The former NRA President gave a speech to thousands of empty chairs assuming it was a rehearsal for the graduation.
David Keene, a former president of the National Rifle Association, addressed thousands of empty chairs, as he gave an impassionate speech defending the second amendment to the 2021 graduating class of James Madison Academy. Keene was under the impression it was part of a rehearsal for a "graduation speech." Little did he know that it was a stunt set up by the parents of a kid who was killed in the Parkland shooting, reported The Washington Post. There was no graduation speech and the 'James Madison Academy' didn't even exist. The thousands of empty chairs in the Las Vegas stadium he was addressing represented the students who were killed from gun violence. A total of 3,044 white chairs. “We are here representing every single kid that is not able to finish high school,” said Manuel Oliver, one of the people behind the stunt. “Three thousand kids that are not using those chairs because they are not here and they won’t be here.”
Parkland parents had tricked the ex-NRA president into giving a ‘graduation speech.’ The incident happened earlier this month, where Keene said, “Let me begin by telling you what an honor it is to be here to help celebrate your graduation,” said Keene. “There are some who will continue to fight to gut the Second Amendment, but I’d be willing to bet that many of you will be among those who stand up and prevent them from succeeding.” Keene had met and shook hands with people he assumed to be the Principal, Board chairman, and other staff of the private online school.
Keene was also accompanied by John Lott, a gun-rights activist, and author. “Gun control advocates and Democrats will fight you tooth and nail,” Lott told the empty chairs. “They want to go off and say we’ve stopped three-and-a-half million dangerous people, I look at it as we’ve stopped three-and-a-half million law-abiding citizens who wanted to get a gun.” Lott even referenced the fake school's name in his speech.
The stunt was organized and captured on camera by Manuel and Patricia Oliver, whose son Joaquin Oliver, 17, was killed in a mass shooting at his school in Parkland in 2018. The couple used multiple drones and cameramen on stage to capture David Keene's speech. The couple released a video containing footage of the speech Keene made to the empty chairs. Change the Ref, Olivers' group, published a video that intercut between speeches of the pair and 911 calls made during mass shootings at schools. The video was released on Wednesday. Change the Ref says its mission is “to raise awareness about mass shootings through strategic interventions that will reduce the influence of the NRA on the Federal level.”
Parents of a Parkland shooting victim tricked an ex-NRA president into speaking to 3,044 empty chairs — representing child gun violence victims who would have graduated in 2021.— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 24, 2021
David Keene was told it was a rehearsal for a (fictional) high school graduation.
📷: Change the Ref pic.twitter.com/PHzN4Y80Dx
After Keene and Lott made their speeches, considered to be the rehearsal, they were informed that the graduation was canceled due to security issues. Lott accused the organizers of the stunt of selectively editing the clip. Lott said much of what was published in the video was taken out of context. “It was purposefully edited to radically change what I said,” said Lott. “I wasn’t arguing about background checks. I was explaining to people how they can change the system to make it better. They left all of that stuff out.” He also said the organizers owed him nearly half of the $1,000 for the event and had also promised to reimburse his travel expense but never got any response from them. He also urged them to release the full video of the speech.
Change the Ref said the motive of the stunt was to highlight the need for background check laws. “Ironically, had the men conducted a proper background check on the school, they would have seen that the school is fake,” tweeted Change the Ref. “This is about pushing our reps to move on with universal background check laws,” Manuel Oliver told BuzzFeed News. “We lost Joaquin three months before his graduation. We know exactly the feeling of being there and receiving the diploma without your kid being there. Because we understand that, we know there are a lot of people going through that same experience right now," added Oliver.
"I'm going to give you a great reason for me to think that things are different: I am having an interview with you not because there was a mass shooting but because we are doing something to prevent this from happening." -Manuel Oliver @manueloliver00 co-founder of @ChangeTheRef pic.twitter.com/aOKTTj259Z— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) June 24, 2021
"We don't need to wait for a new tragedy to bring the subject, and that is a great advance for us, for everyone that is fighting this epidemic that is killing people every single day," said Manual Oliver.