I’ve been writing about Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his antivaccine activities for a very long time now. Indeed, I first started writing about RFK Jr. more than two and a half years before this blog even came into existence. In 2005, to their eternal shame, both Salon.com and Rolling Stone simultaneously published an article by RFK Jr. entitled Deadly Immunity, and my deconstruction of his version of I like to call the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, noting that antivax conspiracy theories are but a subset of science denial. This version of the central conspiracy theory is one that I like to call the Simpsonwood Conspiracy theory based on its central focus on a meeting convened by the CDC at the Simpsonwood Conference Center in 2000 to discuss the evidence with respect to childhood vaccines that contained thimerosal, a mercury-containing chemical used as a preservative, and autism. No clear evidence of a link was found, and the CDC planned a second phase analysis that was completed and published four years later.

Unsurprisingly, according to RFK Jr.’s telling in Deadly Immunity, the conference was a huge secret coverup designed to hide evidence that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal was the cause of the “autism epidemic.” (Never mind that the complete transcript of the conference had been published within days of the end of the conference; it was even hosted on an antivax website for a long time! Some “coverup.”) RFK Jr.’s spin was nonsense, of course, based on a misrepresentation of how in epidemiological studies seemingly “positive” associations disappear when confounders are properly taken into account, and overwhelming evidence has long been consistent with the conclusion that there is no correlation between receiving thimerosal-containing vaccines and the risk of autism.

In the intervening 18 years, I have written about RFK Jr. more times than I can remember, both on this blog and over at my not-so-super-secret other blog, because, unfortunately, he has consistently been a leader in the antivaccine movement. Indeed, based on his thimerosal fear mongering, RFK Jr. formed the antivaccine organization World Mercury Project, which was ultimately renamed Children’s Health Defense after it had become very clear over a decade after thimerosal had been removed from vaccines that autism rates were not falling (quite the contrary, in fact), thus providing a natural experiment that demonstrated no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. Along the way, his claims to be “fiercely pro-vaccine” notwithstanding, RFK Jr. demonstrated himself to be, in reality, fiercely antivaccine, whether he was likening vaccination to the Holocaust, trying to persuade Samoan officials that the MMR vaccine was dangerous (in the middle of a deadly measles outbreak!), claiming that today’s generation of children is the “sickest generation” (due to vaccines, of course!), or toadying up to President-Elect Donald Trump during the transition period to be chair of a “vaccine safety commission.” Indeed, a few years ago his own family even called him out for his antivaccine activism, while, predictably, RFK Jr. has, as so many antivaxxers have done, gone all-in on COVID-19 pseudoscience and conspiracy theories and become anti-mask, “anti-lockdown,” and pro-quack treatments for COVID-19.

All of this explains why I suffered a major facepalm when I read this post on a Substack entitled Is RFK Jr. “anti-vax”? Clearly, the antivaxxer behind this Substack, Joomi Kim (who has antivax proclivities of her own) means to invoke Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, in which the answer to any headline that is a question is no. Besides being irritated, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss this because Kim’s article shows the rhetorical techniques by which antivaxxers try to maintain plausible deniability about being antivax, hiding their true nature behind a fog of language that I recognize—as do many of our readers—as indicating antivax views but that to most people can sound reasonable.

Godzilla facepalm

When Godzilla gives you the facepalm, you know the failure is monstrous.

RFK Jr. “in his own words”: His words don’t show what Joomi Kim claims they show

Joomi Kim begins by framing the issue as being one of the press falsely portraying RFK Jr. as “antivaccine.” She includes a bunch of headlines right at the beginning of the post, and then pivots to asking:

There’s no doubt that Kennedy has been critical of at least some vaccines; including, most recently, the COVID vaccines.

But is he actually “anti-vax”? Is he against all vaccines?

Instead of relying on media headlines, let’s hear what he has said about this.

First, notice how Kim uses a common incorrect definition of “antivax” in which you can’t possibly be antivax unless you’re frothingly ranting against all vaccines under any circumstances. Of course, I like to use this understanding whenever I encounter someone who claims to be “not antivax” to show that they are, in fact, either deluding themselves or lying when they make that claim by asking a simple question: Which vaccines do you currently consider safe and effective enough that you think that the people for whom they are recommended should receive them? With rare exceptions, the answer will either be tap dancing around the question, no answer at all, or something along the lines that “I’d get a tetanus shot if I cut my foot on a rusty, dirty piece of metal.” So, in reality, many “not antivax” antivaxxers are, if not rabidly opposed to all vaccines, at least close enough that the definition is almost correct for many. However, I also like to point out that there are shades of antivaccine views, too, something that defining antivax as being utterly opposed to all vaccines conveniently ignores, allowing plausible deniability for some antivaxxers with respect to their being antivaccine; that is, for general audiences not familiar with antivax rhetoric. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really spicy, I might follow up by asking something along the lines of, “If you really believe that vaccines are loaded with toxins, don’t work, cause autism, and kill babies and people, then why are you so quick to deny being ‘antivaccine’? It seems to me that if you really believe those things you should be antivaccine.” They don’t like that question either.

