WASHINGTON - In January 2022, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sat in front of the Lincoln Memorial and railed against totalitarianism. He suggested that Jews in Nazi Germany had more freedom in the days of Covid-19, when vaccination mandates, school, church, and business closures were in place.
He told a crowd at a rally to "Defeat the Mandates", which included anti-vaccine activists waving flags, that "even in Hitler's Germany you could cross the Alps into Switzerland." "You could hide like Anne Frank in the attic."
Later, Mr. Kennedy apologized for his remarks. However, it was not the very first time that he invoked the Holocaust. In the last two decades, Mr. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who was concerned about mercury, has transformed into a crusader of individual liberty.
Kennedy will announce his candidacy for President Biden's Democratic nomination on Wednesday. Kennedy's vaccine skepticism makes him a candidate in common with former president Donald J. Trump. Both have blamed childhood vaccinations for autism, a theory discredited by over a dozen peer reviewed scientific studies across multiple countries.
Stephen K. Bannon's podcast recently stated that Robert F. Kennedy, former chief strategist of Mr. Trump, could enter the Republican presidential primary. I believe only DeSantis or Trump would do better. Ron DeSantis, Florida. Bannon claimed that Mr. Kennedy's audience had a "massive" following. He said, "People love him."
Vaccination has been a major success in public health, saving millions of lives. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines have eliminated smallpox and prevented millions of deaths due to measles. They also reduced naturally occurring cases of polio from 350,000 cases in 1988 to just six cases in 2021.
Kennedy insists that he does not oppose vaccines, and that his only interest is to make them safer. He said, "I am not anti-vaccine. I'm just the poster child of the anti-vax campaign." This was during a speech he gave at Hillsdale College in Michigan, a conservative Christian school.
Through his nonprofit Children's Health Defense and his films, speeches, and books -- one of which portrays Dr. Anthony S. Fauci in the pocket the pharmaceutical industry -- Kennedy has used the star power of his family and his own platform to spread misinformation about vaccine safety by twisting the facts out of context.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate, a non-profit organization that fights hate online, named him in 2021 as one of the "Disinformation Twelve" -- the twelve people who the group found responsible for approximately three quarters of the anti-vaccine posts on Facebook.
Who is running for president in 2024?
The race has begun. The race begins. Here are the candidates who have entered the race, as well as those who may run.
Donald Trump. Former President Donald Trump is seeking to reclaim the office that he lost in 2019. He has a loyal and large base of supporters despite his diminished influence in the Republican Party.
Former South Carolina governor and U.N. Ambassador under Trump, Haley has presented herself to be a part of "a new leadership generation" and highlighted her experience as a child of Indian immigrants. She had been a rising star in the G.O.P. Her popularity has decreased in the party due to her intermittent embrace of Trump.
Asa Hutchinson. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is among a small group of Republicans that have publicly criticized Trump. Hutchinson denounced former President Obama's attempts to reverse the 2020 election, and suggested that Trump should withdraw from the presidential race.
Marianne Williamson, the self-help writer and former spiritual advisor to Oprah winfrey, is running for her second term. In her 2020 campaign the Democrat advocated for a federal Department of Peace. She also supported reparations for slaves and said that Trumpism was a symptom of a mental illness that cannot be cured by political policies.
Kennedy accused Facebook and Instagram of censorship after they removed the accounts for Children's Health Defense. Kennedy is also suing Dr. Fauci and the Biden Administration, which led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for many years. He accuses them of attempting to pressure social media companies into censoring free speech.
Kennedy declined to give an interview. In an email, Kennedy said that Children's Health Defense has "an extremely robust truth-checking operations." He also cited a response from Meta, Facebook's parent, disputing "Disinformation 12" report. Meta criticized the design of the study, stating that it was "misleading" to focus on only 12 people.
Mr. Kennedy is the third oldest child of Robert Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy. He is also the nephew of John F. Kennedy who urged Americans in 1962 to get the Salk polio vaccination and signed the Vaccination Assistance Act to assist states and cities with their childhood immunization program.
His family has been impacted by his activism and his aspirations to become a politician. His family has publicly criticized him. His sister Rory Kennedy, who spoke to CNN, said that she supported Mr. Biden. While his sister Kerry Kennedy stated in a press release, "I love Bobby Kennedy, but I don't share or endorse many of his opinions."
Kennedy plays up his family background in preparation for his White House run. He lives in California, but plans to announce his candidacy in Boston - a city that is closely associated with the Kennedys. He tweeted a picture of himself wearing a vintage "Kennedy For President" T-shirt.
His family name and reputation has opened doors for his career. He said he met with Kennedy on several occasions and told him that he believed that Mr. Kennedy was not evil but that the information he provided to him was incorrect. Mr. Kennedy is misguided, and could inadvertently do significant harm.
"The whole book is a lie," said Dr. Fauci.
Kennedy's words often contain a small amount of truth. Children's Health Defense, for example, states that vaccines contain many ingredients. Some of these are neurotoxic, cancerous, and can cause autoimmunity. Vaccines also contain preservatives, additives like aluminum salts which have been used in vaccines since decades. Studies have shown that adverse reactions are rare, and usually involve skin allergies.
Children's Health Defense also claims that certain vaccines have not been tested in clinical trials against placebos. It cites polio vaccines, hepatitis vaccines, and meningitis vaccinations as examples. This is false. In large-scale clinical trials, new vaccines are tested. This includes placebo groups. Scientists agree that it would not be ethical to deny study participants life-saving vaccines. When older vaccines undergo re-formulation or are updated, there is no placebo group included in the study.
