook."