Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s own relatives are distancing themselves from his latest conspiratorial remark after he suggested at an event last week that COVID-19 may have been “ethnically targeted.”
Joe Kennedy III, a former U.S. representative from Massachusetts who is now special envoy to Northern Ireland for economic affairs, rebuked the comments in a Twitter post on Monday. “My uncle’s comments were hurtful and wrong. I unequivocally condemn what he said,” Kennedy III wrote.
Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, also blasted her brother’s remarks as “deplorable and untruthful.”
“His statements do not represent what I believe or what Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stand for, with our 50+-year track record of protecting rights and standing against racism and all forms of discrimination,” she said.
Joe Kennedy II offered a similar take. “Bobby’s comments are morally and factually wrong,” he said in a statement. “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.”
RFK Jr.’s comments were first reported on Saturday by the New York Post, which included a video of the candidate speaking at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan.
“There is an argument that it is ethnically targeted… to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese,” he said, referring to COVID. “We don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted or not, but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact.”
In a later Twitter post, RFK Jr. disputed the way his statements had been characterized—despite the video of him speaking.
“I have never, ever suggested that the COVID-19 virus was targeted to spare Jews. I accurately pointed out — during an off-the-record conversation — that the U.S. and other governments are developing ethnically targeted bioweapons and that a 2021 study of the COVID-19 virus shows that COVID-19 appears to disproportionately affect certain races.” (At the outset of the war in Ukraine, Russia peddled misinformation asserting that the U.S. had been helping Ukraine create bioweapons. Many elements of these claims were debunked.)
RFK Jr. further stated that, based on his interpretation of the statistics, COVID served as a “kind of proof of concept” for governments to create such weapons. (The Washington Post reported Monday that a number of studies show that, in fact, Jewish people “were actually disproportionately harmed by [COVID] across multiple countries.”)
RFK Jr.’s brother Doug, who works for Fox News, had a softer take on the comments than other members of his family. While he acknowledged that he didn’t have a firm grip on the “science” behind his brother’s claims, he felt the comments were “misinterpreted.”
“When COVID first happened, a lot of people were wondering whether there was an ethnic component to who was affected,” Doug Kennedy said. “I remember the Italians were dying at incredible rates. And people were speculating whether they were more susceptible.”
RFK Jr., who has previously stirred controversy for his anti-vaccine rhetoric, has attracted multiple high-profile supporters to his fledgling campaign, including Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and investing billionaire Bill Ackman.
Some members of the Kennedy family have distanced themselves from RFK Jr. before. In April, at the start of his campaign, Kerry Kennedy released a statement that read, in part, “I love my brother Bobby, but I do not share or endorse his opinions on many issues, including the COVID pandemic, vaccinations, and the role of social media platforms in policing false information. It is also important to note that Bobby's views are not reflected in or influence the mission or work of our organization.”
In 2022, Kennedy Jr. implied that public health responses to the pandemic were more extreme than life in Nazi Germany, saying, “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.” His celebrity wife, actress Cheryl Hines, subsequently wrote on Twitter that “My husband’s opinions are not a reflection of my own. While we love each other, we differ on many current issues.” Three members of the Kennedy family also published an open letter in 2019 critiquing his views on vaccines.