He promoted a conspiracy theory that coronavirus vaccines were developed to control humans with microchips. 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 has heavily endorsed disinformation as he mounts his long-running 2024 campaign for the Democratic nomination.
But as voters express dissatisfaction with a likely rematch between President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Kennedy has garnered as much as 20 percent of the vote in a recent Democratic primary election.
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 proposal has highlighted other questionable beliefs and statements Mr. Kennedy has made over the years.
Here are five of the many baseless claims Mr. Kennedy peddled on the campaign trail and beyond.
Mr. Kennedy has promoted many false, apparent or unsubstantiated claims that center on public health and the pharmaceutical industry – most notably, the scientifically discredited belief that childhood vaccines cause autism.
That notion has been rejected by more than a dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies across several countries. The National Academy of Medicine 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 anti-vaccine movement, Mr. Kennedy has maintained that he is “not anti-vaccine” and seeks to make vaccines safer. But he promoted misleading information about vaccine ingredients and circulated retracted studies linking vaccines to various diseases.
During a rally in Washington last year, he compared the vaccination records, which some call “vaccine passports” to life in Germany during the Holocaust, a statement for which he later apologized. And he falsely told Louisiana lawmakers in 2021 that the coronavirus vaccine was the “deadliest vaccine ever made.”
Children’s Health Defense, an organization Mr. Kennedy originally founded as the World Mercury Project, has often campaigned against vaccines. Facebook and Instagram deleted the group’s accounts last year for embracing vaccine misinformation, and Mr Kennedy has often lamented the dangers of “censorship” in campaign speeches since.
In an interview last month with Jordan Peterson, a conservative Canadian psychologist and public speaker, Mr. Kennedy falsely linked chemicals present in water sources to transgender identity.
“A lot of the problems that we see in children, especially boys, are probably underestimated, how much of that comes from chemical exposures, including a lot of the gender dysphoria that we see,” he said. He referred to research on the herbicide, atrazine, in which scientists found that it “induces complete feminization and chemical castration” in certain frogs.
But there is no evidence to indicate that the chemical, commonly 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 are not exposed to atrazine on a regular basis.”
Relying on long-dubious claims, Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly endorsed the idea that mass shootings have increased because of increased use of antidepressants.
“Kids have always had access to guns, and there hasn’t been a time in American history or human history where kids have gone to schools and shot their classmates,” he told comedian Bill Maher on a recent episode of the podcast, “Club Random With Bill. Maher.” “It really started happening with the introduction of these drugs, with Prozac and the other drugs.”
While both antidepressant use and mass shootings have increased in the past several decades, the scientific community has found “no biological plausibility” to support a link between the two, according to Ragy Girgis, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University.
Antidepressants often have warnings that refer to suicidal thoughts, Mr. Girgis said. But those warnings are related to the possibility that people who already experience suicidal ideation might share pre-existing beliefs out loud after they take the drug as part of their treatment.
Mr. Kennedy, however, pointed to such warnings as proof of the false notion that the drugs could induce “killer tendencies.”
Several high-profile figures, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have reinforced similar claims in the wake of recent mass shootings.
Most school shooters were not prescribed psychotropic medications before committing violent acts, a 2019 study found. And even when they were, researchers wrote“no direct or causal association was found.”
He fueled a conspiracy theory that the CIA had murdered 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, the director of the CIA at the time President Kennedy was killed, helped cover up evidence of the organization’s involvement.
Referring to a 1976 House committee investigation, he said: “Most of the people in that investigation believed it was the CIA that was behind it because the evidence was so overwhelming to them.”
But even that investigation, which found that President Kennedy was “probably” the victim of some kind of conspiracy, categorically concluded that the CIA “was not involved.”
And the Warren Commission, convened in 1963 to investigate the assassination of Kennedy, 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 believes John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, won the 2004 presidential election.
Mr. Kennedy first promoted the idea in a 2006 article in Rolling Stone, claiming that Republicans had “mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to undermine the will of the people” and ensure the re-election of President George W. Bush. He claimed that their efforts “prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted.”
But it’s one thing to complain about electoral suppression; it is another matter to prove that Mr. Kerry won more votes.
Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Kerry by a margin of 35 electoral college votes nationally; he carried Ohio and its 20 electoral votes by more than 118,000 ballots.
The Times reported in 2004 that a glitch in Ohio’s electronic voting machine added 3,893 votes to Mr. Bush’s tally. That error was caught in preliminary vote counts, officials said. But the incident, along with other voting controversies nationwide, spurred widespread questions about election integrity that have gripped people like Mr. Kennedy.
Mr. Kerry, however, conceded the race a day after the election.