Robert F Kennedy Jr. has been widely criticized by political leaders and civil rights groups after a video surfaced of him making false claims that COVID-19 was designed to attack certain ethnic groups while sparing Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese — a conspiracy theory that has been accused of anti-Semitism and racism.
“COVID-19. There’s an argument that it’s ethnically focused. COVID-19 disproportionately attacks certain races,” Kennedy said at a recent dinner in New York City. The comments were videotaped and first published by the New York Post.
“COVID-19 is aimed to attack white people and black people. The people most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese,” he continued, adding, “We don’t know if it was intentionally targeted or not, but there are papers out there. showing the racial or ethnic difference and impact.”
Kennedy, a former environmental lawyer and cousin of President John F. Kennedy,in April that he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, in a challenge to President Biden. He has become an outspoken voice of the anti-vaccination movement over the past 15 years and a well-known conspiracy theorist whose claims have drawn criticism from both public health officials and his relatives.
His latest remarks prompted a string of leading Democrats to speak out.
“These are deeply troubling comments and I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the Democratic Party,” said Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. tweeted on Saturday.
Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said Kennedy’s claims amounted to “vicious anti-Semitic tropes and sinophobia” and “offended countless families who lost loved ones to the virus,” while Rep. Ted Lieu from California pointed out“Millions and millions of people died from COVID-19 worldwide, including Americans who were Jewish or of Chinese descent.”
“If you still support the crazy, narcissistic, racist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., that says more about you than it does about him,” Lieu said.
Rep. New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer called Kennedy “an embarrassment to the Kennedy name and the Democratic Party” in a tweet respond to the video.
“For the record, my entire family, who are Jewish, have got Covid,” Gottheimer wrote. “Speaker McCarthy and Jim Jordan should not invite this anti-Semite to testify before Congress and express his misinformation and hatred.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization that fights anti-Semitism and extremism, also denounced Kennedy’s comments.
“The claim that COVID-19 was a biological weapon created by the Chinese or Jews to attack white and black people is deeply offensive and fuels sinophobic and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about COVID-19 that we have seen evolve over the past three years ,” a spokesperson for the organization said in an email on Sunday.
Jane Shim, director of the Stop Asian Hate Project, criticized Kennedy’s “dangerous rhetoric” in comments to The Washington Post, calling his comments “irresponsible” and “resentful”. CBS News has reached out to the group, but has not yet received a response.
Kennedy attempted to respond to criticism of his initial comments in a tweet shared Saturday night, saying the New York Post’s “story doesn’t add up.”
But that message echoed most of the same false theories Kennedy heard shared in the video, including one that mirrorslinked to the war , claiming that the US is “developing ethnically targeted biological weapons”. Kennedy also referred to a scientific study that, he claimed, showed how certain properties of the virus made “ethnic Chinese, Finns and Ashkenazi Jews” less susceptible to it than black or white people.
Scientists subsequently discredited his statements about the study.
“Enzymes such as furin are not differentially compatible with different ethnicities,” Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, op Twitter. “Jewish or Chinese protease consensus sequences are not a thing in biochemistry, but they are in racism and anti-Semitism.”
Kennedy’s latest remarks weren’t the first time he sparked outrage with comments about COVID-19 and Jewish people. In a 2022 speech, he compared public health measures to “fascism,” claiming, “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland.” You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.’
“These analogies are historically misleading and hurtful to Jews and, frankly, to anyone who has a historical memory of who the Nazis were and what they did,” Aryeh Tuchman of the ADL’s Center on Extremism told The Associated Press at the time. “All in pursuit of his agenda.”