Fact-checkers at Politifact say RFK Jr.’s presidential campaign of conspiracy theories, mainly about health topics, is ‘Lie of the Year’

Politifact is a fact-checking service of The Poynter Institute, a foundation for journalism that says it is “an instructor, innovator, convener and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens.”

By Madison Czopek and Katie Sanders, Politifact

As pundits and politicos spar over whether Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign will factor into the outcome of the 2024 election, one thing is clear: Kennedy’s political following is built on a movement that seeks to legitimize conspiracy theories.

His claims decrying vaccines have roiled scientists and medical experts and stoked anger over whether his work harms children. He has made suggestions about the cause of Covid-19 that he acknowledges sound racist and antisemitic.

Bolstered by his famous name and family’s legacy, his campaign of conspiracy theories has gained an electoral and financial foothold. He is running as an independent — having abandoned his pursuit of the Democratic nomination — and raised more than $15 million. A political action committee pledged to spend between $10 million and $15 million to get his name on the ballot in 10 states.

Even though he spent the past two decades as a prominent leader of the anti-vaccine movement, Kennedy rejects a blanket “anti-vax” label that he told Fox News in July makes him “look crazy, like a conspiracy theorist.”

But Kennedy draws bogus conclusions from scientific work. He employs “circumstantial evidence” as if it is proof. In TV, podcast and political appearances for his campaign in 2023, Kennedy steadfastly maintained that:

  • Vaccines cause autism.
  • No childhood vaccines “have ever been tested in a safety study pre-licensing.”
  • There is “tremendous circumstantial evidence” that psychiatric drugs cause mass shootings, and the National Institutes of Health refuses to research the link out of deference to pharmaceutical companies.
  • Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine were discredited as Covid-19 treatments so Covid-19 vaccines could be granted emergency use authorization, a win for Big Pharma.
  • Exposure to the pesticide atrazine contributes to gender dysphoria in children.
  • Covid-19 is “targeted to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.”

For Kennedy, conspiracies aren’t limited to public health. He claims “members of the CIA” were involved in the assassination of his uncle, John F. Kennedy. He doesn’t “believe that (Sirhan) Sirhan’s bullets ever hit my father,” Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He insists the 2004 presidential election was stolen from Democrat John Kerry.

News organizations, including PolitiFact, have documented why those claims and many others are false, speculative or conspiracy-minded. PolitiFact did not receive a response from Kennedy’s campaign for this story. Kennedy has sat for numerous interviews and dismissed the critics, not with the grievance and bluster of former President Donald Trump, but with a calm demeanor. He amplifies the alleged plot and repeats dubious scientific evidence and historical detail.

Four of Kennedy’s siblings called Kennedy’s decision to run as an independent “dangerous” and “perilous” to the country. “Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment,” the group wrote in a joint statement.

Kennedy brushes it off, saying he has a large family, and some members support him.

On her “Honestly” podcast in June, Bari Weiss asked whether Kennedy worried his position on autism and vaccines would cloud his other positions and cost him votes. His answer ignored his history: “Show me where I got it wrong,” he said, “and I’ll change.” In a campaign constructed by lies, that might be the biggest one. (Read more)

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