Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. rose to prominence throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of of his strident opposition to vaccines. But, he insists he’s not anti-vaccine. He has related to influential individuals on the far proper – together with Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn – to boost his profile. But, he portrays himself as a real Democrat inheriting the mantle of the Kennedy household.
As he challenges President Joe Biden, the tales he tells on the marketing campaign path about himself, his life’s work and what he stands for are sometimes the reverse of what his record truly shows.
Although Kennedy’s major problem to a sitting president is broadly thought-about a long-shot, he’s been sucking up media consideration on account of his well-known title and the risk that his run might weaken Biden forward of what is anticipated to be a detailed basic election in 2024. He’s drawn reward from Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In the meantime, Trump supporters, together with his longtime ally Roger Stone, have ginned up curiosity by floating a Trump-Kennedy unity ticket.
Debra Duvall, 62, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida, and mentioned she serves on the Lee County GOP government committee, described herself as a longtime Trump supporter, however mentioned she’s torn for 2024.
“I’ll take Trump or RFK. Both one,” she mentioned, explaining that she was drawn to each as a result of she believes they’ll’t be purchased.
That sort of assist has demonstrated some of the contradictions in Kennedy’s candidacy. He has mentioned he desires to “reclaim” the Democratic Celebration, whereas aligning himself with far proper figures who’ve labored to subvert American democracy. He touts his credentials as an environmentalist, but pushes bitcoin — a cryptocurrency that requires huge quantities of electrical energy from supercomputers to generate new cash, prompting most environmental advocates to loudly oppose it.
And although he peppers his speeches, podcast appearances and marketing campaign supplies with invocations of the Democratic Celebration legacies of his uncle President John F. Kennedy and his father Robert F. Kennedy, his family have distanced themselves from him and even denounced him.
“He’s buying and selling in on Camelot, superstar, conspiracy theories and battle for private achieve and fame,” Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson, mentioned of his cousin in an Instagram video earlier this month. “I’ve listened to him. I do know him. I don’t know why anybody thinks he needs to be president. What I do know is, his candidacy is a humiliation.”
Kennedy’s current feedback that COVID-19 might have been “ethnically focused” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese language individuals — which he denies have been antisemitic however concedes he ought to have worded extra rigorously — additionally drew a condemnation from his sister, Kerry Kennedy.
The contradictions between what Kennedy says and his monitor record have been nowhere extra obvious than when he testified earlier than a congressional committee this month at the invitation of Republican members.
Anti-vaccine activists, some who work for Kennedy’s nonprofit group Youngsters’s Well being Protection, sat in the rows behind him, watching as he insisted “I’ve by no means been anti-vaxx. I’ve by no means instructed the public to keep away from vaccination.”
However that’s not true. Many times, Kennedy has made his opposition to vaccines clear. Simply this month, Kennedy mentioned in a podcast interview that “There’s no vaccine that’s secure and efficient” and instructed FOX Information that he nonetheless believes in the long-ago debunked concept that vaccines could cause autism. In a 2021 podcast he urged individuals to “resist” CDC tips on when youngsters ought to get vaccines.
“I see someone on a climbing path carrying just a little child and I say to him, higher not get them vaccinated,” Kennedy mentioned.
That very same yr, in a video selling and anti-vaccine sticker marketing campaign by his nonprofit, Kennedy appeared onscreen subsequent to one sticker that declared “IF YOU’RE NOT AN ANTI-VAXXER YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION.”
A detailed examination of Kennedy’s marketing campaign finance filings shows that the anti-vaccine motion lies at the coronary heart of his marketing campaign.
A number of of his marketing campaign employees and consultants have labored for his anti-vaccine group Youngsters’s Well being Protection, together with Mary Holland, the group’s president on depart, marketing campaign spokeswoman Stefanie Spear, and Zen Honeycutt, who hosted a present for the group’s TV channel, CHD TV.
Youngsters’s Well being Protection at the moment has a lawsuit pending towards a quantity of information organizations, amongst them The Related Press, accusing them of violating antitrust legal guidelines by taking motion to determine misinformation, together with about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
The marketing campaign paid KFP Consulting, a Texas-based firm run by Del Bigtree, head of the anti-vaccine group ICAN, and a number one voice in the motion, greater than $13,000 for communications consulting, the AP discovered. Bigtree appeared to nonetheless be working for the marketing campaign final week, when an AP reporter noticed him serving to facilitate a Kennedy occasion in New York.
Kennedy additionally has obtained substantial assist from activists who’ve unfold misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines, together with Steve Kirsch, an entrepreneur who has falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines kill extra individuals than they save, chiropractors Patrick Flynn and Kevin Stillwagon, and others.
Ty and Charlene Bollinger, who run an anti-vaccine enterprise and who the AP has beforehand reported have had a monetary relationship with Kennedy, gave greater than $6,000. The couple, together with Kennedy’s communication guide Bigtree, have been concerned in internet hosting a rally close to the Capitol on Jan. 6, and Ty Bollinger has mentioned he was amongst the individuals who crowded at the Capitol doorways in an try to get inside, although he mentioned he did not enter.
American Values 2024, an excellent PAC supporting Kennedy, is run by shut associates to Kennedy who’ve propped up anti-vaccine concepts — the former head of the New York chapter of Youngsters’s Well being Protection John Gilmore is its CEO and Kennedy’s writer Tony Lyons is its co-chair.
The Kennedy marketing campaign did not return emails looking for remark a couple of quantity of questions, together with how he can say he’s not anti-vaccine given his record and his assist from anti-vaccine activists.
