Democratic tactics against RFK Jr. are rattling his campaign

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A billboard truck paid for by the DNC has been circling Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s campaign events. Protesters picketed his vice presidential announcement rally. The website’s grassroots organizing forum was flooded with fake, provocative event pages. And a job ad from the progressive group MoveOn showed in real-time how progressive organizations are staffing up to confront the independent campaign.

The bombardment against Kennedy has grown so intense that the campaign is crying foul. Democrats are taking third-party threats seriously, and anti-Kennedy antagonism has spiked now that the general election is underway and the independent candidate continues to draw significant support in the polls. Despite the political prowess associated with his family name, Kennedy is a first-time candidate, and is now receiving his first real political vetting.

“They are publicly shifting now to a strategy of actual trolling and harassment in order to place media stories around it and persuade voters in that way, because their attempts to keep Bobby off the ballot have failed,” campaign manager, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s daughter-in-law, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy told POLITICO.

Fox Kennedy said she was expecting “dirty tricks” from the political establishment and the campaign is making adjustments to its operations. But the anti-RFK Jr. tactics haven't deterred the campaign from focusing on its existential goal, getting on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, DC. The campaign said it plans to meet its goal by mid-summer, though so far Kennedy is only officially on the ballot in Utah.

Kennedy is averaging about 12.5 percent in polls, according to RealClearPolitics. While that’s not enough support to win an election, even single-digit support in swing states could shift the 2024 results. Democrats have so far been the more proactive party to define Kennedy as a spoiler, but former President Donald Trump’s team is starting to turn its attention to Kennedy as well, calling him “a radical leftist.”

The Kennedy campaign sees the forces against it as part of "an ecosystem," Fox Kennedy said, that is defined by and loyal to the DNC.

While the DNC is responding to Kennedy’s run, its role is not as omnipresent as Fox Kennedy describes it. The DNC paid for mobile billboards highlighting GOP megadonor Tim Mellon’s contributions to Kennedy, but it denied hiring protesters or sending staff to Kennedy’s events.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has never met a conspiracy theory he doesn’t believe and this is no exception,” said Matt Corridoni, a DNC spokesperson. "It’s understandable that he is bothered when people point out he is funded by Donald Trump’s largest donor, but it’s important for voters to know he’s a spoiler.”

The DNC also did not participate in an online protest that spammed the Kennedy website with fake community organizing events.

Kennedy volunteers use this online calendar to host yoga classes, potlucks and book clubs for supporters or Kennedy-curious locals across the country. But Organizer Memes, an anonymous X account popular for trolling campaigns and sharing gossip on bad bosses, weaponized the tool shortly after Kennedy’s event announcing his running mate.

Organizer Memes created a fake community event called “Dramatic reading of RFK Jr’s sex diary,” referencing a 2013 story about Kennedy’s cheating scandal and divorce from his second wife, who died by suicide before the divorce was finalized. It inspired others to create their own fake events, poking fun at Kennedy.

“Once you get in my crosshairs because I want you to lose, I'm looking for opportunities to make jokes about you. And if your campaign has something to hide, I love to find it and post it on Twitter,” Organizer Memes said in an interview. The account is not affiliated with the DNC or Biden’s campaign.

The fake event post was inspired, however, by a real technological vulnerability. After Nicole Shanahan was announced as Kennedy’s running mate, one Kennedy supporter aired their disappointment by creating a fake event blaming Fox Kennedy, a former CIA agent, for negatively influencing the campaign, according to a screenshot seen by POLITICO. Organizer Memes saw this post and then created their own.

“It's a masterclass in digital security but also like, it's a fun time to prank people,” they said.

The campaign has now added a screening process for the website’s community events feature and is adding that ability to its forthcoming mobile app.

“Now we're having to commit volunteer resources to reviewing and approving each of those grassroots events, which takes those volunteers away from other things they could be doing. And it means that nobody can create an event the same day or even the night before,” Fox Kennedy said. “And maybe that's just a reality of the world that we live in, but it's another way that these large-scale government attacks on our local communities and our desire to connect with one another are undermining our political process.”

Fox Kennedy also took to X to lament a job posting from MoveOn, a progressive organization that is also not affiliated with the DNC. The ad was searching for a staffer “to help inoculate progressive and other non-MAGA constituencies from voting for RFK Jr and other third-party presidential spoiler candidates in key battleground states.” Responsibilities included in-person and digital organizing to confront the “threat,” including through “earned media bird-dogging.”

Fox Kennedy wrote on X that these responsibilities amount to harassment and accused MoveOn of being run by the DNC.

“We all know the Kennedy campaign runs on conspiracy theories, but even this is a stretch for them,” said Joel Payne, a MoveOn spokesperson.

MoveOn confirmed that it posted the job opening and took the ad down after receiving sufficient applicants. The online link now goes to a posting for a different job that is not related to or affiliated with MoveOn.

“They are running an anti-abortion, anti-IVF, anti-vaccine, anti-gun safety ticket funded by Trump’s biggest donor and they are trolling for attention with fake outrage because they are being called out and held accountable," Payne said. "It should come as no surprise that we are staffing up to ensure that voters understand that their reckless bid will make it easier for Donald Trump to win this election.”

While MoveOn’s job ad was singled out, it’s not unique. The DNC has staffed a team of veteran operatives, including a former Sen. Ted Kennedy staffer, to focus on third-party candidates. American Bridge, one of the largest Democratic Party-aligned research groups, has hired longtime Democratic lawyer Marc Elias’ firm on a retainer for this year. This is not to mention the smaller, hyper-local, partisan efforts that will emerge from the grassroots to box out third-party support as November approaches.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated how much American Bridge hired Marc Elias’ firm for this year.