If you want a more detailed discussion of what “antivax” means, I wrote one last fall, which is an update to the one I had written 12 years before that. I refer interested readers to those links for more information.

With that background in mind, having read and heard what RFK Jr. has consistently said over the last 18 years, I’m more than happy to take this challenge and do just that with the quotes supplied by Kim. Seriously, she cherry picked some amazing RFK Jr. quotes, including one recent one from an interview with Piers Morgan conducted on April 27:

INTERVIEWER: You’ve been opposed to vaccines for a long time, very heavily critical of the COVID vaccines.

KENNEDY: That’s not true.

INTERVIEWER: Well you’re not a vaccine denier, but you are very, very skeptical, a very public voice of skepticism about the efficacy of vaccines, would that be fair?

KENNEDY: What I’ve said is vaccines… I’m not anti-vaccine. I think vaccines should be subject to the same level of rigorous testing as other medications. And that is the only thing- my only position. Listen, I fought to get mercury out of fish for forty years and nobody called me anti-fish. I’m not anti-vaccine because I want safe vaccines. And I think everybody wants safe vaccines. And as we all now recognize the COVID vaccines were neither safe nor effective.

Interestingly, Kim only observes about this exchange, “That was a recent interview, but what about in the past? Was he anti-vaccine then?” She seems to assume that the exchange above is evidence that RFK Jr. is not antivaccine, that his mere assertion that he is not antivaccine is adequate evidence that he really is “not antivaccine.” Given RFK Jr.’s long history, you and I know that a mere denial of being antivaccine is not evidence that one is not antivaccine, any more than an assertion of being provaccine is evidence of being provaccine. Actions matter more than mere assertions.

Regular readers will recognize RFK Jr.’s gambit as “I’m not antivax; I’m pro-safe vaccine.” I note that the very first section after the introduction of my 2010 post referred to above is all about this very gambit, which Jenny McCarthy routinely used to use c.2008 when asked about whether she was “antivaccine” or not, as did J.B. Handley, even as he gloated about the decline in confidence in childhood vaccines among parents that he and his allies had stoked. (An alternative response is, “What I really am is ‘anti-toxins’ in the vaccines.”)

RFK Jr. is basically trotting out this gambit here, and Kim fell for it. You can tell he’s full of the proverbial BS because of his statement that “vaccines should be subject to the same level of rigorous testing as other medications” is the purest BS. Vaccines are subject to the same rigorous level of testing as other medications, arguably even more rigorous. After all, they are by design intended to be administered to large numbers of healthy people in order to prevent disease, a population for whom adverse events are less tolerable. As for that bit about fish? It’s just a variation of a “classic” antivax trope, asking if Ralph Nader was “anti-car” because of his efforts to increase automobile safety. It is a disingenuous false comparison that seeks to deceptively cast antivaxxers like RFK as “vaccine safety advocates,” which they most definitely are not, as their only plan for “making vaccines safer” involves impractical and impossible things, such as removing all the “toxins” out of vaccines. Note that, after thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, antivaxxers immediately pivoted to other “toxins.” In any event, what I like to say whenever I hear or see this gambit is this: Tell me how vaccines are any less rigorously tested than standard pharmaceuticals. Be very, very specific. They never can.

You can really see, however, where RFK Jr. is coming from by how fast he pivots to the gambit of saying, “And as we all now recognize the COVID vaccines were neither safe nor effective.” No, we do not “all now recognize” anything of the sort. The evidence is clear that COVID-19 vaccines are actually very safe; they are also effective. It is true that their effectiveness declined with the Delta wave and Omicron waves, variants that were progressively better at avoiding preexisting immunity. As I like to point out, this ability to evade preexisting immunity applies to immunity due to both the original COVID-19 vaccines and “natural immunity,” more appropriately referred to as “postinfection immunity.” Even so, they are still quite effective at what vaccines are designed to do: Prevent severe illness, even if they are less effective in stopping transmission. Of course, casting doubt on vaccines by portraying them as dangerous and ineffective is a classic antivax narrative, while portraying themselves as “vaccine safety advocates” while engaging in fear mongering about vaccines is a classic characteristic of antivaxxers.

