Robert F Kennedy Jr is part of America’s most famous political dynasty and regularly appears on stage as a keynote speaker, commanding an audience in a way his uncle, JFK, or his father, Bobby Kennedy, once might have.
But his message is far more problematic.
Mr Kennedy is one of America’s leading anti-vaccine activists, and his popularity is soaring.
As the Biden administration pleads with people to get vaccinated against COVID, particularly in states where less than half the population is double-jabbed, Mr Kennedy is spearheading the resistance.
The US has been hard hit by the Omicron variant and there are around 145,000 people hospitalised with COVID nationwide this week, slightly down from last week but still higher than any prior surge.
Experts believe one factor in why the US is still seeing record numbers of hospitalisations and deaths may be patchy vaccination rates.
Misinformation around vaccines is infecting certain populations, and it’s spreading online.
Mr Kennedy claims CDC ‘manipulates data’ on COVID jabs
In a rare interview with mainstream media, Mr Kennedy told Sky News that the CDC, the official US health protection agency, is a “sock puppet for Moderna and Pfizer” which “manipulates data” on COVID vaccines.
Similar falsehoods can be found on the website for Mr Kennedy’s non-profit, Children’s Health Defense.
Visits to the website have skyrocketed, from 150,000 per month before the pandemic to a peak of 4.7 million in August, although Kennedy claims that figure is now closer to six million a month.
The website casts doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccine and amplifies rare instances of so-called “vaccine injury” while simultaneously claiming the CDC is manipulating real-world data which indicates the vaccine is safe.
Posts from Mr Kennedy’s charity ‘shared more often than news sources’
Research from Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media, which tracks vaccine-related content on Twitter, shows that posts from the Children’s Health Defense website are now being shared more often on the platform than mainstream news sources.
Analysis of tweets using the word “vaccine” shows more shares to the Children’s Health Defense website than any other site in the last week.
It has twice as many shares than the CDC, indicating the scale of the problem for those trying to combat misinformation around the COVID vaccine.
“Robert F Kennedy Jr is probably the most notorious and leading anti-vaxxer in the United States right now,” Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told Sky News.
“He’s really rocketed up the league table because he’s taken advantage of that Kennedy name to draw in people from both sides of the political aisle of the political spectrum.
“And what he’s been able to do is soften the messaging, bring some sophistication to the messaging, which is just old-fashioned nonsense that vaccines harm you, or they cause other diseases.”
Growing donations to Mr Kennedy’s charity
Donations to Children’s Health Defense have increased exponentially, too.
Filings with charity regulators show revenue more than doubled in 2020, to $6.8m (£5m).
According to tax filings, Kennedy’s was paid $255,000 (£212,000) by Children’s Health Defense in 2019 and $345,561 (£257,775) in 2020, an increase of more than $90,000 (about £67,000).
Asked by Sky News if he was profiting from a public health crisis, Mr Kennedy said: “If you’re worried about somebody profiting from a public health crisis, you should be getting Pfizer or you should be investigating Moderna and the Silicon Valley billionaires.
“I’ve given all of my book profits to the charity, so this has cost me, it is the opposite of profits for me personally.
“I’ve given almost a million dollars in profits to the charity, so I have a dramatic net loss.”
Mr Kennedy says he is ‘saving lives’
When asked if he was putting lives at risk by amplifying misinformation around the COVID vaccine, Mr Kennedy bristled and said: “I know we are saving people’s lives, and we’re saving democracy because children should not be getting this vaccine.”
He also said he did not believe that in some hospital COVID wards, up to 99% of patients were unvaccinated.
At a rally in Washington DC this month opposing vaccine mandates, Mr Kennedy Jr compared COVID-19 vaccine requirements in the US to conditions in Nazi Germany and said people living under Nazi rule “could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did”.
He later apologised for his comments and his wife, the actress Cheryl Hines, condemned the comparison.