In some far-flung conspiracy quarters, the articulate, determined Florida high school students leading a gun-control movement are literally too good to be true. They are "crisis actors."
The false assertion, which has rocketed around the Internet, has even cost an aide to a Florida state representative his job.
Benjamin Kelly, district secretary for Rep. Shawn Harrison, emailed a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times that several students who appeared on television criticizing lawmakers on gun-control laws actually travel to different incidents when they happen.
"Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen," he told reporter Alex Leary.
In response, Harrison proclaimed himself "appalled" by Kelly's "insensitive and inappropriate" allegation and fired him.
"I do not share his opinion and he did so without my knowledge," he said on Twitter.
Kelly also posted an apology.
To the wilder conspiracy critics, the fact that the students are well-spoken and articulate seems to be clear evidence that all is not right.
In fact, at least two of the more outspoken students, David Hoggs and Cameron, Kasky have had some experience in the public eye. Hogg is news director of the school TV station and Kasky is a drama student once considered the class clown.
Hogg, who has been interviewed numerous times by national networks, has been a particular target of critics as the students' gun-control efforts have gained traction. He has proved to be cool in stressful situations, even interviewing fellow students with his phone during the shooting as the gunman roamed the halls.
"I'm not a crisis actor," Hogg told CNN's Anderson Cooper on AC360. "I'm someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that.
"I'm not acting on anybody's behalf," he said.
Conspiracy theorists, however, see a plot afoot in the fact that Hogg's father has retired from the FBI, which has come under attack by zealous pro-Trump outlets for its role in the Russia investigation.
Infowars, which is headed by conspiracy king Alex Jones and has claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, notes that Hogg has become an "overnight celebrity." Infowars quotes a former Navy SEAL as saying that it is "very significant" that Hogg's father once worked for the FBI, since the bureau, he says, has been hiring "SJWs" for years — a reference to "Sociai Justice Warriors."
The site also accused Hogg of “not remembering his lines” and posted a video of him making statements and stumbling over his words prior to a pre-taped interview.
Snopes, which debunks Internet rumors, looked into claims that Hogg is not really a Parkland student as claimed by a website that posted a page from a purported classmates.com yearbook from Redondo Shores HIgh School in California claiming to show Hogg as a student in L.A., and a quote from a classmate who said he "always wanted to work for CNN and be an actor."
Snopes, however, notes that the source code on the classmates.com entry was created on Feb. 20, 2018.
A former student at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, where the shooting occurred, notes that the "Redondo" page is actually from a Douglas yearbook, which explains why many in the photo are wearing a Douglas shirt.
The Gateway Pundit, another fringe website, reports that the leaders of the movement are all members of the same drama club. It said the students "are being used as political tools by the far left to further anti-Conservative rhetoric and an anti-gun agenda."
"Behind the teenagers, working as the string-pullers, are the same people behind the Women’s March. They are vehemently anti-gun, anti-American, and anti-Trump – this is part of their sales pitch," it says. The headline on the article refers to the Women's March as "Soros-linked," a reference to investor, philanthropist and political activist George Soros, who often finances liberal causes, but the article itself does not mention his name.
"By co-opting theater-trained youth and turning them into celebrities, the left is attempting to brainwash the countless kids who aren’t politically based on their fear of being implicated in a school shooting," The Gateway Pundit says. "There is a lot of heartlessness behind their work."
Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh stays away from the "child actors" meme but does argue that the students are being used: "Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the NRA and guns.”