But let’s move on. Kim provides another interview, this time with Tucker Carlson on Fox News in 2017. (Yes, three years before the pandemic and vaccines, Tucker Carlson was doing puff interviews with leaders of the antivax movement like RFK Jr. The right wing embrace of antivaccine views that has shocked so many pundits over the last three years is nothing new.) Here is the carefully chosen excerpt that Kim chooses to use to demonstrate that RFK Jr. is “not antivax”:

INTERVIEWER: So this is such a taboo subject that I think a lot of people would hesitate to even bring it up but I’ve read a lot that you’ve written on it. I don’t agree with all of it but I don’t think you’re crazy. You’re not anti-vaccine, you say you’ve vaccinated your own children but you have concerns. Tell me first what the reaction is when you tell people you’re skeptical of the vaccine regimen of the United States.

KENNEDY: Well like you said I’m pro-vaccine and I’ve never said anything anti-vaccine, but I read the science and the science is very clear that some of the vaccines- and what you have to understand is that the vaccine regimen changed dramatically around 1989- the reason it changed… is that Congress, drowning in pharmaceutical money, did something they never did for any other industry.

They gave blanket legal immunity to all the vaccine companies so that… no matter how absent the quality control, no matter how toxic the ingredients or egregious the injury to your child, you cannot sue them. So there’s no depositions, there’s no discovery, there’s no class actions suits. All of a sudden vaccines became enormously profitable…

I got three vaccines… I’m sixty-three years old. My children got sixty-nine doses of sixteen vaccines to be compliant. And a lot of these vaccines aren’t even for communicable- casually communicable diseases- like hepatitis B, which comes from unprotected sex or sharing needles. Why do we give that to a child the first day of their life? And it was loaded with mercury.

INTERVIEWER: And we do give that to children.

KENNEDY: We continue to give it to them. Mercury has been taken out of three vaccines in this country, but it remains in the flu vaccine- 48 million flu vaccines- and it’s in vaccines all over the world…

Did any of you facepalm reading the part in which RFK Jr. claimed to be “pro-vaccine”? How about the part where claimed that he’d never said anything “antivaccine”? I certainly did, but Kim takes these statements at face value, because that’s what she wants to do. RFK Jr.’s “I’m not antivax” is akin to a racist’s “I’m not racist, but…” in which racist dog whistles follow the “but.” In this case, RFK Jr. repeats common antivax dog whistles that those not familiar with antivax rhetoric might find, if not reasonable, at least not unreasonable. Antivaxxers recognize them, though, as a parade of antivax “greatest hits.”

One of RFK Jr.’s antivax greatest hits is his claim that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 provided “blanket legal immunity to all vaccine companies.” This is a common antivax version of events, which leaves out what the bill really did. In the wake of claims that the DPT vaccine had caused neurologic injury to children, there were so many lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers that pharmaceutical companies were strongly considering leaving the US market due to increasing difficulties obtaining liability insurance, with only one manufacturer still making pertussis vaccine in 1985. The solution agreed upon by Congress and President Ronald Reagan and codified in the NCVIA of 1986 was to set up a special “no fault” compensation program for those injured by vaccines, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The law set up a special court with special expertise, commonly called the Vaccine Court, all funded by a tax on each vial of vaccine sold. Complainants denied compensation through the Vaccine Court still have access to federal courts; the law does, however, require that complainants use the Vaccine Court first. (I also can’t help but note that the law also resulted in the creation of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, or VAERS, antivaxxers’ favorite database in which to dumpster dive and misrepresent ever adverse event reported as definitely having been due to vaccines, particularly since the pandemic hit.) Note also how RFK Jr. invokes a conspiracy theory to claim that the reason the childhood vaccine schedule expanded in the late 1980s-1990s was because of the NCVIA of 1986 while misrepresenting the Vaccine Court as not following procedures similar to those used by civil courts. I also like to point out that, not only does the Vaccine Court bend over backwards to be fair to complainants by allowing them to posit “theories of injury” that don’t pass the Daubert test for expert testimony, but it is a civil court, in which the preponderance of evidence—sometimes referred to as “50% and a feather”—wins. But that’s not all! The Vaccine Court pays the complainants’ attorney fees and reasonable expenses, too, win or lose!

RFK Jr. also loves to claim that he can’t possibly be antivax because all of his children were vaccinated according to the CDC recommended schedule. All one has to do is to look up how old his children are to realize that his children, spread between two marriages, were born between the years of 1984 and 2001, the youngest having been born four years before he “came out” as antivax. It does make me wonder whether he completed the vaccination schedule of his youngest child Aidan Caohman Vieques Kennedy. On the other hand, thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001. So who knows? In fairness, I will note that even Kim finds RFK Jr.’s bit about vaccinating his children a bit dicey, as she includes an addendum stating:

Speaking of changing minds: Kennedy has mentioned that he’s gotten all his kids vaccinated. Presumably this was all before he got interested in vaccines and learned of their safety issues. It’s possible that, given what he knows today, he would not vaccinate his kids, or at least limit the number of vaccines they got. It’s easy to imagine that this is something he’s changed his mind about.

