Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: The Shaming of a Legacy

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running for president, challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination just as his uncle — Sen. Ted Kennedy — challenged incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980. But unlike Ted Kennedy, who was a through-and-through liberal Democrat, RFK Jr. has created a legacy based on conspiracy theories, xenophobia and recently, homophobia and transphobia — all far-right extremist views. Just as he claims vaccines — not the diseases they prevent — are deadly, Kennedy also says HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, but polluted water can turn kids gay or trans. On the anniversary of his father’s assassination, Kennedy was at the Southern border saying a “tsunami of migrants” were contaminating our crops.  

Kennedy, former Twitter CEO Elon Musk and podcaster Joe Rogan, baited and harassed renowned scientist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Hotez on Twitter earlier this week because Hotez would not debate Kennedy, a long-time anti-vax conspiracy proponent, on Rogan’s popular show.

Hotez, part of a Nobel Prize-nominated team of scientists who created an affordable coronavirus vaccine, said on Twitter that he was stalked and harassed at his home in response to the pile-on from Musk, Rogan and Kennedy. The incident resulted in numerous threats to Hotez. 

In the 1980s, Kennedy was an attorney devoted to environmental issues. But over the past 25 years, his career focus has been his anti-vaccine crusade. Kennedy asserts that vaccines cause autism, are dangerous and that they cause harm and even death to children and others. He founded Children’s Health Defense, which promotes anti-vaccine propaganda and has been identified as one of the main sources of misinformation on vaccines in the U.S.

Kennedy has also self-published a half dozen books promoting anti-vaxxer misinformation. Last fall, he was chastised by the Auschwitz memorial for comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Hitler. He said Fauci was orchestrating “fascism” with vaccine mandates and “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”

“Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate,” the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said in a tweet.

After Kennedy was called out by numerous factions, including both Holocaust memorials and the Anti-Defamation League, he apologized for his comments. But the damage of his misinformation was already done.

Kennedy has previously been banned from most social-media platforms for misinformation, but reinstated after he announced his presidential run. He has been embraced by Musk, a strident anti-vaxxer, who is also virulently anti-LGBTQ+. 

Vaccine disinformation isn’t Kennedy’s only conspiracy he promotes. On June 19, YouTube removed a video in which Kennedy made the claim that water tainted with endocrine disruptors are making children transgender.

In an interview with controversial right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ podcaster Jordan Peterson, Kennedy repeated another conspiracy theory, this one popularized by notorious right-wing commentator Alex Jones, best known for claiming the Sandy Hook shooting was a false flag operation by the federal government. Jones also asserted that chemicals in the water were “turning the frogs gay.”

“If you in a lab put atrazine and a tank full of frogs, it will chemically castrate and force forcibly feminize every frog in there, and 10 percent of the frogs, the male frogs will turn into fully viable females able to produce viable eggs,” Kennedy said as he embraced Jones’ theory.

Kennedy then shifted focus to transgenderism, saying, “I think a lot of the problems we see in kids — and particularly boys — it’s probably under-appreciated how much of that is coming from chemical exposures, including a lot of the sexual dysphoria that we’re seeing.”

Kennedy asserted that trans children were “being overwhelmed by a tsunami; they’re swimming through a soup of toxic chemicals today and many of those are endocrine disruptors.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as “natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic, block, or interfere with the body’s hormones, which are part of the endocrine system. These chemicals are associated with a wide array of health issues.” 

Transgenderism is of course not mentioned in any of the NIH data.

Peterson argued that by removing the interview with Kennedy, which the site asserted violated their Terms of Service on misinformation, YouTube had “taken upon itself to actively interfere with a presidential election campaign.”

On Twitter, Kennedy queried, “Should social media platforms censor presidential candidates?” and then posted a link to the interview which he said Musk had made possible to air on the platform, adding, “thank you @elonmusk.”

Kennedy has nearly two million followers and Peterson has more than four million, but Musk has the most on Twitter — 144 million. Tagging him in increased viewership for Kennedy’s anti-LGBTQ views by millions.

In a different tweet, Kennedy challenged YouTube and asked supporters to complain to them saying in part, “It may be that @YouTube has broken no laws in this blatant interference in the electoral process. In that case, change will come only through public pressure. That’s democracy in action!”

This bizarre conspiracy is not Kennedy’s only anti-LGBTQ+ stance. He’s also come out against “biological males competing in women’s sports.”  

“I am against people participating in women’s sports who are biologically male. I think women have worked too hard…over the past 30 years,” the Democratic presidential candidate told MSNBC. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Kennedy also says that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, but links the virus to the long-discredited claim that poppers cause the disease.

“There’s a lot of people that said it is not a virus,” Kennedy said. “The virus is a passenger virus, and these people are dying mainly because of poppers. A hundred percent of the people who died in the first thousand [with] AIDS were people who were addicted to poppers, which are known to cause Kaposi sarcoma in rats. And they were people who were part of a gay lifestyle where they were burning the candle at both ends.”

As some Democrats question Biden’s age, Kennedy has risen in the polls. But as his own family members have said, he is “tragically wrong” on these issues that are so crucial to the 2024 election and to the national rhetoric on science and medical autonomy. 

The deeper one delves into Kennedy’s stances on nearly every issue, the more dangerous his candidacy appears. He may have his father’s name, but he is shaming his legacy.