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Student push for gun control sparks claims of anti-Trump conspiracy

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

David Hogg, a senior at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks on Feb. 17 at a rally calling for stricter gun control. A number of American blogs are circulating stories that claim Hogg is a paid 'crisis actor' and 'deep-state pawn.' (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Pro-gun U.S. blogs are circulating stories that claim one of the outspoken students who survived the Florida school shooting is a paid "crisis actor"
  • Russia appears to be a step closer to marching under its own flag at the Pyeongchang Olympics Closing Ceremony
  • World is failing its "youngest and most vulnerable" people, says a scathing UNICEF report on infant mortality

Explaining away a massacre

America's mass-shooting cycle is now as sad and familiar as the massacres themselves — thoughts and prayers, angry calls to action, and spreading conspiracies that suggest the tragedies have been exaggerated or never happened at all.

The gun murders of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week are no exception.

Although this time, the dark internet focus is on the survivors, rather than the shooter or the victims.

Students Kelsey Friend, left, and David Hogg recount their stories about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last week, where 17 people were killed. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A campaign for greater gun control led by articulate and outspoken Parkland students is being met with counterclaims that they are being paid, or part of a wider anti-Trump conspiracy.

Yesterday, a number of far-right, pro-gun American blogs began circulating stories that claim one of the students, David Hogg — the son of a retired FBI agent — is in fact a paid "crisis actor" and "deep-state pawn."

The easily debunked accusation was swiftly embraced by a number of high-profile Republicans. Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, "liked" two tweets that linked to stories about the alleged conspiracy, including one that accused the "mainstream media" of helping to "prop up an incompetent" FBI.

An Infowars post claiming the Florida school shooting was likely a false flag event.
An aide to a Florida lawmaker shared the stories with local media, expanding the "actor" claim to include another outspoken student, Emma Gonzalez. (The aide has since been fired.)

Similar stories were circulated last fall in the wake of a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and wounded more than 400, with many bloggers singling out blood-soaked victims as paid participants in a vast hoax.

Students from Montgomery County, Md., rally in Washington Wednesday in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the shooting at Parkland High School in Florida. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
Soon after, Scott Perry, a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, went on Fox News to suggest that the Las Vegas attack must have been an ISIS terror plot, rather than the act of a single, gun-loving loner.

Although such conspiracy theories pale in comparison with continuing claims by Infowars' Alex Jones, and other far-right figures, that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that left 26 dead — 20 of them young children — was made up.

(Last June, a 57-year-old Florida woman was sent to jail for sending threatening messages to the still-grieving family of one of the Newtown victims, six-year-old Noah Pozner, accusing them of being actors.)

Outrage over the Parkland shooting, one of 18 such gun incidents so far this year in the United States, seems to be putting greater pressure on politicians to finally address America's gun problem.

Students rally at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday calling for government action to prevent more school shootings. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
President Donald Trump yesterday threw his support behind a bill to ban bump stocks, an accessory that can convert a semi-automatic assault rifle into a full machine gun.

Later this afternoon, the President will hold a "listening session" on school safety at the White House, which will include people with ties to school shooting victims in Parkland, Columbine, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

But Trump, who started his political career by embracing the Obama "birther" conspiracy, and during his campaign trucked in false tales about 9/11, JFK's assassination and the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has never really made it clear where he stands on school shooting theories.

Students hold candles in memory of the victims of the shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they stand in front of the North Carolina State Capitol building on Tuesday evening. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)
One year ago, the Board of Education in Newtown sent a letter asking his administration to denounce the Sandy Hook conspiracy, and confirm the President's belief in the tragic facts.

They are still waiting for a response.

Forgiving Russia's Olympic sins

Russia appears to be one step closer to marching under its own flag at the Pyeongchang Olympics Closing Ceremony, despite a positive doping test from one of its athletes.

