Chicago (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – The right’s thinly veiled crusade to elevate Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.–an exemplar of through-the-Black-Mirror politics — culminated last week with his alternative-reality testimony at a GOP-instigated congressional hearing. He was welcomed by Republicans to the House “weaponization” subcommittee to drive their fabricated message of government censorship and ”de-platforming,” though RFK, Jr. enjoys the privileged platform of a Kennedy family heir with unparalleled access to the centers of influence in New York, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C., and had for weeks been freely gushing conspiratorial nonsense to every podcaster that would host him.
Presenting a warped fantasy of marginalization and martyrdom, Kennedy vehemently denied that he was an anti-vaccine advocate or that he ever “uttered a phrase that was racist or antisemitic.” His campaign manager Dennis Kucinich — the former Ohio congressman and two-time progressive presidential candidate who was sitting behind him — smiled in agreement at these head-bursting lies. In fact, Kennedy had recently suggested that the coronavirus was a diabolically engineered bioweapon that used the secret field of “ethnically targeted microbes” to attack White and Black people while sparing Chinese and Jewish people.
Kennedy has also falsely claimed that Covid-19 vaccines were part of a population control agenda, that they contain microchips that track our movements, that they alter our DNA, and that they make us more susceptible to other diseases. In early 2022, Kennedy raised his Covid-era, anti-vaxx conspiracism to new heights. He took the stage as a speaker at the Defeat The Mandates march in Washington, D.C., shouting out that pandemic restrictions arose from a C.I.A. plan to “clamp down totalitarian control” while exerting “a coup d’état against democracy and the controlled demolition of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Since 2005, RFK, Jr. has regularly espoused debunked vaccine allegations, such as the false link between autism and childhood vaccines. He is considered a leader of the anti-vaxx movement, an icon of vaccine horror. So, his denials of anti-vaxx sentiment were beyond preposterous.
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WASHINGTON D.C., UNITED STATES – JULY 20: Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. testifies at the “Weaponization of the Federal Government” hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, United States on July 20, 2023. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
At the congressional hearing, Kennedy — the first MAGA Democrat — was treated as a hero by Republicans while he was unmercifully slammed by Democrats. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett said, Republicans are using Kennedy’s “idiotic bigoted messaging” and “attacks on Biden” to “help get Donald Trump back in the White House” while House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries described Kennedy as “a living, breathing, false flag operation.”
RFK, Jr. is running a surprisingly potent campaign — nationally polling at 15% to 20% — and earning higher favorability numbers in an Economist-YouGov poll than either Biden or Trump, thanks to the boosts he receives from some of the wealthiest, most listened-to people in America, such as just-asking-questions podcaster Joe Rogan and flame-thrower, Twitter-owner Elon Musk. Lesser threats than Kennedy have played spoilers in elections before. If he succeeds in weakening Biden and helping Trump burn us all to the ground, it will be the magic of his name as well as the media culture that has protected and fawned over him.
Kennedy has concocted a diverse, dark web of supporters: Kennedy-family superfans, fanatic anti-vaxxers, Silicon Valley tech-bros, “freethinking” celebrities like Robert DeNiro and Oliver Stone, Democrats who believe Biden is too old and feeble, and hard-right authoritarians like Steve Bannon looking to boost a chaos agent. He received a voluminous, flattering tribute in the conservative National Review and his American Values 2024 Super PAC has ties to Marjorie Taylor Green, George Santos, and Herschel Walker.
The MAGA-suffused, libertarian fanbase is difficult to reconcile for anyone who associates the Kennedy name with the 1960s, Camelot era of governmental idealism. Kennedy poses as a fierce advocate for the impoverished and disempowered, attempting to channel the charismatic, populist legacy of his father when he ran for president over fifty years ago. He even borrows the iconography of his father’s 1968 campaign.
Leaning hard into his family and its American royalty lineage, Kennedy asserts that his presidency will return us to the magic and majesty of a lost golden age, before the assassinations of his uncle President John F. Kennedy and then his father, Robert F. Kennedy. “We can restore America to the awesome vitality of the original Kennedy era,” he told an adoring crowd in New Hampshire, a turn of phrase with a horrifying Make-America-Great-Again ring to it. “He can look and sound so thoughtful and contemplative,” said one person who has known him a very long time. “But he’s just bursting with madness.”
Embracing Kennedy’s madness, Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey have championed his candidacy along with lesser known rich, anti-vaxx venture capitalists David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya. They not only endorsed Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, but also threw him a fundraiser. The gangster and former insurrectionist President called Kennedy a “very smart person” during a Fox News interview and complimented him for hitting a “nerve.” RFK, Jr. replied that he’s “proud that President Trump likes me.”
Fascist ring-master Steve Bannon praised Kennedy as “an anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, populist who doesn’t trust the deep state. There’s a big overlap with what President Trump’s talking about.” Referring to Kennedy’s popularity among the Tucker-Rogan-Elon-Bannon-combo-platter right, he even went so far as to suggest Trump choose RFK Jr. to be his running mate. In this, he was joined by Nixon-loving, Trump co-conspirator Roger Stone who wrote on Twitter, “Yeah. Trump-Kennedy. I said it.”
To those who see Kennedy as an anti-vaxx conspiracy spreader and populist poser, his campaign looks like either a farce or a dirty trick. Despite a liberal façade, Kennedy welcomes the hard-right support, aligning himself with MAGA immigration policies. He warns about the U.S.’s “open border,” and he told Musk that he wants to “formulate policies that seal the border permanently.” On the leftish Breaking Points podcast, he praised Israel’s effective border control measures — walls and fences that imprison Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza.
