He promoted a conspiracy theory that coronavirus vaccines were developed to control people via microchip. He endorsed the false notion 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 leading vaccine skeptic and purveyor of conspiracy theories who leaned heavily on disinformation as he plans his lengthy 2024 campaign for the Democratic nomination.
But as voters express discontent over a likely rematch between President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Kennedy has gathered up to 20 percent of the vote in the recent Democratic primary elections.
Mr. Biden and the Democratic National Committee have not publicly acknowledged Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy and declined to comment on his campaign. However, the public scrutiny that accompanies a White House bid has highlighted other questionable beliefs and statements Kennedy has elevated over the years.
Here are five of the many unsubstantiated claims Mr. Kennedy peddled throughout the campaign and beyond.
He has falsely linked vaccines to various medical conditions.
Mr. Kennedy promoted many false, specious, or unproven claims centered around the public health and pharmaceutical industry, especially the scientifically discredited belief that childhood vaccines cause autism.
This notion has been dismissed by more than a dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies in multiple countries. The National Academy of Medicine has 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.
Seen by many as the face of the vaccine resistance movement, Mr Kennedy has said he is « not anti-vaccine » and seeks to make vaccines safer. But he has publicized misleading information about vaccine ingredients and circulated withdrawn studies linking vaccines to various medical conditions.
At a rally in Washington last year, he compared vaccination records that some called « vaccine passports » to life in Germany during the Holocaust, a statement for which he later apologized. And in 2021 he falsely told Louisiana lawmakers that the coronavirus vaccine was the « deadliest vaccine ever produced. »
Children’s Health Defense, an organization originally founded by Mr. Kennedy as the World Mercury Project, has often campaigned against vaccines. Facebook and Instagram took down the group’s accounts last year for espousing vaccine misinformation, and Mr. Kennedy has since frequently complained about the dangers of « censorship » in campaign speeches.
She has made unsubstantiated claims about a connection between gender dysphoria and chemical exposure.
In an interview last month with Jordan Peterson, a conservative Canadian psychologist and public speaker, Mr. Kennedy falsely linked chemicals in water sources to transgender identity.
« A lot of the problems we see in children, especially boys, it’s probably underestimated how much of that comes from chemical exposures, including a lot of sexual dysphoria that we’re seeing, » she said. You referred to research on a herbicide, atrazine, in which scientists found that it « induced complete feminization and chemical castration » in some frogs.
But there is no evidence 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention« Most people aren’t exposed to atrazine on a regular basis. »
He falsely linked antidepressants to school shootings.
Building on longstanding questionable claims, Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly championed the notion that mass shootings have increased due to increased use of antidepressants.
« Kids have always had access to guns, and there was no time in American history or human history when kids went to school and shot their classmates, » comedian Bill Maher said on a recent episode of the podcast, « Club Random With Bill Maher. » « It really started with the introduction of these drugs, with Prozac and the other drugs. »
While both 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, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University.
Antidepressants often have warnings referencing suicidal thoughts, Girgis said. But those caveats refer to the possibility that people already experiencing suicidal ideation may share preexisting beliefs out loud once they take the medicine as part of their treatment.
Mr. Kennedy, however, pointed to such warnings as evidence of the false notion that drugs could induce « homicidal tendencies. »
Several high-profile figures, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, have amplified similar claims following the recent mass shootings.
Most school shooters weren’t prescribed psychotropic drugs before committing acts of violence, according to a 2019 study. And even when they were, the researchers wrote« no direct or causal association was found. »
He reinforced a conspiracy theory that the CIA assassinated his uncle.
Mr. 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, a CIA director fired by President Kennedy, helped cover up evidence of the organization’s involvement when he served on the Commission Warren, summoned in 1963 to investigate the Kennedy assassination.
Referring to a House committee inquiry in 1976, he said, « Most of the people in that investigation believed the CIA was behind it because the evidence was so damning to them. »
But even that investigation, which found that President Kennedy was « probably » the victim of a conspiracy of some sort, he dryly concluded that the CIA “was not involved.”
The Warren Commission found that the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone and was not connected to any government agency.
And he said Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election.
Mr. Kennedy told the Washington Post in June that he still believed John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, had won the 2004 presidential election.
Mr. Kennedy first promoted that idea in a 2006 article in Rolling Stone, saying that Republicans had « mounted a massive and coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people » and secure the re-election of President George W. Bush . He said their efforts « prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from voting or having their votes counted. »
But it’s one thing to complain about voting suppression; it’s another thing to prove that Mr. Kerry got more votes.
Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Kerry by a margin of 35 electoral college votes nationwide; he carried Ohio and its 20 electoral votes by more than 118,000 votes.
The Times reported in 2004 that a glitch in an Ohio electronic voting machine added 3,893 votes to Bush’s tally. That error was caught in the preliminary vote tallies, officials said. But the event, along with other nationwide voting controversies, sparked widespread questions about election integrity that caught the attention of people like Mr. Kennedy.
Mr Kerry, however, conceded the race the day after the election.