In a dark, affecting stunt, parents of students killed in the 2018 Parkland massacre tricked former NRA president David Keane into delivering a commencement address to an audience of thousands of empty chairs — representing each of the 3,044 young victims of gun violence who might otherwise have graduated from high school this year.
Keane was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony of a fictional James Madison High School, purportedly named after the author of the Second Amendment. Keane was told he had to do a practice-run of his speech on June 4th in Las Vegas, Nevada. But he was in fact filmed before empty, white folding chairs representing the “Lost Class of 2021.” (Keane, it should be noted, is not the most skeptical of conservatives. He was duped by Russian agent Maria Butina and her handler Alexander Torshin into welcoming Russian infiltration of the NRA, as Rolling Stone reported in 2018.)
The now-viral video features Keane’s unintentionally tragic and ironic exhortations to these young people to “stand up” to defend the Second Amendment and “follow your dreams.” The footage of Keane’s speech is spliced with 911 calls from Parkland students and families living through the trauma of school shootings. (CW: This is hard to listen to.)
Keane wasn’t the only gun advocate targeted in this faux event. In a second video, John Lott, author of the book More Guns, Less Crime, was also filmed addressing the empty chairs. Lott has opposed universal background checks. He told the missing students: “I’m sure all of you will have a very bright future ahead.”
A third video, offers the reveal and an explanation of the project. It was orchestrated by Change the Ref, an organization started by Manuel and Patricia Oliver, who lost their 17-year-old son Joaquin in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “We are here representing every single kid who is not able to finish high school,” Manuel says to the camera. “Three thousand kids that are not using those chairs because they’re not here, and they won’t be here.” He continues: “I am a father. This is about those empty chairs, my son, and all the kids who have to go through this bullshit and no one pays enough attention to it. We have to be louder and that means reaching more and more people.”
The Parkland parents ask watchers to sign their petition in favor of universal background checks at TheLostClass.com