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In a video released by a gun violence prevention group, former NRA president David Keene is seen addressing a stadium of empty chairs. At that time, Keene believed he was speaking to James Madison Academy's 2021 graduating class.
Keene urges students to uphold the second amendment as the video breaks to audio from 911 calls, revealing terrified voices of students trapped in schools during a shooting.
James Madison Academy isn't real. The 3,044 empty chairs Keene was addressing represented children and teenagers who were shot and killed before they could graduate from high school.
Keene and another gun rights advocateJohn Lott Jr. were tricked into the fictitious ceremony.
Change the Ref, a gun safety organization founded by Patricia and Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was murdered in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, published the videos Wednesday. The fake graduation was held for what they call "The Lost Class" of students and to advocate for regulations on gun violence.
"Ironically, had the men conducted a proper background check on the school, they would have seen that the school is fake," a Change the Ref spokesperson said in a press release.
Oliver said his team started planning the event three months ago to highlight the lives lost by gun violence. For those watching the video, Oliver challenged them to put themselves in that room, next to thousands of chairs representing dead teenagers.
"I attended my son's graduation three months after he was shot, after he was shot four times with an AR-15. This is not about being selfish and thinking that it will never happen to you, just because I got news for you. It could happen," Oliver told USA TODAY. "So the only way to prevent it from happening is to get out there, talk and advertise the truth."
Keene and Lott gave their speeches during what they were told was a rehearsal; afterward they were told the graduation was canceled. They were not informed about the videos or that the event was fake, BuzzFeed News reported.
"You’re telling me the whole thing was a setup?" said Lott, when he responded to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. "No, I didn’t know that."
Lott spoke to the empty chairs about his time working for the Department of Justice during the Trump administration. He went on to call people whose gun purchases were foiled by background checks as "three-and-a-half million law-abiding citizens who wanted to get a gun."
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In a statement, Lott said his comments in the video were taken “out of context” and the clips “deceptive and selectively edited." Lott said he spoke for about 15 minutes but only one minute appeared in the video. Manuel Oliver said the video was not deceptively edited.
Keene and Lott did not immediately reply to requests from USA TODAY.
Although the graduation was fake, Oliver said the lives lost and the message about gun violence is real. And Nicole Hockley, mother of Jake Hockley who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, agreed. On Twitter, she praised the organization.
As well as Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement for gun violence prevention. Watts tweeted that although the video was tough to watch, the fake graduation trick was "brilliant."
"We did for my son's legacy and because we are trying to save lives," Oliver said.
Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Former NRA president tricked into grad speech for gun violence video