IOC President Thomas Bach met with Igor Levitin, a Vladimir Putin confidante and key member of Russia's Olympic Committee, today in South Korea. Officials described the tête-à-tête as a "brief courtesy visit," but that hasn't dampened speculation that the Olympic movement is preparing to welcome Russia back into the family as the Winter Games end.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach met Wednesday with Igor Levitin, a key member of Russia's Olympic Committee. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
The 168 Russian athletes in Pyeongchang have been competing under the Olympic flag, branded as Team OAR — Olympic Athletes from Russia. Their national anthem will not be played following a gold medal win — something that has yet to happen, as the squad has managed just four silvers and nine bronze.

But the so-called ban, billed as a punishment for the Kremlin's state-sponsored cheating program at the London and Sochi Games, could be lifted at a meeting of the IOC's executive board on Saturday, the day before the Closing Ceremony.

Bronze medalists Aleksandr Krushelnitckii and Anastasia Bryzgalova of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team during the medal ceremony for Curling Mixed Doubles on Feb. 14. Krushelnitckii later tested positive for a banned substance. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Russian officials have been quietly expressing their confidence that the IOC is ready to move on from the scandal, especially after more than three dozen of their top medal contenders were kept away from Pyeongchang despite having successfully overturned "lifetime" bans for doping.

Russian mixed-doubles curler Aleksandr Krushelnitsky tested positive for the banned drug meldonium this past weekend, and he and his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova stand to be stripped of the bronze medal they won. But while that violation — one of just three positive tests so far this Olympics — will "be taken into consideration," it is apparently not a deal breaker for the IOC.

Former vice-president of the IOC Dick Pound attends the Winter Games medal ceremony on Tuesday. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
"There has to be a process. The end of the process is to look at the behaviour of the (OAR) athletes generally throughout the Games, and that can only happen towards the end of the Games," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said yesterday.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes dissent among IOC members over the Russia question has burst into the open.

Canada's Dick Pound, who has already said he will skip the Closing Ceremony, has accused his colleagues of abandoning the fight against doping.

"The only people that scare these old farts are athletes saying, 'If you won't clean this up, we're not going to participate in these events,'" Pound told the U.K.'s Evening Standard this week. "There are dissenting voices from countries like Britain, Canada, the U.S. and France, but not enough."

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams traded barbs with Canada's Dick Pound on Wednesday, suggesting he should leave the IOC. (Florian Choblet/AFP/Getty Images)
"Russia is not at all contrite. There's no admission, no promise to correct things. What all this has said is that if you're big, aggressive and mean, the IOC will fold - and that's a very bad message," he added.

Pound's comments drew a nasty letter from John Coates, an Australian member of the IOC and Bach-ally, who claimed that the Canadian has lost the respect of his colleagues due to his repeated outbursts.

And in public comments today, the IOC suggested that Pound should get with the program, or get lost.

"In the end, if you don't like the coffee that's served at the coffee shop, and you don't like the décor and you don't like the prices, then you maybe go to another coffee shop," Mark Adams told a Pyeongchang media briefing.

Follow all the results and get a full broadcast schedule at CBC's online Olympic hub.

The National can be found at its regular time on CBC News Network, as well as streamed on YouTube and Facebook, for the duration of the Games.

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Births, and too many deaths

The world is failing its "youngest and most vulnerable" people, says a scathing UNICEF report on infant mortality.

Each year, 2.6 million babies across the globe fail to survive their first month of life, with 1 million dying on the day they are born.

And while deaths among children aged 1 to 5 have been more than halved over the past 25 years, the world has yet to make similar progress for newborns.

Nurses attach a ventilator to a newborn baby in the nursery at the Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan. A new UNICEF report says newborns in the world's riskiest places to give birth are up to 50 times more likely to die than those in the safest. (Andreea Campeanu/Reuters)
The "Every Child Alive" report, released yesterday, says the "vast majority" of the 7,000 infant deaths each day are preventable.

More than 80 per cent of the fatalities are due to premature births, complications during delivery, or treatable infections. These are all well-known medical issues that rarely kill children in rich industrialized nations, but remain deadly for those born into poverty.

