He promoted a conspiracy theory that coronavirus vaccines were developed to control people via microchips. He endorsed the misconception that antidepressants are linked to school shootings. And he pushed the decades-old theory that the CIA killed his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer, is a prominent vaccine skeptic and purveyor of conspiracy theories who has relied heavily on misinformation as he mounts his long-running 2024 campaign for the nomination democrat.
But as voters express their displeasure over a likely rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Kennedy garnered as many as 20% of the vote in the recent Democratic primary election.
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Biden and the Democratic National Committee did not publicly acknowledge Kennedy’s candidacy and declined to comment on his campaign. Nonetheless, the public scrutiny that accompanies a bid for the White House has exposed other questionable beliefs and statements Kennedy has nurtured over the years.
Here are five of the many baseless claims Kennedy peddled on the campaign trail and beyond.
He falsely linked vaccines to various medical conditions.
Kennedy has promoted numerous false, specious, or unproven claims centered on public health and the pharmaceutical industry — including the scientifically discredited belief that childhood vaccines cause autism.
This notion has been rejected by more than a dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies in several countries. The National Academy of Medicine reviewed eight vaccines for children and adults and found that with rare exceptions, the vaccines are very safe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Considered by many to be the face of the vaccine resistance movement, Kennedy claimed he was “not anti-vaccine” and sought to make vaccines safer. But it has published misleading information about vaccine ingredients and circulated retracted studies linking vaccines to various medical conditions.
At a rally in Washington last year, he compared vaccination records that some have called “vaccine passports” to life in Germany during the Holocaust, a statement for which he later apologized. And he falsely told Louisiana lawmakers in 2021 that the coronavirus vaccine was the “deadliest vaccine ever made.”
Children’s Health Defense, an organization founded by Kennedy as the World Mercury Project, frequently campaigned against vaccines. Facebook and Instagram took down the group’s accounts last year for espousing vaccine misinformation, and Kennedy has often lamented the dangers of “censorship” in campaign speeches since.
He made baseless claims about a link between gender dysphoria and chemical exposure.
In an interview last month with Jordan Peterson, a conservative Canadian psychologist and public speaker, Kennedy falsely linked chemicals in water sources to transgender identity.
“A lot of the problems that we see in children, especially boys, are probably underestimated how much of it comes from chemical exposures, including a lot of the gender dysphoria that we see,” he said. He referenced research on an herbicide, atrazine, in which scientists found it “induces complete feminization and chemical castration” in some frogs.
But no evidence exists to indicate that the chemical, typically used on farms to kill weeds, causes the same effects in humans, let alone gender dysphoria. And according to the CDC, “most people are not regularly exposed to atrazine.”
He falsely linked antidepressants to school shootings.
Building on long-standing dubious claims, Kennedy has repeatedly backed the idea that mass shootings have increased due to the increased use of antidepressants.
“Children have always had access to guns, and there has not been a time in American or human history when children went to school and shot their classmates,” he said. he told comedian Bill Maher on a recent episode of the podcast, “Club Random With Bill Maher.” “It really started to happen alongside the introduction of these drugs, with Prozac and the other drugs.”
While antidepressant use and mass shootings have increased in recent decades, the scientific community has found “no biological plausibility” to support a link between the two, according to Ragy Girgis, associate professor of clinical psychiatry. at Columbia University.
Antidepressants often have warnings that refer to suicidal thoughts, Girgis said. But these warnings refer to the possibility that people who already have suicidal ideation may share pre-existing beliefs out loud once they take the drug as part of their treatment.
Kennedy, however, pointed to these warnings as evidence of the misconception that drugs could induce “homicidal tendencies”.
Several high-profile figures, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have amplified similar claims in the wake of recent mass shootings.
Most school shooters weren’t prescribed mind-altering drugs before committing acts of violence, according to a 2019 study. And even when they were, the researchers wrote, “no direct or causal association has been found”.
He bolstered a conspiracy theory that the CIA murdered his uncle.
Kennedy has long promoted a conspiracy theory that the CIA killed his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
He claimed, without evidence, during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity in May, that Allen W. Dulles, the CIA director at the time Kennedy was killed, helped cover up evidence of organizational involvement.
Referring to a House committee investigation in 1976, he said, “Most people involved in that investigation thought the CIA was behind it because the evidence was so overwhelming to them.”
But even that investigation, which found the president “likely” to be the victim of some conspiracy of some kind, emphatically concluded that the CIA was “not involved.”
And the Warren Commission, convened in 1963 to investigate the Kennedy assassination, found that the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, had acted alone and was not connected to any government agency.
And he said the Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the Washington Post in June that he still believes John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, won the 2004 presidential election.
Kennedy first promoted the idea in a 2006 article in Rolling Stone, saying Republicans had “mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to overthrow the will of the people” and secure the re-election of President George W. Bush. He claimed their efforts “stopped more than 350,000 Ohio voters from casting their ballots or having their votes counted.”
But it’s one thing to complain about vote suppression; it’s quite another to demonstrate that Kerry won the most votes.
Bush defeated Kerry by a margin of 35 electoral votes nationwide; he won Ohio and its 20 electoral votes by more than 118,000 ballots.
The New York Times reported in 2004 that a glitch in an electronic voting machine in Ohio added 3,893 votes to Bush’s tally. This error was detected during the preliminary vote count, officials said. But the event, alongside other national election controversies, has sparked many questions about election integrity that have caught the attention of people like Kennedy.
Kerry, however, conceded the race a day after the election.
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