By: pallavi sethi
August 18 2023
Image source: Reuters
On April 19, 2023, Robert F. Kennedy Junior addressed a room packed with supporters in Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel. To rapturous applause, Kennedy, who has gained notoriety in recent years due to his anti-vaccine activism, formally announced his entry into the 2024 Presidential race. Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle – the now-revered former President John F. Kennedy – he told his admirers that he would be seeking to run as the Democratic Party’s nominee.
Four months later, Kennedy appears to have chafed at the scrutiny he has received as a political candidate. Appearing on an August 15 episode of Tucker Carlson’s show on X (formerly Twitter), Kennedy lamented, “Virtually every article contains not just mischaracterization but also just outright lies, things that any fact checker could look up and determine were not true.”
While Logically Facts cannot vouch for the accuracy of all media coverage concerning Kennedy over the last few months, his long-standing tendency to engage with conspiracy theories is well known. With this in mind, Logically Facts has compiled a list of ten of the most outlandish claims made by the controversial figure in the months since he announced his candidacy.
During a three-hour conversation on the Joe Rogan Experience on June 15, Kennedy recounted a conversation with Paul Offit, a pediatrician and vaccine developer. Kennedy recounts asking, “why is it that the CDC and every state regulator recommends that pregnant women do not eat tuna fish, to avoid the mercury, but that the CDC is recommending mercury-containing flu shots with huge bolus doses of mercury, I mean massive doses, to pregnant women in every trimester of pregnancy.”
While Kennedy appears to believe that this means flu vaccines are potentially harmful to pregnant women, he fails to note that there is more than one form of mercury. Methylmercury, which humans are more frequently exposed to through the consumption of seafood, is an organic compound that can be harmful even in small doses. However, it is ethylmercury – not methylmercury – that is sometimes found in vaccines. According to the World Health Organization, “ethylmercury is used as a preservative in some vaccines and does not pose a health risk.”
On the same episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, Kennedy also took the opportunity to outline his thoughts on WiFi, and the effects he believes it has on the human brain. He asserted that electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from WiFi and cell phones "does all kinds of bad things, including causing cancer."
EMR has both electric and magnetic fields which travel in waves through space or materials. When electric and magnetic fields combine, they form electromagnetic fields (EMF). There are two categories of EMF: ionizing, or high-frequency – which includes X-rays and Gamma rays, and non-ionizing, or low to mid-frequency – which includes wireless technologies like cell phones. According to Kennedy, there's enough scientific evidence that low-frequency EMFs can "open up your blood-brain barrier."
Researchers have investigated the potential health effects of WiFi radiation, including its association with cancer. In its assessment of available data, the National Cancer Institute concluded “The few high-quality studies in animals have provided no evidence that Wi-Fi is harmful to health.”
According to Gary Larson, a radio oncologist with more than 30 years of experience treating cancer patients, there is "no credible evidence that non-ionizing radiation has any adverse health effects at all."
The IARC has labeled cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans," indicating insufficient conclusive research on whether mobile phones can cause cancer, and studies are currently taking place to examine the potential health effects of mobile phone use in children and adolescents.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the radiation levels emitted by WiFi devices are too low to cause harm to human health.
On the same episode of the Joe Rogan podcast, Kennedy also discussed the potential COVID-19 treatment ivermectin, claiming “they had to discredit ivermectin because there’s a federal law. The emergency use authorization statute says you cannot issue an emergency use authorization to a vaccine if there is an existing medication that has been approved for any purpose that is demonstrated effective against the target illness.”
Clarifying his belief that research on ivermectin was suppressed for financial gain, Kennedy stated, “If they had acknowledged it’s effective in anybody, the whole $200 Billion vaccine enterprise would have collapsed.”
While Rogan seemed to agree with Kennedy’s assessment, it does not bear weight. In the U.S., there is no prohibition against the granting of emergency use authorizations for vaccines in cases in which a treatment is available. Scientific studies have repeatedly failed to demonstrate that ivermectin is effective in treating or preventing COVID-19.
Kennedy aired a number of strange claims and theories during his first national town hall on June 28, including one he had initially stated a few days prior, suggesting a link between antidepressants – specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – and mass shootings.
Kennedy's belief that SSRIs contribute to U.S. school shootings has been debunked multiple times. A 2019 study reviewing "educational shootings" from 2000 to 2017 found "no direct or causal association" between psychotropic medications and gun violence.
A Psychological Medicine study revealed that the impact of mental illness on mass shootings has actually decreased over time in the U.S. Researchers also noted that those committing gun violence had higher likelihoods of prior legal histories, drug or alcohol misuse, and "histories of non-psychotic psychiatric or neurologic symptoms."
It should be noted that this narrative is not new to Kennedy: U.S. far-right politician Marjorie Taylor Greene, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and a range of right-wing figures have made similar claims following mass shootings in the past.
