The day after a long troubled student burst into his school with a military-style rifle and shot 17 people to death, Chris Grady was sitting at home, feeling "pretty useless." The 18-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High kept thinking he should be doing something about what had happened.
His good friend Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old junior at the school, was feeling the same way. Ever since he had escaped to his dad's car the day of the shooting, he'd been posting frustrated comments to his Facebook page, reminding everyone that "doing nothing will lead to nothing."
By last night, exactly a week after their school turned into a war zone, the two were fearlessly confronting career politicians at a nationally televised CNN town-hall meeting. "Would you agree that there is no place in our society for large-capacity magazines?" a confident Grady asked Sen. Marco Rubio who, amazingly, responded that he was considering it.
It was just the latest in a week of unprecedented gun-control activism by a group of Stoneman Douglas teens, who, along with grieving their murdered classmates and teachers, have been giving scores of interviews, meeting with politicians, delivering speeches, and planning marches in a movement they've named #NeverAgain.
"From the start," Grady says, "we were all incredibly determined that this is going to be the last time something like this ever happens."
Their efforts have inspired other teenagers across South Florida, who walked out of their high schools in droves this week to demand action on gun control. Tuesday, students at West Boca High defied administrators and marched all the way to Stoneman Douglas — a ten-mile hike. Wednesday, it became difficult to keep track of how many schools, from Miami-Dade to Palm Beach County, were seeing student demonstrations.
The #NeverAgain movement has also quickly won support from celebrities. Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato reached out. George and Amal Clooney donated $500,000. Oprah matched it, and so did Steven Spielberg.
"We've gotten an incredible amount of support that we never could have expected in our wildest dreams," Grady says.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the teenagers were targeted by conspiracy-theorist trolls and the alt-right. The Gateway Pundit claimed student David Hogg was somehow being used by his retired FBI agent father to distract attention from the agency, which has admitted it failed to follow up on tips about shooter Nikolas Cruz. In the photo that accompanied the article, the word "exposed" was stamped in red on Hogg's forehead.
Others have floated theories that are even more bizarre: that Hogg is actually 28 years old and received FBI-funded facial reconstruction surgery, that the entire group of student-activists is made up of "crisis actors" who deploy to various shooting mass scenes in a bid to take away Americans' guns.
Incredibly, some of these theories have been promoted by people working in government in Florida. In a move that cost him his job, a now-former aide to state Rep. Shawn Harrison emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter to inform him the students were all phonies.
The teens have proven to be pretty good at defending themselves. At one point, Kasky told Wolf Blitzer: "If you had seen me in our production of Fiddler on the Roof, you would know that no one would pay me to act for anything."
Grady says the group has mostly been trying to ignore the trolls.
"A lot of those hard-core alt-right people, to put it simply, are scared of us," Grady says. "They know that we know that the adults — the politicians, the people in charge — couldn't get it done. So it's fallen into our hands to fix."
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