You know how last week I talked about Rebekah Jones and how important it is to call out the grifters on “our” side? Well here I go again: I need you to know how absolutely unhinged Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is. Dangerously unhinged.
Okay, the reason why I’m talking about him now is because last week he officially announced that he will be challenging Joe Biden in the 2024 US presidential election, as a Democrat. Articles like that one in CNN give me hope: the headline leads with the fact that he’s anti-vaccine, and the article treats him as deeply unserious person, lumping him in with “self-help guru” Marianne Williamson, who has her own raft of stupid beliefs.
But Donald Trump proved that we absolutely cannot sit back and assume someone is too ridiculous to win the presidency. We, as humans, are too fucking stupid. So I desperately need you to know (and to spread the word) that however bonkers you THINK RFK,Jr. is, he is in fact far worse than that. Yes, worse.
RFK Jr. has been on skeptics’ radar for decades now, and just in case you think I’m exaggerating, my pal Phil Plait wrote about him almost exactly ten years ago for Slate, noting even back then that “RFK Jr. has a long history of adhering to crackpot ideas about vaccines, mostly in the form of the now thoroughly disproven link to autism. He’s been hammering this issue for a decade now, and his claims appear to be no better and no more accurate now than they were when he first started making them.”
There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, and we have plenty of evidence that they do not cause autism. The conspiracy theory is based on outright quacks who literally made up studies out of whole cloth, like the utterly disgraced Andrew Wakefield, and celebrities like Jenny McCarthy who switched from arguing that her child was a “Crystal Child” blessed with alien intelligence to “oh actually he’s autistic and it was caused by vaccines.”
RFK Jr. has argued that thimerosal (a safe form of mercury) in vaccines is “poisoning” children and causing autism rates to rise, despite the fact that thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the early 2000s, and autism rates continued to rise anyway, because the rise is more likely due to better diagnoses and increased access to healthcare.
Phil mentioned this and many other valid points in his Slate piece, which so angered RFK that he demanded to speak to his editor, Laura Hellmuth. When she finally relented, she says that he told her several bald-faced lies that she debunked quite easily. For instance:
“For a guy whose family has such a distinguished record of public service, Kennedy says some pretty awful things about government employees: “The lies that you are hearing and printing from the CDC are things that should be investigated.” He spoke to one scientist (he named her but I won’t spread the defamation) who, he said, “was actually very honest. She said it’s not safe. She said we know it destroys their brains.”
“I asked the scientist about their conversation. She said there is in fact no evidence that thimerosal destroys children’s brains, and that she never said that it did.”
Kennedy claims that scientists admit to him in private that they are lying about the data. When he challenged one university scientist about the accuracy of studies showing that the presence of thimerosal in vaccines had no effect on autism diagnoses, “He folded like a house of cards. Three weeks later I heard him on the radio and he was saying the same things he said to me, which I knew he knew was lying.”
“I talked to the scientist, who would prefer I not use his name because he gets death threats from unhinged anti-vaxxers. He said, “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.”
RFK, Jr. is an absolute firehose of vaccine misinformation, which is why he was specifically named to the Center for Countering Digital Hate’s Disinformation Dozen, the twelve people “responsible for almost two-thirds of anti?vaccine content circulating on social media platforms.” He took the #2 spot, just behind Joseph Mercola, who I talked about a few months back. The CCDH point out that he has been spreading misinformation about the COVID vaccine, like claiming it’s dangerous for pregnant women to get, and implying that Hank Aaron died because of the vaccine.
RFK Jr. isn’t just a single voice shouting misinformation about vaccines – he also has his own nonprofit to boost that voice even further. Children’s Heath Defense is a disgusting anti-vaxx propaganda machine that targets marginalized groups, like with their hour-long “film” released in 2021 that was focused on spreading conspiracy theories to Black Americans.
And in case you were worried that none of this involved Nazis, one large rally held by Children’s Health Defense in January of 2022 was attended by the neo-Nazi Proud Boys and included RFK, Jr. comparing vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany and coming to the conclusion that vaccine mandates are WORSE because “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could hide in the attic like Anne Frank did.” Yikes!
Look, I think Joe Biden absolutely sucks and he sucks extra hard for running again. But just like Marianne Williamson, RFK, Jr. is NOT the answer. In fact, if you’re a progressive who is still on the fence, allow me to tell you that former Trump strategist Steve Bannon spent MONTHS trying to convince RFK, Jr. to run as “a useful chaos agent in 2024 race and a big name who could help stoke anti-vax sentiment around the country.”
Don’t let Steve Bannon and the anti-vaxxers win. Please tell everyone you know about what an absolute monster Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is!