Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was 14-years-old when his father was assassinated. Senator Bobby Kennedy was a rising star who was closing in on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, until he was assassinated at a Los Angeles rally in June of 1968. Many considered this event to have marked the end of the 1960s in the United States. For RFK Jr., however, it remains an unanswered mystery.
The current candidate for the 2024 Democratic Party’s presidential nomination affirms that the man who is serving a life sentence for shooting his father – who also served as attorney general from 1961 until 1964 – is innocent. He thinks that a second shooter was involved. A few years ago, he asked for the case to be reopened.
Kennedy Jr., 69, became convinced of this after conducting an independent investigation that included interviews with witnesses and a review of police and autopsy reports. The investigation led him to only one conclusion: he had to meet with Sirhan Sirhan, the man accused of the murder. In December of 2017, the environmental lawyer – who holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Harvard – traveled to a San Diego prison to meet with his father’s murderer. He was in there for three hours. He never disclosed the details of this meeting to the press, but when he came out, his belief was reaffirmed: a second shooter had killed his father, five years after another shooter had killed his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
The third of Bobby Kennedy’s 11 children with Ethel Skakel, RFK Jr. has built his reputation on a long list of controversial opinions and conspiracy theories, including that Vladimir Putin is acting in good faith regarding the war in Ukraine. He has claimed that the 2004 election was stolen from Senator John Kerry; that the HIV emergency was fabricated so that corporations could sell more AIDS medications; that vaccines cause autism and Prozac is responsible for school shootings. He thinks that 5G technology is used for surveillance, that Wi-Fi radio frequency signals can cause cancer and that the chemicals in the water make children transgender. He recently sparked another controversy, claiming that Chinese people and Jews are immune to COVID-19.
All of these claims have been disproven by science. Yet, they have drawn praise from individuals such as former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. They have also aroused sympathy in certain sectors of the left. Jann Wenner – founder of Rolling Stone, the seminal American counterculture publication – lent the pages of his magazine to various articles by Kennedy. In one op-ed, he explained how George W. Bush had cheated his way into the presidency on two occasions (2000 and 2004).
Kennedy Jr. is living his greatest moment. The pandemic made him a frequent voice in the conservative media whenever a critical voice was required to speak out against vaccine mandates, widespread masking and government-ordered lockdowns. These are measures employed by authoritarian regimes, says RFK Jr. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Swiss Alps; you could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did,” he noted at the beginning of 2022, during a rally in Washington, D.C. that protested the Biden administration’s pandemic management. The remarks even prompted his wife – actress Cheryl Hines, who plays comedian Larry David’s wife on the HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm – to condemn her husband’s remarks as “insensitive” and “reprehensible.”
In 2021, he published a book against the epidemiologist Anthony Fauci, who was at the forefront of the response to the pandemic in the United States. Kennedy Jr. called him a “powerful technocrat who helped orchestrate and execute the historic coup against democracy in the West.” The Real Anthony Fauci became a bestseller, with more than a million copies sold. The attorney has also made a big part of his fortune litigating from his office, Kennedy & Madonna LLP. He and his firm have won cases against big pharmaceutical companies. Last year, he earned $5 million from this work.
This past April, Kennedy announced that he was entering the 2024 presidential race. Despite his positions – some of which are echoed by the Republicans and Trump’s base – he aspires to become the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, which was greatly reshaped by his father and uncle. Up to 20% of Democratic voters see his entry as a positive thing. However, despite the fact that he’s experiencing a moment of popularity, President Biden is well ahead in the race, with a lead in the polls of around 40 or 50 points.
With his critical discourse against legacy media, Kennedy has been marginalized to other spaces. He is a popular guest with Joe Rogan, who has the most listened to podcast on Spotify and has been widely-criticized for disseminating misinformation to his large audience. His campaign has gained traction among Silicon Valley libertarians, San Francisco financiers and tech entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter. In early July, RFK Jr.’s campaign reported that it had raised $10.2 million from both Republican and Democratic supporters.
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