UNITED STATES NEWS

Takeaways from AP’s reporting on inconsistencies in RFK Jr.’s record

Jul 31, 2023, 7:33 AM

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is running as a Democrat against President Joe Biden, tells many stories on the campaign trail about himself, his life’s work and what he stands for that are the opposite of what his record actually shows.

The Associated Press found that Kennedy’s insistence that he is not anti-vaccine doesn’t square with his long record of opposition to vaccines. His claims that he is a true Democrat inheriting the mantle of his famous family are contradicted by his alignment with far right figures and support from Republicans. And despite listing the environment as a campaign priority, he has pushed bitcoin — a cryptocurrency that requires massive amounts of electricity from supercomputers to generate new coins, prompting most environmental advocates to loudly oppose it.

Kennedy’s campaign is widely considered a long shot, but it’s gained media attention due to his famous name and the possibility that his run could weaken Biden ahead of what is expected to be a close general election in 2024.

The campaign didn’t return emails seeking comment about the contradictions in his candidacy.

Here are the key takeaways from the AP’s reporting:

KENNEDY’S ANTI-VACCINE RECORD

Kennedy told a congressional committee this month: “I have never been anti-vaxx. I have never told the public to avoid vaccination.” But Kennedy has a long record of anti-vaccine comments and rose to public prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic through the work of his anti-vaccine group, Children’s Health Defense.

Just this month, Kennedy said in a podcast interview that “There’s no vaccine that is safe and effective” and told FOX News that he still believes in the long-ago debunked idea that vaccines can cause autism. In a 2021 podcast, he recalled telling people on hiking trails not to get their children vaccinated.

That same year, Kennedy appeared in a video promoting an anti-vaccine sticker campaign by his nonprofit. A sticker shown beside him declared “IF YOU’RE NOT AN ANTI-VAXXER YOU AREN’T PAYING ATTENTION.”

The AP found that anti-vaccine activists are at the heart of Kennedy’s campaign. FEC records show several people paid to work on the campaign previously worked for Children’s Health Defense.

Kennedy has also received substantial support from the anti-vaccine community.

Children’s Health Defense currently has a lawsuit pending against a number of news organizations, among them The Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking action to identify misinformation, including about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.

ASSOCIATION WITH FAR RIGHT HAS RAISED KENNEDY’S PROFILE

Kennedy is running as a Democrat, yet he has aligned himself with far right figures who have worked to subvert American democracy.

He has appeared on Infowars, the channel run by Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He has granted interviews to former President Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson. After he headlined a stop on the ReAwaken America Tour, the Christian nationalist road show put together by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, he was photographed backstage with Flynn and Trump ally Roger Stone.

Those appearances have led to goodwill on the right. Trump supporters have floated a Trump-Kennedy unity ticket.

Kennedy’s run is also getting financial support from the right. A super PAC supporting Kennedy’s presidential run, called Heal the Divide PAC, has deep ties to Republicans, Federal Election Commission records show.

Kennedy denied knowing the PAC when it came up at a recent congressional hearing, but video available online shows he was a guest speaker at a Heal the Divide event just two days earlier.

SUPPORT FOR BITCOIN RUNS COUNTER TO ENVIRONMENTAL STANCE

Kennedy lists the environment as one of six top priorities on his campaign website and has spent many years speaking against pollution and climate change as an environmental lawyer. Yet he has made supporting the energy-intensive cryptocurrency bitcoin a key part of his platform.

Bitcoin mining, the process of generating new coins, uses massive amounts of electricity — more than some entire countries, experts say.

Kennedy has acknowledged the environmental downsides, but says he wouldn’t let them hinder its use. He promotes the argument that demand for the cryptocurrency will boost investment in renewable energy projects.

Kennedy has invested between $100,001 and $250,000 in bitcoin, his financial disclosure documents show.

KENNEDY INVOKES HIS FAMOUS FAMILY, WHILE RELATIVES DENOUNCE HIM

Though Kennedy peppers his speeches, podcast appearances and campaign materials with invocations of the Democratic Party legacies of his uncle President John F. Kennedy and his father Robert F. Kennedy, his relatives have distanced themselves from him and even denounced him.

“He’s trading in on Camelot, celebrity, conspiracy theories and conflict for personal gain and fame,” Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson, said of his cousin in an Instagram video earlier this month. “I’ve listened to him. I know him. I have no idea why anyone thinks he should be president. What I do know is, his candidacy is an embarrassment.”

Kennedy’s recent comments that COVID-19 could have been “ethnically targeted” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people — which he denies were antisemitic but concedes he should have worded more carefully — also drew a condemnation from his sister, Kerry Kennedy.

___ The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP’s democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Takeaways from AP’s reporting on inconsistencies in RFK Jr.’s record