Weeks Before Conservative Pundit Mocked Shooting Survivors, Corcoran Appeared At His Naples Speech

Feb 21, 2018

A conservative political pundit whose recent speech in Naples was attended by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has attracted criticism for his insensitive tweets ridiculing student survivors of last week’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

On Feb. 5, Corcoran was the “honorary master of ceremonies” for an event in which Dinesh D’Souza delivered a speech about the challenges of public education in the U.S.

A couple of weeks later, D’Souza mocked the student survivors of the nation’s deadliest high school shooting on Twitter for their activism on gun control, including commenting on their grief at the Florida House’s decision on Tuesday not to consider a bill banning assault weapons.

With a photo showing students crying and consoling each other in the gallery of the Florida House after a procedural vote to resurrect the assault weapons ban legislation failed along party lines, D’Souza tweeted: “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.” He tweeted another article about Tuesday’s vote with this comment: “Adults 1, kids 0.”

D’Souza later apologized for his comments. Corcoran denounced them through a spokesman.

“Obviously the speaker does not support or condone anyone mocking any of these brave students,” Fred Piccolo wrote in a text message responding to a request for comment on D’Souza’s tweets. “No matter what side of the argument you’re on, the speaker believes everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.”

It was the second time Corcoran had to distance himself from an associate who criticized the students while they were advocating gun control in Tallahassee.

Also on Tuesday, Corcoran fired a House staffer who emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter falsely accusing two of the students of being “crisis actors,” echoing a far-right conspiracy theory.

The employee, Benjamin Kelly, was a legislative aide to Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Republican who represents part of Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located.

“I was shocked and angry to read the appalling email about the brave students who traveled to Tallahassee today,” Corcoran tweeted on Tuesday night. “Representative [Harrison] immediately contacted me and with his full support, I terminated the employment of the individual responsible.”

Kelly confirmed the firing on his own Twitter account, seemingly standing by his comments: “I made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting.” He continued that he meant no disrespect to the students.

About a half hour later, he tweeted: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He later changed his Twitter handle to “@truthfinder74” and made his account private.

Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie addressed the criticisms of his students while talking to reporters after a school board meeting on Wednesday morning.

"This conspiracy narrative that these were actors — I find that to be offensive. I find it to be outrageous and disrespectful to our young people," Runcie said. "We should have been encouraging them to be engaged in the democratic and civic processes that we have in this country, and not demonizing people just because we may not agree with their opinion."

This story was updated with a comment from Runcie.