The question is, what are they really selling?
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Although he subsequently sought to deny it, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really did say that wacky stuff suggesting that COVID-19 was bioengineered — targeted at specific ethnicities and races, while sparing others (those supposedly being spared were Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.)
So where does he get such material? Who are his sources? And how well is he able to evaluate them? That, we don’t know. What we do know is that a pretty strange group of self-anointed experts harboring extreme views on COVID-19, and more broadly on public health, are part of his brain trust.
One such person is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an early promoter of the theory that COVID-19 is a bioweapon designed to spare Chinese and Jewish people — almost exactly what Kennedy later claimed publicly, although she may have only confirmed ideas he already had.
Tenpenny is quite the character. She has shared numerous antisemitic claims on social media, including Holocaust denial and praise for the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
Kennedy will have a hard time disassociating himself from Tenpenny and her beliefs, given that she is right next to him in the image below for Kennedy’s June 27 “Health Policy Roundtable.”
Let’s take a closer look at Tenpenny, who Kennedy says is “leading this movement against vaccines,” and a brief look at the others.
Kennedy’s Brain Trust
Tenpenny has claimed that vaccines leave people magnetized. This was her proof:
They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there’s a metal piece to that.
She explained this — as an “expert witness” — to lawmakers in the Ohio House at a hearing in favor of a bill that would prevent businesses and government from requiring proof of vaccination. A nurse tried to demonstrate the phenomenon, with embarrassing results.
Tenpenny also claimed that vaccines interface with 5G cellular towers, and that “we’re trying to figure out what it is that’s being transmitted to these unvaccinated [sic] people that is causing health problems.” She also spread the idea that vaccinated people “shed” — leading at least one private school to instruct immunized teachers to stay away from unvaccinated students, claiming they could develop menstrual irregularities and other reproductive harm, merely from interacting with them.
Tenpenny, author of the book Saying No to Vaccines, is an osteopath, a type of doctor deploying a holistic approach to disease — but with no expertise in magnetism, epidemiology, virology, immunology, or infectious disease. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said she is one of the top 12 spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation.
And she does it aggressively, mass-marketing with the most insidious tactics. She and her business partner teach a course, “Mastering Vaccine Info Boot Camp,” designed to “sow seeds of doubt” about what people hear from public health officials. The course includes “how best to use persuasion tactics in conversation to communicate the information.” From their course material:
Understanding the subjective human experience and how each individual stores their VERSION of information is key to unlocking their mind and building trust … and successfully affecting [sic] change with them.
“Their VERSION of information?” Meaning what they’ve learned from reputable sources?
She also makes big money promoting anti-vaccination videos. She developed her business on coronavirus misinformation at the same time she was having trouble paying taxes amounting to at least half a million dollars, according to an Agence French-Presse (AFP) investigation.
Besides spreading misinformation, she may be spreading disease. Tenpenny, who is against masking and social distancing, has been criticized for traveling on airplanes after “serious COVID-19 exposure” at a time when she had the most infectious symptoms of the disease: coughing, difficulty in breathing, and weakness. She refuses to answer whether she has been tested.
Dr. Joseph Mercola. Another osteopath, and No. 1 on the list of the “Disinformation Dozen” on vaccines. “Over the last decade, Dr. Mercola has built a vast operation to push natural health cures, disseminate anti-vaccination content, and profit from all of it, say researchers who have studied his network. In 2017, he filed an affidavit claiming his net worth was ‘in excess of $100 million,’” according to The New York Times.
Patrick Gentempo. Chiropractor, entrepreneur, CEO of Action Potential Holdings, documentary filmmaker, host of Christ Revealed, and creator of Wisdom, “the world’s first Christian daily supplement.” Wisdom is an herbal potion that Gentempo claims reduces wrinkles, lines, and age spots, relieves joint pain, regulates blood sugar levels, fortifies your immunity system, and more. (One month’s supply costs $59.) According to Quack Watch, his anti-vaccination series of “documentaries,” called Vaccines Revealed, was cited by the National Council Against Health Fraud. His views on vaccines are shown by this tweet: “Well, here is why no one wants to debate @RobertKennedyJr on vaccines. They simply don’t have the facts on their side.”
