Most normal people who are watching the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting stand up to legislators, demand action, and plan nationwide walkouts are inspired by their bravery, their ability to articulate their grief and turn their rage into something productive. But believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there who really think that the Parkland shooting victims are “crisis actors” and that the whole thing was made up. Ugh.

These people pop up every time there’s a shooting, which they call a “false flag” — a military term for when a ship would fly a different flag to confuse the enemy.

These people are conspiracy theorists who are convinced that the shootings are all staged by Democrats, news coverage and all, and the people involved are made up.

There is public evidence that conspiracy theorists approach family members of shooting victims and accuse them of lying to the American public in the name of pushing for stricter gun laws. Imagine having your little sister die in a mass shooting and some stranger yelling at you in public that she never existed. That’s what they do, in addition to crazy amounts of bullying on social media. Some of these are real people with blue checkmarks by their name on social media; others are Russian bots. false

These “hoaxers” pop up after every mass shooting, whether it was at a school, the one at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and a concert in Las Vegas. Because the teens have mobilized so quickly and are so eloquent on camera about the issues surrounding gun control, this time these conspiracy theorists are convinced the shooting is all a ploy meant to change gun laws, which is really absurd, because our lack of laws regulating access to guns results in so many people dying every year.

It’s sad to think that some people’s first response to a tragedy like that is to make Photoshopped memes to spread misinformation about what really happened, instead of wondering how we can effectively keep kids safe.

The Parkland shooting, like all the others you’ve heard about, was very real, as much as we wish it wasn’t. What’s also real is the fact America’s gun laws are stupidly dangerous, and it’s about time we demand that something be done about them. If the murder of 20 six-year-olds in 2012 didn’t turn into a crackdown on guns, then what ever will? Whether they’re bots or prominent right-wing lunatics, putting this idea out into the world is extremely dangerous given what we know about fake news. And please note that our gun laws never really change, so if the Democrats were really hiring crisis actors to push an agenda, they’re not doing a very good job of it.

Still, the idea persists. Alex Jones for example, who has a show on the actual fake news website, posted a video right after the Orlando shooting in which he spoke about how he thought the massacre was staged by the government to pass “hate laws to deal with right-wingers” and to disarm gun owners. A Twitter user with the handle Woke AF wrote about the Parkland students, “All these #Parkland students being interviewed sound a lot older than high school kids. OMG! – this kid just asked for gun control! Each “kid” repeating the same talking points!”

Another added, “You know I always thought the ‘crisis actor’ thing was BS but seeing how oddly these kids are reacting and how prepped they are with shitty talking points I’m not so sure anymore… what the hell.”

Obviously, these people are either willfully trying to refocus the discourse or ignoring facts. Or they’re unhinged enough to actually believe that these shootings aren’t real. Both scenarios make it especially difficult to convince American voters that over half of the Republican party and more than a handful of Democrats are funded by the National Rifle Association, which insists at all costs that more guns means more safety and that intense background checks and counseling before purchasing a firearm is an infringement on their rights. false

It really drives home the point that changing voters’ ideas about gun reform laws might be more difficult than some of us think right now. The survivors of the Florida shooting have been so effective at organizing and are able to speak so eloquently about the issues surrounding gun control because they’ve grown up in a post-Columbine world where mass shootings just happen all the time. Who knew any of us, barring military service or a hunting trip, would even know what an AR-15 is? There’s literally no reason in the world that anyone besides law enforcement should be able to talk about “active shooters” and the nuances of open carry laws. Yet here we are, with high school seniors taking charge and sounding more informed than most cable news pundits when it comes to promoting real change.

If the teens are pissed, it’s because they were terrorized by a classmate and have grown up in a world where drilling for mass shootings is normal. If the “kids” are informed, it’s because they’re not ignoring the news and want to do something about it. It’s not because they’ve been hired to play a part, and even hinting at that is cruel and backwards.