In the aftermath of a horrific school shooting last week in Parkland, Florida, something at once sad, hopeful, and quintessentially American took shape after the tragedy: citizens, moved to action by a wrong they saw and experienced firsthand in their society, were catapulted onto the national stage as they decided to take action by demanding change from their elected lawmakers.
That’s what most of the country saw when many of the teenagers who survived a horrendous mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School - one that claimed the lives of 17 of their classmates and teachers - began mobilizing in support of sensible gun control laws.
A few on the fringes of the far right, however, suspected something far more insidious. To them, it was inconceivable that children who had spent hours huddled in closets texting goodbyes to their friends, siblings, and parents could be moved to political action; instead they feared that the all-knowing, all-seeing shadowy Left at work, working to mobilize or even entirely fabricate these survivors’ stories to dark political ends.
On the relatively more polite end of the spectrum were commentators like CNN’s Jack Kingston, a man once deigned qualified to represent a portion of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kingston rushed to accuse the youthful activists of being co-opted by pushers of a George Soros-funded, anti-gun agenda. In his mind, the pain of losing members of their community was, apparently, not a sufficiently motivating force for speaking out in the media and pushing for a nationwide march in favor of any sort of gun regulation; all his subsequent faux-concerned commentary focused on how terrible it was that the radical liberals would use these children in service of their nefarious, anti-Second Amendment crusade.
Sickening as it may be, however, this wasn’t the worst behavior on display. Conspiracy theorists immediately screeched that the whole Parkland tragedy was yet another ‘false flag’ incident designed by the Democrats to seize the weapons of law-abiding patriots. Viral videos and lengthy “reports,” to use the term very loosely, insisted that particular Parkland students were not terrorized high school students, but in fact “crisis actors,” bounced from tragedy to tragedy (funded by Fake News CNN or, again, Soros) to perpetually play the victim of fabricated tragedies. One shortsighted would-be sleuth eagerly tweeted a picture of a student’s yearbook photo, insisting it belonged to an entirely different high school archive - despite a student on the same page literally wearing a Douglas High t-shirt.
To be sure, the entirety of the conservative movement did not react in such an abhorrent fashion. Many Republican lawmakers stayed stoically silent or offered their thoughts and prayers. But when push came to shove last Tuesday, the GOP-controlled Florida House of Representatives failed to even consider a bill that would ban the sale of assault weapons. Their intransigence aside, it seems apparent that America’s longstanding gun debate has been slightly reframed, between those who are willing to take the passion of these young people seriously - and those who choose to dismiss their agency, discount their authenticity, or otherwise still refuse take action to address their concerns.
As this new phase of the national conversation develops, Democrats and others on the politically organized left would do well not to give credence to the criticism of those like Kingston. These kids should be supported every step of the way as they come into their own as activists, commentators, and forces for good - but never used in service of views or goals that are not their own. The conspiracy theorists, for their part, should be lambasted and debased as the half-witted, uncompassionate bottom-feeders that they are. They must be chased from the airwaves, the trending charts, and even the halls of Congress back into their caves through the unrepentant, full-throated mockery and derision of thinking people.
As for the rest of the Republican Party, it may be worth a check of the political winds, because these young people are giving voice to many Americans. More and more citizens are no longer willing to sacrifice a fundamental right to safety for the maximalist demands of a noisy minority. And in any functioning democracy, these voters will no doubt subject their elected representatives to consequences at the ballot box should they fail to act - all in service, of course, of protecting their loved ones from far worse consequences like those felt in too many classrooms and other public spaces across America.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at email@example.com.