Assuming a peace candidate affect, Kennedy speaks of “endless wars abroad,” attacks Biden as a “war-monger,” and decries the humanitarian cost of the war in Ukraine. However, he fails to call out Putin and Russia for torture, abduction, looting, rape, bombing attacks on civilians and numerous other war crimes. He urges our “present leadership” to “start de-escalating, to reach out to Russia, to exercise restraint, and avoid hostile rhetoric.” He proposes a negotiated settlement without explaining how this is achieved without appeasing the invader Putin.
His anti-interventionist commitments stop at his unconditional support to Israel, one of primary beneficiaries of aid from the military industrial complex he claims to hate and a nation unwilling to entertain peace with justice. RFK, Jr. agrees with MAGA nationalists: he asserted that he wants to shift spending out of a military-industrial interventionist mind-set and into “Fortress America — arming ourselves to the teeth at home.”
In the area of environmentalism where Kennedy built a credible reputation with decades of positive activism — in the 1980s, he worked with the nonprofit Riverkeeper to preserve New York’s Hudson River among other conservation efforts, he has undergone something of a MAGA brain transplant. He told the Breaking Points podcast: “In my campaign I’m not going to be talking a lot about climate.” He absurdly suggested that the free market is the answer to the climate catastrophe. Appearing on InfoWars, Kennedy said that the climate crisis is being used to push through “totalitarian controls on society,” orchestrated “by the World Economic Forum, Bill Gates, and all of these mega-billionaires.”
Listening to Kennedy lie and cover up his most outlandish opinions at the Congressional hearing, he sounds almost normal. However, hearing him expand his views on multiple podcasts is a truly mind-bending, mind-numbing punishment. Speaking in a raspy, scratchy drone-voice — the result of spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that he speculates may be a side effect of the flu vaccine, Kennedy maniacally charges forward into all manner of quasi-medical phantasms, unfazed by scientific contradiction and sounding like a conspiracy-addled lunatic.
He accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of being a “corrupt and evil puppet of the pharmaceutical industry,” who profited from the COVID-19 vaccines, which Kennedy asserted were dangerous and ineffective. He blames mass shootings on anti-depressants, such as Prozac. “Almost every one of these shooters were on SSRIs,” he said, “or some other psychiatric drug.” He told Rogan that Wi-Fi pierces “the blood-brain barrier,” causing “leaky brain” and even cancer. He claimed, without evidence, that the presence of atrazine in the water supply has contributed to male gender dysphoria since atrazine chemically castrates frogs when dumped into their tanks. Though no evidence supports the contention, he is absolutely sure that the CIA killed his uncle JFK and pretty sure that the CIA, rather than the still-imprisoned Sirhan Sirhan, killed his father RFK. He actively campaigned for Sirhan’s release from prison against the wishes of most of the Kennedy family, including his mother.
All of this makes him an incoherent opportunist. He long ago entered his own pseudoscientific, X-Files world in which nothing is as it seems, everything is connected, nothing happens by accident or coincidence, and every major world event has been engineered by secretive elites. Like Trump, Kennedy can only sink deeper and deeper into his own fever swamp, and every effort to contradict him merely demonstrates that his enemies are determined to silence him.
He has been denounced by a trio of notable Kennedys, including Kathleen Kennedy Townsend who works in the Biden administration. They called his views “tragically wrong” and “part of a misinformation campaign” that “is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines” with “deadly consequences.” Writing in support of Biden after RFK, Jr.‘s congressional testimony, his grandson Jack Schlossberg — President John F. Kennedy’s only grandson — condemned RFK, Jr.’s candidacy as “an embarrassment” and a “vanity project.”
The strategy of the Democratic Party establishment, who are supporting President Biden with no plans for any primary debates, is to ignore Kennedy and other challengers. Party unity is necessary, they argue — because Trump, abortion, the whole Republican madhouse. Progressive leaders have for the most part acquiesced to this argument, though Biden’s pragmatic reforms are a far cry from the radical change championed by those progressives: the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a strong challenge to systemic racism and more. On foreign policy, Biden has signed on to the never-ending expansion of our hideously bloated military.
Progressive environmentalist Naomi Klein called Kennedy a “flawed heretic” and wrote: “We ignore Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s candidacy at our peril. Given the strengths that Kennedy possesses as a candidate, we should expect him to continue to build momentum. Ignoring him is not an option.”
Kennedy could possibly win the first Democratic primary in New Hampshire. As a result of a dispute over the Democratic National Committee’s changes to the primary calendar, Biden might not be on the ballot and must be written in. RFK, Jr. certainly will not win the Democratic nomination, but a surprising performance in a rogue New Hampshire primary might give his madness more mainstream attention, a broader audience while further eroding the legitimacy of science and facts.
Trading on his family name, Kennedy postures as an anti-establishment rebel and attracts a handful of true believers, a small percentage of low-information Democrats and Kennedy family nostalgists, who will settle for a glitchy Kennedy hologram — a counterfeit copy of a copy of a copy. Beyond that, a segment of MAGA-adjacent elite allies cynically use his candidacy to damage the Democratic Party, providing him with a global megaphone so that millions hear his scratchy, long-winded, bizarre messages. When his campaign finally craters, it will leave behind an emboldened movement of conspiracy crackpots thrilling to his deranged and dangerous notions.
Apparently many Americans are so angry and distrustful that they’ll find answers in the strangest of people. They fall for liars, con-men, and self-proclaimed martyrs to the “establishment.” So here we are, eight years after Trump slithered down the escalator, listening to (or possibly trying to ignore) another narcissistic celebrity madman and this one is talking about Fauci fascism, leaky brains, and frog castration as he scams supporters in the Democratic primary.