Pierre Kory, M.D. President and co-founder of Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (which does not answer to state medical boards), he is a major promoter of ivermectin as a cure for the disease. Discredited for falsely testifying to the US Senate that ivermectin is a 100 percent cure for COVID-19. A medical journal retracted a paper of his on ivermectin after discovering it was based on flawed data. Another journal issued an “expression of concern” about a paper he authored, saying there were “suspicions about the underlying data” on which the paper depended to show that ivermectin was a viable treatment. Some doctors have been disciplined for prescribing ivermectin to patients who — apparently in the absence of conventional treatment — subsequently died of the disease.
Del Bigtree. CEO of Informed Consent Action Network, an anti-vaccination group that has made millions off of spreading misinformation. Producer of the film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, based on the discredited work of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who, through “deliberate fraud” tried to prove vaccines cause autism.
Mikki Willis. Producer of Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19, a film based on the claims of discredited scientist Judy Mikovits, who says people like Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci used the pandemic to profit and grab political power. (There are other reasons to distrust Mikovits. She was fired for rigging an experiment on an alleged connection between a mouse retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome, and her papers on the subject were retracted.)
Maureen McDonnell. A holistic pediatric nurse, anti-vaccine activist, and founder of Millions Against Medical Mandates.
Getting back to Kennedy’s conspicuously false statements, consider this one: “The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.”
Chinese are more immune? In view of what has been widely reported by the mainstream media about the millions of Chinese infected by COVID-19, how can he believe that? Specifically, there have been 99,296,816 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China, from January 1, 2020, to July 19, 2023.
After China ended its lockdown policy in December 2022, there was a massive surge in COVID-19 cases — with 60,000 deaths in just one monthh, a figure considered an underestimate.
And Chinese and South Asians were among the hardest hit in New York, according to this study.
Ashkenazi Jews are more immune? New York City — home to the largest population of Ashkenazi Jews in America — was the hardest hit by the pandemic, though we were unable to determine how many victims were Jews. But we know that in Britain, Jews were dying at twice the rate of non-Jews at the height of the pandemic, according to the UK Office for National Statistics. (Yet 1 in 5 British people believe Jews invented the virus for financial gain, according to an Oxford University study published in May 2020).
Why is it that Kennedy didn’t ask himself the very obvious, very easy question: Does reality reflect the abstract concepts he believes he understood in the technical journal he cited?
Put another way, does it look like Jews and Chinese are immune to the disease? Why not check?
A Talk With an Ethicist
Kennedy’s comments made me wonder what actual experts thought. I reached out to Jacob M. Appel, the author of an insightful essay, “Is All Fair in Biological Warfare? The Controversy in Genetically Engineered Bioweapons,” that appeared in the British Medical Journal.
Appel is a doctor, affiliated with Columbia University and Mount Sinai Hospital, a lawyer — and a bioethicist.
“To my knowledge there’s no evidence that COVID is a bioweapon targeting ethnic or racial groups,” he told me. “None at all. …The numbers don’t support that.”
In fact, he said, “it taps into canards about Judaism.”
Appel made the point that his own concern regarding bioweapons is much broader. He is opposed to all bioweapons. But he took up the separate issue of why people think bioweapons targeting ethnic groups is more unethical than the general use of bioweapons.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he told me. “There are arguments why targeted bioweapons could be more ethical or less. For example, if a foreign power attacked you, it would make sense to target the attacking soldiers [rather] than your own civilians.”
As Appel is one of a very few focusing in this area, he realizes that Kennedy and his advisers may have happened on the discussion and then misconstrued or misused it. He said he’d be mortified if that were the case.
In falsely suggesting that COVID-19 was somehow utilized in this fashion — without any evidence — Kennedy appears to be fanning intergroup mistrust for political gain.
For him, the main benefit is attention, which he clearly craves. But ultimately, the most harm will be done to President Biden’s chances in the 2024 election. It’s no surprise that Steve Bannon and other Republicans, exemplifying growing alliances between purported polar opposites, have encouraged Kennedy’s demagogic tactics.
Fostering fear of government and medicine serves mainly to increase Republican turnout and to disillusion certain swing voters, which is likely to tamp down Democratic turnout.
It might be difficult, at first glance, to see the connection between Kennedy’s firehose of bad “science” and the ongoing corrosion and degradation of American politics. But the last thing this country can afford now is the further weaponization of unscientific falsehoods to exacerbate racial and ethnic divisions — for any purpose, let alone to carve a political niche in a democracy that is nearly on life support.