A girl suffering from malnutrition is treated near Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The UNICEF report says low income countries average 27 newborn deaths per 1,000 births, while high-income nations average just three. (Legnan Koula/EPA)
"If we consider the root causes, these babies are not dying from medical causes such as prematurity or pneumonia. They are dying because their families are too poor or marginalized to access the care they need," the report declares. "Of all the world's injustices, this may be the most fundamental."

The numbers are stark:

  • Low income countries average 27 newborn deaths per 1,000 births, while high-income nations average just three.
  • Newborns in the world's riskiest places to give birth are up to 50 times more likely to die than those in the safest.
  • Pakistan has the world's highest rate of infant mortality, with 45.6 deaths per 1,000 births.
  • Japan has the lowest, with just one in 1,000 dying over the first 28 days after birth.
  • Eight of the 10 most dangerous places to be born are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Eight of the safest nations are in Europe.

UNICEF is using the findings as a launchpad for a new global campaign to try and bring the developing world's average infant mortality rate in line with that of industrialized nations by 2030 — a transformation that the organization says would save 16 million lives.

The solution to the problem is simple: better and more widely available health care.

  • In Finland, for example, where the infant mortality rate is 1.2 per 1,000 births, there are 175 skilled health care workers per 10,000 population.
  • In Somalia, where there are 38.8 newborn deaths per 1,000 births, there is just one nurse, doctor or midwife for every 10,000 citizens.

The initial focus for UNICEF will be on the 10 countries that account for more than half of all newborn deaths: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Republic of Tanzania.

A woman in Afghanistan holds her baby, who suffers from chronic malnutrition. UNICEF is launching a new global campaign to try and bring the developing world's average infant mortality rate in line with that of industrialized nations by 2030. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press)
Canada, in spite of its wealth and universal health care system, ranks in the bottom third of high-income nations, with 3.2 deaths per 1,000 births — just ahead of the United States with 3.7 deaths.

It's a poor showing that is part of a larger trend UNICEF identified in another report last summer. It ranked Canada 37th among the world's 41 wealthiest countries when it came to children having access to enough nutritious food.

Overall, 18 per cent of Canada's children live in poverty, but the proportion climbs to 51 per cent in the case of First Nations youth, and 60 per cent of the children who live on reserves.

Quote of the moment

"I don't want to say have sympathy for me. I just want people to look clinically at the facts and basically come to the conclusion he is not getting a gold star for his personal life, but he has made a commitment, he is with her, they're having a child, and in a 2018 world there is nothing terribly much to see there."

- Australia's Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, engaging in some wishful thinking about the ongoing scandal over his affair with an aide.

Australia's Deputy prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has separated from his wife and is expecting a child with his former media adviser. (Michael Masters/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Famed evangelist Billy Graham dead at 99 (CBC)
  • France's Macron moves to tighten immigration and asylum rules (Reuters)
  • How a 62-part propaganda film shaped North Korea's ideas about Canada (CBC)
  • Ex-Save The Children boss apologizes for inappropriate texts to female staffers (BBC)
  • Vancouver teacher suspended after using worksheets with N-word (CBC)
  • A female prosecutor's lonely fight to empower Afghan women (Guardian)
  • Zambia's opposition warned over president-themed toilet paper (Africanews)

Today in history

Feb. 21, 1981: The computer kid

How long ago was 1981? Sufficiently distant that a kid liking computers was big news. Farm boy Ted Curylo took a 6 a.m. bus from Chilliwack to attend a Vancouver conference on those funny new machines. Of course, he'd already built one at home. In addition to writing a column for the weekly paper, hosting a cable access show and dominating the local 4H club. What was the secret? His parents didn't own a TV.

The computer kid

42 years ago
Duration 2:24
A 12-year-old computer prodigy impresses the adults at a 1981 Vancouver computer show, and finds time to make friends with a robot while he's there.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.