The website states that "Vaccine injuries do occur." The federal government also has a system in place to track and detect any side effects.
Measles vaccination, for example, can lower the platelet count of one person in every 25,000-30,000. This can lead to red spots under the skin from bleeding. Dr. Paul A. Offit is the director of Children's Hospital Philadelphia's Vaccine Education Center. He said that measles is responsible for this problem in about one child in every 3,000, which is roughly ten times more than the vaccine.
"There is no such thing as a risk-free choice, only different choices of risks," Dr. Offit said, who was a vocal critic to Mr. Kennedy. You could say that the biggest risk associated with vaccines is the drive to the doctor's office.
Kennedy himself has admitted that he was initially a skeptic of vaccination. He became involved in 2005 when, as an environmental lawyer, he sued coal-fired plants to get them to reduce mercury emissions and other toxic chemicals.
In the United States, there was a growing anti-vaccine campaign due to debates over an increase in autism cases. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a British physician, published in The Lancet a study that included 12 children. The study suggested a connection between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.
In 2010, the article was retracted and Mr. Wakefield's license to practice medicine was suspended. In the years following its publication, however, a new theory started to gain ground: that thimerosal - a mercury-based preserver that was used for decades to stop bacteria from growing inside multiple-dose vaccine vials - caused autism.
Other vaccines administered to infants contained thimerosal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is "no proof" that low doses thimerosal used in vaccines can cause harm. "Except for minor reactions such as redness and swelling around the injection site," they said.
In 1999, however, after Congress ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to examine mercury levels in all products, vaccine manufacturers, federal agencies and the American Academy of Pediatrics agreed that thimerosal be removed from childhood vaccinations. Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics agreed that the decision was taken "out of an excess of caution".
Parents were alarmed by the decision. He said that as Mr. Kennedy toured the country, giving speeches, mothers of children with intellectual disabilities began to buttonhole him and press him to investigate vaccinations.
He told the Hillsdale College crowd that "they would tell me in a respectful, but also vaguely scolding manner, 'If your really interested in mercury levels in children, then you should look into vaccines'".
Rolling Stone published an article in 2005 by Kennedy with the headline "Deadly Immunity" that attributed the increase in autism to thimerosal, which was in vaccines. Salon retracted its article later. Mr. Kennedy said Salon had caved in to pressures from government regulators, and the pharmaceutical industry.
Thimerosal still is used in flu vaccines. In 2015, Mr. Kennedy met Eric Gladen. Gladen is an engineer who claims to have been sickened by the preservative in a Tetanus vaccine. Gladen made a documentary about his experience. They joined forces. The World Mercury Project of Mr. Gladen was later renamed Children's Health Defense.
In an interview with Mr. Gladen, he said, "We had two big tools to raise money; my film which is 10 years of research condensed into 90 minutes and his book." He added, "Between his being a Kennedy and the film and book, it motivated a lot people to get engaged."
At the time, the anti-vaccine campaign was largely a political left movement. Hollywood celebrities Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy and others were Mr. Kennedy's allies. In California, Mr. Kennedy fought unsuccessfully against a bill that would have eliminated the "personal beliefs" exemption which allowed parents to choose not to vaccinate their children.
Mr. Kennedy is a vocal critic of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Act of 1986, a federal law that was intended to encourage the development of vaccines through the protection of manufacturers from lawsuits. At the height of thimerosal controversy in 2003, a bipartisan proposal to update the law to offer immunity to vaccine additives manufacturers failed to pass through Congress.
Mr. Kennedy cites such efforts as proof that legislators and federal regulators conspire to protect drug manufacturers, who he claims lack incentives to focus their attention on safety. He invoked these arguments during the California legislation fight, according to Dr. Richard Pan. A former state senator, who was the author of the California bill at the time and met with Kennedy, said that Kennedy used them.
Dr. Pan said that Dr. Pan focused mainly on the F.D.A. "Dr. Pan stated that the F.D.A. was corrupt and working with pharmaceutical companies to conceal the dangers of vaccines."
Kennedy met Mr. Trump at Trump Tower, Manhattan, shortly before his inauguration in January 2017. Kennedy stated that Mr. Trump wanted him to head a commission on "vaccine safety" and "scientific integrity". He told Science magazine Mr. Trump told him that he knew five friends who had healthy children who "developed a series of deficits" following vaccination.
Kennedy's book about Dr. Fauci became a best seller as the country grew more polarized, with many of Mr. Trump's supporters shunning vaccines and Dr. Fauci becoming a lightning rod. Kennedy's book on Dr. Fauci was a bestseller as the country became more polarized. Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters were against vaccines, and Dr. Fauci had become a lightning rod.
Kennedy will release a new book in June that will focus on the controversy surrounding the origins and spread of the coronavirus. The book, entitled "The Wuhan Coverup," claims that federal officials "conspired" with the Chinese government to conceal the origins of the pandemic. This assertion appears to conflate the experiments conducted by the Chinese army at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other work funded by the U.S.
It is unclear how much Mr. Kennedy plans to talk about vaccine safety in his presidential campaign. He used his speech at Hillsdale College, as he had done at the Lincoln Memorial rally, to disguise his activism by claiming that the government, press, and social media companies were trying to silence him. This would push the United States towards tyranny.
Kennedy stated that "the founders, specifically Hamilton Madison and Adams, said: 'We put the freedom of speech in the First Amendment, because all the others are dependent on it'." "Because, if you grant a government the power to silence its opponents, it is now free to commit any atrocity."