On the topic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kennedy has inflated casualty figures relating to the Ukrainian armed forces. On June 2, during an interview on Fox News, he stated, “I think the administration and the Pentagon are not being honest with the American people about the sacrifice of Ukrainians, and I think the Ukrainian government is also not being honest. The best data now shows about 350,000 Ukrainians have been killed on the front lines, and we’re not being told that.”
Logically Facts was unable to find a single source, apart from Kennedy himself, that states 350,000 Ukrainians have been killed during the course of the war. It seems most likely that Kennedy arrived at this total through a misreading of unverified figures contained within leaked Pentagon documents. While the veracity of these figures has not been confirmed, the documents in question state that the war has resulted in as many as 354,000 casualties. This figure includes all those killed and wounded on both sides in the war. On Ukraine’s purported casualties, the document’s authors claim “124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded in action.” This number of claimed casualties, while significantly lower than those claimed by Kennedy, is far higher than estimates reported by Ukrainian and Russian government sources.
During a recent press event, Kennedy claimed that "Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese" were "most immune" to COVID-19 and that the respiratory disease was "targeted to attack Caucasians and Black individuals." He also claimed the Americans and Chinese were developing "ethnic bioweapons."
There is no evidence that COVID-19 is an ethnically targeted bioweapon. Kennedy's claims are antisemitic and unfounded. Data indicates the virus' disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities is attributed to socioeconomic and environmental factors, not genetic engineering. External factors, such as socioeconomic status, age, and pre-existing health conditions, can disproportionately affect different population segments.
Kennedy's claim that the U.S. funds "bioweapons" is also a widely known conspiracy theory. Pro-Kremlin disinformation regularly claims that the U.S. funds biological facilities in former Soviet nations. Logically Facts has previously debunked unfounded theories that falsely portray facilities engaged in routine disease monitoring – which involves working with pathogens – as a threat.
On Bill Maher’s Club Random podcast, Kennedy asserts that "over 100 studies" prove that "autism is caused by vaccines." He does not present any evidence to back his claim.
The idea that vaccines might cause autism originated from a study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, which suggested a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. However, this study was discredited and later retracted due to data manipulation and severe flaws in its methodology. The retraction confirmed that "no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.”
Numerous studies by reputable scientific organizations, including the CDC have consistently shown no connection between vaccines and autism.
Kennedy has also made inaccurate statements on the causes of the war in Ukraine. In a post on May 3, he explained why he believes Ukraine and the United States are culpable, citing the placement of missile systems in the country.
Kennedy’s claim about the placement of “nuclear-capable Aegis missile launchers,”and their purported role in provoking the Russian invasion, is demonstrably false. Aegis systems are designed to intercept incoming missiles, not launch nuclear weapons. Even if this were a reasonable use of such a system, the U.S. has not sent any to Ukraine.
One of the more outlandish claims made by Kennedy relates to the idea that exposure to chemicals is affecting individuals’ gender identity. Appearing on Jordan Peterson’s podcast on June 5, he mused, “I think a lot of the problems we see in kids, and particularly boys, it's probably underappreciated how much of that is coming from chemical exposures, including a lot of the sexual dysphoria that we’re seeing.”
To substantiate this point, Kennedy pointed to a study linking exposure to the herbicide atrazine to the formation of female reproductive organs in male frogs, stating, “there’s a lot of other evidence that it’s doing it to human beings as well.”
Despite the attention-grabbing nature of this claim, there is no evidence to support it. Human beings and frogs are different species, and while atrazine can be harmful in high enough levels, it has never been linked to gender or alteration to a human being’s sexual organs.
Other than propagating the false notion that vaccines cause autism, Kennedy believes "there are much better candidates than HIV for what causes AIDS." In his view, scientists suppressed discussions around the real cause and treatment of AIDS to make money from producing Azidothymidine (AZT), the first drug to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating AIDs in 1987.
In the 1960s, scientists initially developed AZT to treat cancer, but it was unsuccessful. In 1981, when the AIDS epidemic emerged in the U.S., pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome discovered a new version of AZT that proved effective against the virus. The FDA expedited the review process, and Burroughs Wellcome tested the drug on 300 people. Although some considered the trial controversial, it's crucial to understand that at that time, AZT was the only available treatment for HIV. Speaking to USA Today, Monica Gandhi, the medical director of the HIV Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, emphasized that AZT was "life-saving and did not cause hundreds of thousands of deaths."
Decades of research and numerous studies have consistently demonstrated the link between HIV and AIDS. HIV is primarily contracted through unprotected sexual intercourse and sharing contaminated needles or syringes. While there is no cure for AIDS, medical advancements such as antiretroviral therapies (ART) have enabled people living with HIV to manage the virus effectively and ultimately suppress it so that it cannot be transmitted.