Kennedy’s run can be getting loads of monetary assist from the proper. An excellent PAC supporting Kennedy’s presidential run, referred to as Heal the Divide PAC, has deep ties to Republicans, F ederal Election Fee data present.
The committee’s tackle is listed in the care of RTA Technique, a marketing campaign consulting agency that has been paid for its work to assist elect Republicans together with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and the former Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
The PAC’s treasurer, who works for RTA Technique, is Jason Boles, a previous donor to Trump and many different Republicans who consists of “MAGA” and “AmericaFirst” in his bio on the platform X, previously generally known as Twitter.
Kennedy denied figuring out Boles or the Heal the Divide PAC when it got here up at the congressional listening to, saying, “I’ve by no means heard of Mr. Boles, and I’ve by no means heard of that tremendous PAC.”
However video accessible on-line shows he was a visitor speaker at a Heal the Divide occasion simply two days earlier. The video incorporates a “Heal the Divide 2024” brand with clips of him talking at size about plans to again the U.S. greenback with bitcoin and valuable metals.
Kennedy says that as president, he would combat for presidency honesty and transparency, heal the political divide, reverse financial decline, finish struggle and protect civil liberties. He has made freedom of speech a serious half of his platform, arguing that the authorities’s communication with social media firms unfairly censors protected speech.
Kennedy’s press workplace did not reply to a number of messages asking about his assist from the far proper.
It additionally did not reply to questions on whether or not his stance on bitcoin was at odds with being an environmentalist.
Kennedy lists the atmosphere as one of six prime priorities on his marketing campaign web site and has spent many years talking towards air pollution and local weather change as an environmental lawyer. But he has made supporting the energy-intensive cryptocurrency bitcoin a key half of his platform.
Bitcoin mining, the course of of producing new cash, makes use of huge quantities of electrical energy — greater than some total international locations use, mentioned Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group.
That’s as a result of it really works by tasking a community of supercomputers with fixing advanced mathematical puzzles — whilst another cryptocurrencies have adopted way more vitality environment friendly mining strategies.
“No one who claims to be an environmentalist might assist a digital asset that needlessly consumes extra electrical energy than all People use to energy the lights in our houses,” Faber mentioned. “The truth is, bitcoin produces extra local weather air pollution than another digital asset.”
Regardless of the environmental downsides of bitcoin, some Democrats, together with elected officers, have advocated for the forex.
Kennedy, for his half, instructed a crowd at Bitcoin 2023 that environmentalists like himself “will proceed to strain you to enhance.” On-line, he has promoted the argument that demand for bitcoin will enhance funding in new renewable vitality tasks.
Regardless, his monetary disclosure paperwork present he has already personally invested between $100,001 and $250,000 in bitcoin, and he promised at Bitcoin 2023 that he wouldn’t let the environmental argument hinder the forex’s use.
“As president, I’ll be sure that your proper to carry and use bitcoin is inviolable,” he mentioned.
Throughout the previous a number of years, Kennedy has cultivated his ties to the far proper. He has appeared on Infowars, the channel run by Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He has granted interviews to Trump ally Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson. After he headlined a cease on the ReAwaken America Tour, the Christian nationalist street present put collectively by former Trump nationwide safety adviser Michael Flynn, he was photographed backstage with Flynn, Charlene Bollinger and Trump ally Roger Stone.
These appearances have led to goodwill on the proper, and he has discovered enthusiastic assist amongst a phase of Trump’s base, with some suggesting him as a possible vice presidential decide.
At a July 1 rally in the tiny city of Pickens, South Carolina, Adrian Palashevsky – a small businessman who described himself as extra of a “libertarian” than a Republican – posited a unity ticket, with Kennedy as his prime decide for Trump’s VP.
“I believe they’d get alongside simply wonderful,” he mentioned. “They’re each anti-establishment, and that’s why they’re beneath a lot assault.”
DeSantis, one of Trump’s Republican challengers, has additionally indulged in reward for the fringe candidate, saying in a current interview that whereas he wouldn’t make Kennedy vice chairman, he would think about appointing him to one of the federal businesses that regulates vaccine security and protects public well being.
“If you happen to’re president, you recognize, sic him on the FDA if he’d be keen to serve, or sic him on CDC,” DeSantis mentioned.
Not everyone seems to be shopping for the Kennedy mystique.
At the annual assembly of the Nationwide Affiliation of Latino Elected and Appointed Officers in New York earlier this month, Kennedy leaned closely on his household legacy, mentioning his father’s alliance with labor chief Cesar Chavez and his uncle’s work in Latin American international locations.
However in his almost 20-minute speech, he didn’t lay out any plan or coverage proposals of his personal, or speak about particular points dealing with the Latino neighborhood. He spent most of his time telling a narrative about getting arrested with the Mexican American actor Edward Olmos in 2001, an try at relating with the neighborhood that dissatisfied each Republicans and Democrats in the viewers.
Mario Ceballos, president of a PAC representing LGBTQ+ Latinos, mentioned Kennedy’s speech — and the candidate’s conspiracy concept beliefs — saddened him.
“Once I was residing in Mexico, Kennedy was an American president that my complete household revered,” Ceballos mentioned. “And what he’s presenting are esoteric, harmful choices which might be truly going to harm the similar people who his father and uncle wished to assist.”
Related Press writers Jill Colvin in West Palm Seaside, Florida, and Meg Kinnard in Pickens, South Carolina, contributed to this report.