(CNN) — A top trending video on YouTube Wednesday suggested an outspoken survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is a actor.
Calls by student David Hogg for stricter gun laws in the days after last week’s massacre have made him the subject of smear campaigns and demonstrably false conspiracy theories.
“I’m not a crisis actor,” Hogg told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360” Tuesday. “I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that.”
He added, “I’m not acting on anybody’s behalf.”
The YouTube video, captioned “DAVID HOGG THE ACTOR,” is of a local television report from Southern California in which a young surfer gets into an argument with a Redondo Beach lifeguard after the youth is criticized for placing his boogie board on top of a trash can. It was the No. 1 trending video Wednesday morning until it was taken down following a CNN inquiry.
“We felt threatened,” Hogg tells the reporter, speaking of his friend’s encounter with the lifeguard. “He seemed unpredictable.”
YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other videos calling Hogg a crisis actor are still up on the video-sharing site.
Hogg, 17, and many of his classmates have been outspoken about the need for stricter gun laws since they witnessed the massacre of 17 students and staff members at their Florida high school last week.
Memes and other YouTube videos have surfaced with outlandish claims the students are anti-gun “actors” who travel around the country to the sites of mass shootings.
In Florida, an aide to a state representative on Tuesday emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter a screenshot of them being interviewed on CNN and said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Times that the legislative aide’s comments were “outrageous and disrespectful.”
“These are absolutely students at Stoneman Douglas. They’ve been there. I can verify that,” Runcie told the newspaper.
The aide, Benjamin Kelly, sent a second email to Times reporter Alex Leary with a link to a conspiracy video saying, “There is a clip on you tube that shows Mr. Hogg out in California. (I guess he transferred?)” In the clip, a news reporter interviewed Hogg while on vacation in 2017 in Redondo Beach as a witness to a friend’s confrontation with a lifeguard. On Wednesday, YouTube had replaced one link to a video about Hogg as an actor with a notice saying it violated the site’s policy on harassment and bullying, but other videos remained.
Kelly tweeted later Tuesday that his comments were a mistake. The speaker of the Florida House, who oversees all House employees, subsequently fired him.
Runcie called such attacks “part of what’s wrong with the narrative in this country. If someone just has a different type of opinion, it seems that we want to somehow demonize them or color them as being somehow illegitimate instead of listening. . We’ll never get beyond that if, as soon as you show up, you’re demonized.”
Some have suggested that Hogg’s father, a former FBI agent, coached his son to criticize President Donald Trump — an allegation that Donald Trump Jr. appeared to endorse on Twitter.
It’s not the first time such allegations have surfaced. After the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, some conspiracy theorists said the massacre was staged by the government and accused victims’ families of being paid actors.