The undeniable cachet of the American political family the Kennedys is still strong, as RFK Jr. is now building an antivaxxer empire, attracting thousands to his appearances and heading up an organization he says is about protecting children from coronavirus vaccines.
The former environmental activist who once was the senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has become a self-proclaimed vaccine expert, garnering huge crowds at his appearances, at which he declares giving the coronavirus vaccine to children is “criminal medical malpractice.”
At a local appearance in front of a conservative gathering at a church in Southern California he told the crowd that Democrats “drank the Kool-Aid,” aligning himself with the right-wing conspiracy activists who say among other things that the vaccines are part of various plots to destabilize society.
RFK Jr. relies on Kennedy cachet to draw support
The Kennedy cachet, which has attracted the public since his uncle John Kennedy’s rise to power in the early 1960’s, is clearly still in full force, as he riveted the crowd with his piercing blue eyes.
Looking almost like a twin of his father, Senator Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated during a campaign stop in 1968, Kennedy proves once again that star power is one of the most dynamic forces in the world — for good or ill.
Now, with his reach extending across the internet and with vaccine misinformation leading to many millions of people refusing the coronavirus vaccines, this star power has taken on an entirely new form and virulence.
His group, “Children’s Health Defense,” uses incorrect information, cherry-picked facts and conspiracy theories to spread distrust about coronavirus vaccines, the Associated Press alleged on Wednesday.
And its reach is growing exponentially, with the CHD launching an internet TV channel and a movie studio as well. Opening new U.S. branches as a result in the increasing interest it is generating among anti-vaxxers, it now has opened offices in Canada, Europe and Australia. Translating articles into French, German, Italian and Spanish, its social media posts have been shared in Norway and Greece.
CHD revenues reach $6.8 million in 2020
The CHD appears to be following a very shrewd strategy in social media, as its followers share links to the group under posts from US state governors, as well as schools, hospitals, the military, universities, news outlets, and even a major league soccer team, the AP reports.
In his most recent speech in California, Kennedy charged “It is criminal medical malpractice to give a child one of these vaccines.” He then promoted his book on vaccines to the crowd, assuring them that all the profits would go to the CHD.
The AP found in an investigation that the CHD’s revenues more than doubled during the first year of the pandemic, hitting $6.8 million.
Similarweb, a digital intelligence company, says that the CHD has now reached a peak of nearly 4.7 million visits per month from online surfers.
Experts say that the CHD has also targeted false vaccination information at groups that may be more likely to distrust inoculations, including mothers and black Americans. This may have serious ramifications while the coronavirus continues to grip the world, killing more than 5 million people globally as of December.
Kennedy has long stated anti-vaccine opinions over the years, along with many others, but physicians and public health officials told the AP that his influence grew exponentially after the coronavirus came on the the world scene.
“With the pandemic, he’s been turbocharged,” says Dr. David Gorski, a critic of the anti-vaccine movement who is also a cancer surgeon at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.
Dr. Richard Allen Williams, who is a cardiologist and medical professor at UCLA, declared that Kennedy is leading nothing short of “a propaganda movement.”
He goes on to state that “He’s really the ringleader of the misinformation campaign. So many people, even those in scientific circles, don’t realize what Kennedy is doing.”
Almost 20 years ago now, Kennedy, who is 67, took up a campaign which averred that no vaccines are safe.
His family spoke out against him and his anti-vaccination campaign as early as 2019, when the US was experiencing a serious outbreak of measles.
At that time, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Maeve Kennedy McKean wrote a piece published in Politico which charged that RFK Jr. “has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.”
RFK Jr. now among “Disinformation Dozen” for antivaxxer content
Kennedy now also has the dubious distinction of being named one of the “Disinformation Dozen” by the US’ Center for Countering Digital Hate, which calls him and the Children’s Health Defense website some of the foremost spreaders of false vaccine information online.
Health officials and pharmaceutical companies all acknowledge that indeed there are some instances of adverse effects after coronavirus inoculations, but literally billions of doses that have now been given to individuals all around the world show that they are overwhelmingly safe.
Moreover, World Health Organization statistics show that vaccines prevent as many as five million deaths globally each year.
Over 200 million Americans have now been immunized against the coronavirus, and serious side effects are extremely rare, according to all reports since last year’s rollout. Any health risks or incidents that occur as a result of vaccination are far fewer and less severe than the risks of contracting the virus.
Perhaps the most problematic of all is the fact that those searching worldwide for factual information on the vaccines are likely to come across links to the CHD all over Facebook, on otherwise reliable platforms. This includes the comments sections of official government Facebook pages for all 50 US states, and state health departments.
One of their posts even claimed absurdly that a total of 329 children across thew world had died after receiving the coronavirus vaccine, which is simply not true.
Although he was kicked off Instagram for his pronouncements, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. still has hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter; the CHD still has a presence on all three platforms.
The AP’s new report shows that CHD posts that dealt with vaccines were shared more often on Twitter than were links to factual vaccine content on reliable sites, even including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also indicated that these vaccine-related posts were shared more often than those of The New York Times and The Washington Post.