First lady Melania Trump tacitly lent support to the young people who have emerged as activists for gun control legislation following the shooting last week at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
“I have been heartened to see children across this country using their voices to speak out and try to create change,” Trump said at the top of remarks at a White House luncheon she hosted for the spouses of the nation’s governors. “They are our future and they deserve a voice.”
Her embrace of the students turned activists, who have commanded attention through their social media platforms and TV interviews, rebukes some right-wing critics who have sought to dismiss or discredit them. Some in the far right have spread conspiracy theories about the teenagers, accusing them of being puppets of the “Deep State” and the FBI, or of being “crisis actors” paid to fake an attack to further an anti-gun agenda.
President Trump previously invited some students to the White House for a listening session, although his most prominent solution to violence in schools — arming teachers — has been met with widespread criticism.
Melania Trump did not specifically address gun-control policy in her brief comments Monday, but she spoke in more general terms about the subject that she says is her signature issue: the welfare of children. Trump’s concerns, she said, include the opioid epidemic and “negative social media interactions.”
The first lady, who has said she wants to protect children from cyberbullying, has found her message complicated by her husband’s tendency to tweet belittling insults. On Monday, she was more specific than she has previously been on the subject, saying adults need to “take the lead” in preparing kids for a dangerous world. “This means encouraging positive habits with social media and technology, even limiting time online and understanding the content they are exposed to on a daily basis.”
Trump’s encouragement of the teenage activists who survived the Florida shooting might also be seen as a response to a young woman who tweeted at her over the weekend, saying the Trump family has made things worse in the wake of the shooting. Lauren Hogg, a 14-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where the mass shooting took place, noted that her brother, David Hogg, 17, has been one of the more outspoken students calling for stricter gun control laws — a role that has made him the target of the conspiracy theories spread online.
Lauren Hogg called out the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., who liked a questionable tweet about her brother. “Hey @FLOTUS you say that your mission as First Lady is to stop cyber bullying, well then, don’t you think it would have been smart to have a convo with your step-son @DonaldJTrumpJr before he liked a post about a false conspiracy theory which in turn put a target on my back,” she wrote.
In another tweet to the first lady, Hogg wrote that Trump Jr.’s action “created a safe space for people all over the world to call me and my family horrific things that constantly re-victimizes us and our community. I’m 14 I should never have had to deal with any of this and even though I thought it couldn’t get worse it has because of your family.”