A running list of RFK Jr.'s controversies

The 2024 presidential candidate has had no shortage of scandals over the years

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
(Image credit: Rich Polk / Getty Images for Waterkeeper Alliance)

In May 2019, members of now-Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s own family publicly denounced their brother and uncle for his vocal mistrust of vaccines, a stance they described as having "heartbreaking consequences." "We love Bobby," the trio of relatives wrote in an op-ed for Politico magazine, and "we stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment." But he "has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines." That said, anti-vax rhetoric is only one piece of RFK Jr.'s increasingly controversial puzzle, in spite of which he has managed to launch a so far somewhat decently successful campaign for the White House (though things may be starting to sour). Here's a look at some of the other comments and conspiracy theories that have landed the environmental lawyer in hot water over the years.

Promoted anti-vaccine rhetoric

Though Kennedy vehemently insists he is not anti-vaccine, his record on the matter certainly suggests otherwise. Most notably, he has promoted the "scientifically discredited belief that childhood vaccines cause autism," The New York Times reported, a notion that has "been rejected by more than a dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies across multiple countries."

Moreover, he has repeatedly questioned the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine, made numerous misleading claims about the way vaccines are tested, and even falsely alleged that HIV, the virus that later leads to AIDS if left untreated, originated from a vaccine program, according to CNN fact checker and reporter Daniel Dale. "So what do you call someone like Mr. Kennedy who devotes their time, energy, public remarks to devoting entirely fake claims about vaccines killing people in all manner of ways?" Dale mused in an appearance on "CNN News Central." "I think 'anti-vax' is a fair descriptor."

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Invoked Hitler when speaking out against vaccine mandates

Speaking at a rally against mandates in Washington, D.C. in early 2022, Kennedy invoked Hitler and Nazi Germany as he lampooned Covid-19 jab policies in the United States. "Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could … cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did," Kennedy said. "I visited, in 1962, East Germany with my father and met people who had climbed the wall and escaped, so it was possible. Many died, true, but it was possible." He quickly drew backlash for the comments, which critics saw as a suggestion that things were better for those alive during the Holocaust than they are today.

Suggested Covid was designed to spare Jews and Chinese people

In a video that surfaced in July 2023, Kennedy was caught claiming that Covid could have been a bioweapon designed to target and disproportionately attack "certain races," like Caucasians and Black people, and spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people, who he said are the "most immune" to the virus. "We don't know whether it was deliberately targeted or not," he said in the video, "but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact." He later insisted that he never "suggested that the Covid-19 virus was targeted to spare Jews" and was instead referring to a study that "serves as a kind of proof of concept for ethnically targeted bioweapons," per CNN.

Blamed gender dysphoria on chemicals in the environment

Much like other conspiracy theorists, Kennedy has repeatedly alleged that exposure to chemicals — endocrine disruptors, namely — is causing gender dysphoria in children and contributing to a rise in LGBTQ+ youth. Per The Washington Examiner, endocrine disruptors are "chemicals that interfere with the body's hormones and are commonly found in pesticides and plastic." Speaking on a June 2022 episode of his podcast, Kennedy said he wants to "pursue just one question on these … endocrine disruptors" because "we're seeing these impacts that people suspect are very different than in ages past about sexual identification among children and sexual confusion, gender confusion." His comments were based on a study that found that one endocrine disruptor, in particular, can cause a small percentage of male frogs to become female, though experts say there is no evidence that such chemicals cause gender dysphoria in human children. A Kennedy spokesperson later said the remarks were "mischaracterized," and that his client was "merely suggesting that, given copious research on the effects on other vertebrates, this possibility deserves further research."

Believes the 2004 presidential election was stolen

Years before former President Donald Trump cried voter fraud, RFK Jr. alleged the 2004 presidential election had been stolen from Democrat John Kerry for the very same reason. And though there had been a "breakdown of the election system in Ohio" at the time, Forbes reported, the Democratic Party found no evidence of widespread fraud in a post-election analysis. A Washington Post article from June suggests Kennedy believes the contest was stolen to this day.

Spread conspiracies about JFK's death

Even in 2023, RFK Jr. has continued to promote the unfounded theory that the CIA killed his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy. As recently as May, Kennedy alleged during an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity that former CIA director Allen W. Dulles helped cover up the agency's involvement in JFK's assassination while simultaneously serving on the commission helmed to investigate it. That same probe, known as the Warren Commission, ultimately determined that while some sort of conspiracy likely played a part in Kennedy's death, the CIA was not involved.

Linked school shootings with antidepressants

Speaking to comedian Bill Maher on an episode of the podcast "Club Random with Bill Maher," Kennedy linked an increase in school shootings to the increased prescription of antidepressants. "Kids always had access to guns, and there was no time in American history or human history where kids were going to schools and shooting their classmates," he told Maher, repeating a claim he has made before. "It really started happening conterminous with the introduction of these drugs, with Prozac and the other drugs." Ragy Girgis, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, told the Times that scientists have found "no biological plausibility" of a link between the use of antidepressants and mass shootings. Indeed, "if there was a connection or link, one would expect it to be pronounced, or at least much greater than we are seeing," Dr. James Knoll of SUNY Upstate Medical University told Politifact in 2019.

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Brigid Kennedy

Brigid is a staff writer at The Week and a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Her passions include improv comedy, David Fincher films, and breakfast food. She lives in New York.