While it didn’t begin with 20 minutes of technical difficulties like the Twitter campaign kickoff of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Monday forum on the site’s audio Spaces platform was still a garbled affair. The environmental lawyer turned conspiracy theorist — now attempting to primary President Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination — made time to discuss a wide range of his more outlandish and pseudoscientific ideas throughout a conversation that lasted nearly two and a half hours.
Kennedy started off the “Reclaiming Democracy” event by thanking Elon Musk for ending “censorship” on Twitter, criticizing a raft of other social media companies — including Pinterest — for cracking down on misinformation about vaccines. Prior to launching his 2024 campaign, the 69-year-old Kennedy spent well over a decade as a leading voice in the anti-vax movement, amplifying the falsehood that vaccines cause autism (including in the pages of this magazine, in a 2005 exposé that was later discredited) and, more recently, spreading conspiracy theories about injuries supposedly caused by Covid-19 vaccines. In 2021, such content earned him a permanent Instagram ban, but his account was reinstated this week. During the Space, Kennedy suggested that “the government pressured Mark Zuckerberg” to have him deplatformed.
Kennedy also noted his admiration for Musk’s predecessor, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who has been supportive of his presidential run and tweeted out a link to the Spaces event. But the first 40 minutes of the event became a mutually flattering dialogue between him and Musk, with Kennedy not even mentioning his run for the White House — which was, presumably, the point of the public summit. He praised Musk as a champion of American values, comparable to colonists who fought in the Revolutionary War. Musk said he considers himself an American. “I do not carry any other passport, and I will live and die here,” he remarked at one point.
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“Your arrival at Twitter, Elon, has been a breath of fresh air for our country,” Kennedy gushed as the two discussed the importance of free speech and democracy at length. The candidate, seemingly alluding to his social media bans for anti-vax propaganda, remarked that “the First Amendment was written not for easy speech and likable speech and lovable people, it was it was written for hard times, and to protect speech that nobody wants to say.” He drew a comparison to the Skokie Affair of 1977, when, in a landmark case, the Supreme Court heard arguments on behalf of neo-Nazis advocating for their right to march in a Chicago suburb, and decided in their favor.
But, said Kennedy of the current political climate, “we’re no longer living in a democratic system” where unpopular opinions are constitutionally protected. He repeatedly stated that the government is beholden to big business, the pharmaceutical industry in particular, and therefore suppresses views like his own. Musk, for his part, complained about advertisers leaving Twitter in the wake of his takeover, as well as corporate diversity and social justice initiatives.
Bizarrely, for a while, the candidate took on the role of interviewer, peppering Musk with questions about why he released the so-called “Twitter Files,” where he got his sense of civic duty, and how he views the potential dangers of AI . Kennedy admitted some deep concerns about self-driving cars and Neuralink, a Musk-founded company working on an implantable chip that would theoretically connect the human brain to computer devices. He said that in the White House, he would take steps to ensure that AI “doesn’t end up killing us all, or enslaving us, whatever the heck it’s going to do.” After this very belated acknowledgment of the reason for the Twitter event, Musk had to awkwardly prod Kennedy to focus on his political messaging: “I think the American public would like to hear about your presidential run,” he said.
From there, Kennedy replied to questions from “anti-woke” author Michael Shellenberger, venture capitalist David Sacks, CEO Omeed Malik (who recently backed Public Square, a “patriotic” marketplace for “America-first businesses”) and former House Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, touching on matters including the Ukraine-Russia war and nuclear power. Along the way, he made some curious and sensational claims.
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Discussing the future of warfare, Kennedy said that there are bioweapons development labs “all over the world,” working on projects “including, you know, ethnic bio weapons that kill people from certain races, etc., that are designed to do that, and they already have them and they’re ready to escape.” For now, such weapons are purely hypothetical — the stuff of science fiction — but nobody challenged Kennedy’s assertion. “So now every country in the world, or many, many countries are now developing (bioweapons), and we should shut the whole thing down,” he continued, adding, “You know, Covid was clearly a bioweapons problem.” That false claim is conspiratorial misinformation that has circulated since the beginning of the pandemic.
On the topic of gun violence, Kennedy was once again able to pin the blame on pharmaceutical companies, suggesting that the epidemic of school shootings in the US may be attributable to SSRI antidepressants. “I also am going to look very closely at the role of psychiatric drugs in these events,” Kennedy promised. “And there are no good studies right now. That that should have been done years ago on this issue, because there’s a tremendous circumstantial evidence (that) SSRIs and benzos and other drugs are doing this.” By his own admission, there is no data to corroborate such an effect, and it’s unclear what “circumstantial evidence” he was referring to.
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“And prior to the introduction of Prozac, we had almost none of these events in our country,” Kennedy continued, naming a specific antidepressant in yet another unsupported claim. “The one thing that we have, it’s different than anybody in the world, is the amount of psychiatric drugs our children are taking.” He then alleged that the National Institute of Health won’t research the supposed link between these drugs and shootings “because they’re working with the pharmaceutical industry.”
By the end of the event, fewer than 60,000 listeners remained on the call, a fraction of the audience that stuck around through the far shorter DeSantis campaign launch. Still, it seems proof that as a fringe candidate, Kennedy can connect with a slim minority that shares many of his crank beliefs and admire his pedigree as a scion of the Kennedy dynasty. As he indicated himself in so many bouts of effusive praise, it certainly helps to have Elon Musk give you a leg up.