Several members of the Kennedy family have condemned a bigoted conspiracy theory from Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who suggested that the coronavirus was “ethnically targeted” to spare Jews and Chinese people.
In comments at a recent event in New York City, a recording of which was first published by The New York Post, Kennedy said: “COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” He added, “We don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted or not.”
His sister Kerry Kennedy called his remarks “deplorable and untruthful” and said they did not represent the principles espoused by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the organization she leads — named after their father, former attorney general and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.
His brother Joseph Kennedy II issued a similar statement, telling The Boston Globe: “Bobby’s comments are morally and factually wrong. They play on antisemitic myths and stoke mistrust of the Chinese. His remarks in no way reflect the words and actions of our father, Robert F. Kennedy.”
And former Rep. Joseph Kennedy III wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon: “My uncle’s comments were hurtful and wrong. I unequivocally condemn what he said.”
Kennedy rejected criticism of his comments Sunday, saying in a lengthy Twitter post, “The insinuation by @nypost and others that, as a result of my quoting a peer-reviewed paper on bio-weapons, I am somehow antisemitic, is a disgusting fabrication.” (The paper he referred to did not support the claims he made.)
It was far from the first time that Kennedy’s relatives felt compelled to disavow his words or actions.
Once an environmental lawyer known for his work to clean up the Hudson River, Kennedy — now a long-shot candidate running against President Joe Biden for next year’s Democratic nomination — has become a leading purveyor of anti-vaccine misinformation. Long before the coronavirus pandemic, he helped popularize false claims of a connection between childhood vaccines and autism, and since COVID vaccines became available, he has sought loudly and frequently to cast doubt on their well-documented safety.
Last year, Kennedy suggested that unvaccinated Americans would soon be more persecuted than Anne Frank, who was murdered by the Nazis. Several of his siblings criticized him for that comment, as did his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, who called it “reprehensible and insensitive.”
He has advanced many other conspiracy theories as well, including claiming that there is a link between antidepressants and mass shootings (there isn’t) and that Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election (they didn’t).
Despite his promotion of misinformation and some policy views more aligned with the Republican base than the Democratic one, Kennedy is polling relatively strongly — between 10% and 20% in several surveys, nowhere near enough to overtake Biden, but nonetheless striking numbers against an incumbent.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.