RFK, Jr.’s campaign against Biden promotes right-wing conspiracies, boosting Republicans’ election chances

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a leading anti-vaxxer and son of the slain U.S. senator, is running for president. | Evan Vucci/AP

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of assassinated Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, is leveraging his father’s image and name to score publicity for his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In the process, he’s also legitimizing numerous conspiracy theories with the potential to harm millions of Americans and aiding neo-fascist Republicans in the 2024 elections.

He’s been a conspiracy theory pusher for years. His focus as of late has centered on familiar topics like vaccines and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the alleged cause of what he calls the “feminization” of American boys.

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Kennedy’s Twitter is filled with pseudo-scientific articles and nonsense claims these days, and they occupy center stage in his campaign against President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary.

On Twitter earlier this month, he blamed school shootings on antidepressants in a talk with one of his biggest boosters. To the delight of gun manufacturers and the NRA, he told billionaire Twitter owner Elon Musk that, prior to the introduction of medicines like Prozac, we had almost no school shootings. As is his typical M.O., he of course provided no evidence whatsoever for his dangerous claim.

In a nod toward right-wing Republicans who’ve dedicated themselves to the elimination of Obamacare for years, Kennedy claimed the Affordable Care Act of 2010 resulted in “Democrats getting more money from Big Pharma than Republicans.” An analysis of the spending by the country’s biggest drug companies and the largest pharmaceutical trade organizations, however, shows they favored Republicans in 14 of the 16 last elections from 1990 to 2020.

Kennedy’s health care lies are many. During the COVID pandemic, he endangered U.S. lives by peddling the claim that the disease was a bio-engineered one that was not at all responsive to vaccines. He ignored the evidence that in the first year alone of the availability of a vaccine, at least 200,000 lives were saved. That figure might have been even higher were it not for the disinformation spready by anti-vaxxers like Kennedy.

With his 2021 book The Real Anthony Fauci, Kennedy boosted attacks on the country’s top COVID specialist, accusing him of launching “a historic coup d’état against Western democracy” by exercising outsize influence over the media and public health realm. He went even further though, advocating quack cures. He claimed that Fauci intentionally refused to support the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for COVID because he wanted to drive up death tolls.

Kennedy started out as a respected environmental lawyer, but he veered off the path of science and progress when he became wrapped up in anti-vaccine obsessions several years ago. He promoted the idea, for instance, that thimerosal, a preservative which had already been largely fazed out of vaccine formulas, was responsible for autism.

He claimed the government had knowingly poisoned a generation of Americans and pointed to a rise in the number of autism cases as “proof.” As health experts have clearly demonstrated, the rise in reported cases was due to greater recognition of the condition and a broadening of the definition of who is considered “autistic.”

Kennedy has repeatedly denied the “anti-vaxx” label applies to him, claiming he supports safe vaccines and that he’s vaccinated his own children.

Many say it is safe to simply ignore a crackpot like him because he won’t win the Democratic primary against Biden or anyone else who might run next year. But a poll by CNN/SSRSEmerson College, and USA Today/Suffolk University shows 20 percent of registered Democrats favoring Kennedy’s candidacy. That is more than enough support to raise concern about how some Democratic voters can be lured into backing right-wing conspiracy theories.

At the very least, the poll shows that many Democratic voters simply trust the good name of the Kennedy family and its progressive reputation. Even if they don’t back him, many Democratic voters might not turn out if any of the RFK, Jr., theories catch on more than they have already. And, of course, even if that does not happen, Kennedy poses an immediate threat to the health of Americans—right now.

Lately, he has latched onto the claim that chemicals in the water supply of the nation’s cities are contributing to the “feminization” of young American males, and that transgender people became transgender because they have been drinking tap water. He alleges that tests show male frogs dropped into the drinking water of several cities revealed that the reptiles developed “female characteristics.”

“A lot of the problems we see in kids, particularly boys, it’s probably underappreciated how much of that is coming from chemical exposures, including a lot of sexual dysphoria that we’re seeing,” Kennedy said in an interview with Canadian psychologist and ring-wing pundit Jordan Peterson.

“I mean, they’re swimming through a soup of toxic chemicals today, and many of those are endocrine disruptors,” Kennedy said, adding, “there’s Atrazine throughout our water supply, and Atrazine, by the way, if you, in a lab, put Atrazine in a tank full of frogs, it will chemically castrate and forcibly feminize every frog in there and 10% of the frogs, the male frogs, will turn into fully viable females able to produce viable eggs.”

After rambling through a discussion of science he clearly didn’t fully comprehend, Kennedy declared, “If it’s doing that to frogs, there’s a lot of other evidence that it’s doing it to human beings as well.”

The political problem of Kennedy’s deranged musings goes beyond just his spreading of faulty health science. He is cavorting with and garnering the support of right-wing billionaires for his cause—people who are hardly exemplars of progressive politics. Ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey s announced his backing last weekend by retweeting a video of Kennedy declaring he “could beat Biden.”

As for Kennedy’s own relatives, a number of them are putting space between his positions and themselves. His wife, actor Cheryl Hines, says she backs his presidential bid but not his conspiratorial ideas. His sister and brother have condemned his conspiracies. Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, D-Mass., and his niece, Maeve Kennedy McKean, executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiatives, have all denounced his claims about vaccines and almost everything else.

The presidential campaign of RFK, Jr., is only one of many efforts being mounted by the right wing in the U.S. to cause confusion, depress voter turnout, and weaken the ability of the broad coalition that has formed to fight for and save democracy in the coming 2024 elections. Voters should beware of right-wing stand-in candidates like Kennedy masquerading as progressives—and watch these pages for more coverage on such dangerous political developments.

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John Wojcik

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