Opinion: RFK Jr.’s latest conspiracy theory is the last straw

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Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at www.threads.net/@deanobeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is once again engulfed in a firestorm, this time over recent comments in which he irresponsibly and baselessly suggested that Covid might have been engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.

Dean Obeidallah - Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah - Dean Obeidallah

Speaking at an event in New York City last week, Kennedy said: “Covid-19 – there is an argument that it is ethnically targeted. Covid-19 attacks certain races disproportionately,” he said. His remarks were captured on video and first reported by The New York Post.

“Covid-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese,” Kennedy said, adding “we don’t know whether it’s deliberately targeted that or not.”

Amid the outcry that has erupted since those comments, the Democratic presidential contender, son of famed Democrat Robert F. Kennedy, has attempted to walk them back.

On Twitter Saturday, he denied being bigoted, adding that the remarks had been made at an “off-the-record” gathering.

“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 since the furin cleave docking site is most compatible with Blacks and Caucasians and least compatible with ethnic Chinese, Finns, and Ashkenazi Jews. In that sense, it serves as a kind of proof of concept for ethnically targeted bioweapons. I do not believe and never implied that the ethnic effect was deliberately engineered,” Kennedy wrote.

And in a barrage of followup tweets on Sunday, Kennedy condemned what he called the “MSM attack dogs” – the acronym frequently wielded by right-wing critics to lambaste the “mainstream media,” for reporting the story.

It’s just the latest example of Kennedy expressing absurd – but also dangerous – views on matters of public health. Last week, for example, he suggested that chemicals in drinking water could cause gender confusion among American children. And he has long been a prominent anti-vaccine activist, spouting disinformation about a link between childhood inoculations and autism.

But Kennedy’s remarks on Covid for many people may represent a new low and were summarily debunked by scientists and rejected by civil rights and affinity groups. Swift condemnation came from Jewish groups and Asian American organizations among other groups. The American Jewish Committee told CNN in a statement Saturday that Kennedy’s “assertion that Covid was genetically engineered to spare Jewish and Chinese people is deeply offensive and incredibly dangerous.”

The organization added, “Every aspect of his comments reflects some of the most abhorrent antisemitic conspiracy theories throughout history and contributes to today’s dangerous rise of antisemitism.”

Jane Shim, the director of the Stop Asian Hate Project, slammed Kennedy’s words to The Washington Post as “irresponsible” and “hateful,” likening his comments to the “dangerous rhetoric” of Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as “the China virus.”

Condemnation also has come — very importantly — from many leading Democrats. The chair of the Democratic National Committee Jaime Harrison slammed Kennedy’s remarks, tweeting, “These are deeply troubling comments and I want to make clear that they do not represent the views of the Democratic Party.”

US House member Rep. Ted Lieu of California tweeted in response, “Millions and millions of people died from COVID-19 worldwide, including Americans who were Jewish or of Chinese descent.”

“Hard to imagine a son who has done more to dishonor his father’s name than RFK Jr.,” New York US representative Ritchie Torres wrote on Twitter.

Other Democrats joined in publicly denouncing Kennedy, including fellow presidential candidate Marianne Williamson who called the remarks “sinister,” “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Chinese.”

I expect Democratic officials to fully denounce Kennedy’s remarks – or they can expect to hear other members of the party slamming them for failing to. Anyone can seek a political party’s nomination. But a party is defined by how leaders respond to those in their party spewing bigotry. In the Democratic Party there must be zero tolerance for any self-described Democratic candidate who does that.

What a contrast with the Republican Party during the presidency of Donald Trump, who openly spewed bigotry and hate with little to no push-back from most GOP officials. While it’s true some Republicans did condemn some of his most egregious remarks, generally we heard silence from Republicans, or a favorite go-to: “I didn’t see the tweet.

For example, Trump had dinner last year at his Mar-a-Lago residence with Holocaust-denying, White nationalist Nick Fuentes—who in the past had threatened violence against Jews and Blacks—along with Ye (the musical artist formerly Kanye West) who had spewed anti-Semitic remarks.

PBS polled 57 Republican lawmakers for a response. Mitt Romney offered the most full-throated condemnation of Trump, stating, “I think it’s been clear that there’s no bottom to the degree to which President Trump will degrade himself and the nation,” the Republican senator from Utah said. Then-GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy denounced Fuentes, although not Trump for dining with him.

For the most part however, Republicans choose not to respond. The deafening silence from most Republican officials to Trump’s dining with bigots — and to his past racist comments — sends a message that hate is at least tolerated, if not welcomed, in the GOP. Today’s Democratic party must never allow that to happen.

Overall, RFK Jr.’s views align far better with today’s GOP than the Democratic party, as I wrote  last month. He has peddled dangerous conspiracy theories on everything from gun violence to vaccines, and he is being publicly praised by Trump allies Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. Kennedy has made other horribly offensive remarks such as that Covid vaccine mandates were somehow worse than The Holocaust, because as Kennedy stated, “Even in Hitler Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”

Against the backdrop of bigotry and dangerous health disinformation, it should be clear why some of Kennedy’s own family members have failed to support him. Kennedy’s baseless conspiracy theories do not belong in the Democratic party. And considering his out-of-bounds views, neither does he.

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