Yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. appeared on a Twitter Spaces panel co-hosted by Elon Musk, Tulsi Gabbard, and venture capitalist David Sacks. He spoke for over two hours on a range of issues, including the war in Ukraine, energy policy, gun control, and the origin of SARS-CoV-2. And Kennedy deplored the corporate takeover of the Democratic Party, excoriated President Biden’s pro-war instincts, decried the domination of US foreign policy by neo-cons and promoted renewable energy.
And yet, according to the New York Times and CNN, it was an orgy of right-wing conspiracy theorizing. “Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of one of the country’s most famous Democratic families,” wrote three New York Times reporters, “dived into the full embrace of a host of conservative figures who eagerly promoted his long-shot primary challenge to President Biden….On Monday, he sounded like a candidate far more at ease in the mushrooming Republican presidential contest.”
In pre-Trump America, Kennedy, an anti-war, pro-free speech environmentalist and fierce critic of corporate power, would have been universally regarded as a far-left candidate in the mold of Ralph Nader or his current campaign manager, Dennis Kucinich. He once called for the Koch Brothers to be criminally prosecuted. Kennedy believes that the war in Ukraine is being fueled by “the neo-cons in the White House” who want “regime change with the Russians.” In his campaign announcement speech, he described his mission as ending “the corrupt merger of state and corporate power” that is threatening “to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism in our country.”
But a dizzying political realignment has scrambled all of the traditional categories and left in its wake just two sides: not left and right, but insider and outsider. And no matter the substance of one’s beliefs, to the media, “outsider” means, by default, “right-wing conspiracy theorist.”
On yesterday’s Twitter spaces conversation, the shift was lost on nobody, including Kennedy. “The Democrats slowly became pro-corporate, pro-war, and pro-censorship,” said Kennedy, and “Republicans became anti-censorship, pro-civil liberties, and anti-war. There's been this tremendous realignment.”
Kennedy’s rising profile ignited a media backlash yesterday that felt almost orchestrated. Kennedy’s “crackpot claims” and “outlandish views” have won him “favor on the right,” Vanity Fair moaned. “Mr. Kennedy has found another benefactor who seems to enjoy deluging the press with excrement: Elon Musk,” snarled The Independent. “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Spends an Hour Sucking Up to Elon Musk in Twitter Space,” blared a New Republic headline.
Business Insider called the conversation on Twitter “a bizarre Twitter Spaces conversation littered with falsehoods and conspiracy theories” and dismissed Kennedy’s “odd and occasionally incoherent policy positions.” Rolling Stone sneered at his “outlandish and pseudoscientific ideas” and labeled Kennedy a “fringe candidate” with “crank beliefs.” Esquire called him a “raving anti-vaxxer” and lambasted the very idea of having a contested Democratic primary.
But none put it as plainly as The Washington Post. “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. tests the conspiratorial appetite of Democrats,” wrote the Post’s Michael Scherer. Kennedy, Scherer alleged, “campaigns on the idea that powerful people have been working in secret to deceive you.”
The Washington Post may believe that the public’s distrust of the elite is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that powerful people have, indeed, been working in secret to deceive us.
Consider how many suspicions that were dismissed as conspiracy theories turned out to be true:
Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the U.S. government was indeed spying on millions of Americans without a warrant and without their knowledge and that such claims of widespread surveillance were neither paranoid nor conspiracy theories. Obama’s Director of National Intelligence had lied to Congress about NSA surveillance before Snowden revealed the truth.
Jeffrey Epstein may have been running a honeypot blackmail operation with the knowledge of the CIA, whose director visited him frequently, according to his private emails.
The evidence is today overwhelming that President Joe Biden’s son and brother sold access to Joe Biden, when he was Vice President, to foreign investors, including Chinese with close relationships to military intelligence.
The Biden administration and media elites have aggressively pushed for bans and restrictions on natural gas stoves while claiming that those who claimed they were pushing for such bans and restrictions were spreading conspiracy theories.
The Pentagon had indeed been covering up evidence of UFOs for decades.
Emails show former NAID director Anthony Fauci and NIH Director Francis Collins conspired to spread the lie that the Covid lab leak hypothesis had been debunked. In truth, there is a long history of lab leaks in the US and around the world, and scientists had hotly debated whether coronavirus research should occur given the high risk of a leak.
The New York Times wrote that “American intelligence agencies do not believe there is any evidence indicating that” COVID-19 was created as part of a bioweapons program. But Fauci’s NIH funding for gain-of-function research may indeed have originated as a biodefense effort.
Calling someone a “conspiracy theorist” is powerful and insidious. It does more than imply that a person is gullible or stupid. It suggests that they suffer from some kind of mental illness, and their opinions are not worth listening to.
Calling someone a conspiracy theorist is an act of delegitimation, just as calling them a racist or climate denier is. The goal is to ostracize and stigmatize, to un-person one’s political adversaries, and to banish their arguments from public discourse instead of refuting them. This is what the media is doing to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Kennedy’s zealous support for free speech runs counter to the media’s goal of “combating disinformation” by monitoring and censoring ordinary people online and thereby establishing themselves, once again, as the arbiters of truth and falsehood.
This is another reason the media is so determined to destroy his candidacy.
That’s an existential threat to the mainstream media, so outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN are doing everything they can to discredit both the platform and Kennedy’s candidacy. That alone makes both worth fighting to defend.