WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST)- First Lady Melania Trump tacitly lent support to the young people who have emerged as activists for gun-control legislation following the school shooting last week at a high school in Florida 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 Donald Trump invited some students to the White House for a listening session last week, though his most prominent solution to violence in schools – arming teachers – has been met with widespread criticism.
Melania Trump – who rarely makes public remarks – did not specifically address gun-control policy in her brief comments on Monday, but she spoke for about five minutes in general terms about the subject that she says is her signature issue: The welfare of children. She mentioned the opioid epidemic and “negative social-media interactions” as specific concerns.
Previously, the First Lady has said she wants to protect children from cyberbullying, but has found her message complicated by her husband’s tendency to tweet insults at his political opponents.
On Monday (Feb 26), she was more specific than she has previously been on the subject, saying adults need to “take the lead” in preparing kids “to deal with many of the evils in our world today.”
“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,” she said.
Melania Trump’s encouragement of the teen 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, the Parkland, Florida, school where the mass shooting took place, noted that her brother, 17-year-old David Hogg, has been one of the outspoken students calling for stricter gun control laws – a role that has made him the target of the conspiracy theories spread online.
“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,” Lauren Hogg tweeted.
In another tweet to the First Lady, Hogg wrote that Donald Jr’s support “created a safe space for people all over the world to call me and my family horrific things that constantly re-victimises us and our community.”