Possible? It can never be proven definitively, but I’d bet money that if RFK Jr. were to have any more children he wouldn’t get any of them vaccinated against anything. His proudly trumpeting how he had gotten all his children—who range in age from 22 to 39—vaccinated is performative. It’s designed to fool people who don’t think too carefully about the claim.

Whether RFK Jr. got his children vaccinated or not doesn’t matter anyway in 2023, because RFK Jr.’s rhetoric and claims have been solidly antivaccine at least since 2005. Indeed, in that 2017 interview with Tucker Carlson he throws in more antivax dogwhistles, For example, that part at the end about his having only gotten three vaccines—having been born in 1954, I note, a period of time in which the polio vaccine was added to the childhood schedule—compared to the “69 doses of 16 vaccines” (clearly a variant of the antivax “too many too soon” gambit), complete with a dig at the hepatitis B vaccine birth dose (for which there are sound scientific reasons), is pure antivax dog whistle. Someone of RFK Jr.’s birth cohort would likely have received at least vaccines against diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT), polio, and smallpox, because vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, haemophilus influenza type B (Hit), varicella, hepatitis B, etc., hadn’t been developed yet.

As is this quote from later in the interview:

I’m called anti-vax all the time because the pharmaceutical industry is so powerful… they give 5.4 billion dollars a year to the media, and… they’ve gotten to the lawyers so there’s no legal interest in those cases, and they really have controlled the debate and silenced people like me…

I do love it when antivaxxers claim to have been “silenced” on what was, prior to Carlson’s firing, a top-rated nightly cable news show. Can I say that, because I’ve never been on a cable news show to defend vaccines, I’ve been “silenced”? You’d laugh, and rightly so. You should also laugh at RFK Jr.’s risible claim, especially given that his being a member of the Kennedy clan has always opened doors closed to nearly everyone else, even after he had become toxically antivax.

But to Kim, because RFK Jr. admitted in 2015 that vaccines “save lives,” it must mean that he’s not antivax.

RFK Jr. is “fiercely pro-vaccine”? Nope.

Kim goes on to be unduly impressed by a passage from RFK Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense website, included in a transcript of a video for his “Vaccine Safety Project”:

From the transcript:

I want to start by saying that I am fiercely pro-vaccine. I had all six of my children vaccinated. I believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives.

He goes on to say:

But I want vaccines that are as safe as possible, I want science that is robust and I want to make sure that we have a regulatory agency that has unquestioned integrity and freedom of conflicts of interest and we don’t have those things today.

This seems consistent with what he’s been saying in interviews.

Yes, and they are all antivax dog whistles. I will note that the first time I ever recall RFK Jr. describing himself as “fiercely pro-vaccine” was during a 2014 appearance on The Dr. Oz Show promoting his antivax book, Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: Mercury Toxicity in Vaccines and the Political, Regulatory, and Media Failures That Continue to Threaten Public Health, with functional medicine quack Dr. Mark Hyman, in which both trotted out standard antivax talking points. As you might expect, the two trotted out all the then-old canards about thimerosal and vaccines, as well as claims that vaccines are loaded with “toxins” that harm babies.

Kim then quotes Chapter 9 of RFK Jr.’s 2021 conspiracy book The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health, noting:

On the Children’s Health Defense site, Kennedy’s statement on vaccines says, “I believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives.”

There is some tension between this, and something he says in his book, The Real Anthony Fauci. In chapter 9 of his book, Kennedy says that the dogma that vaccines have saved millions of lives, is not true:

A doctrinal canon of germ theory credits vaccines for the dramatic declines of infectious disease mortalities in North America and Europe during the twentieth century. Anthony Fauci, for example, routinely proclaims that vaccines eliminated mortalities from the infectious diseases of the early twentieth century, saving millions of lives… Most Americans accept this claim as dogma. It will therefore come as a surprise to learn that it is simply untrue.

Science actually gives the honor of having vanquished infectious disease mortalities to nutrition and sanitation. A comprehensive study of this foundational assertion published in 2000 in the high-gravitas journal Pediatrics by CDC and Johns Hopkins scientists concluded, after reviewing a century of medical data, that “vaccination does not account for the impressive decline in mortality from infectious diseases… in the 20th century.”

He mentions another widely cited study which found that “all medical interventions including vaccines, surgeries, and antibiotics accounted for less than about 1 percent- and no more than 3.5 percent- of the dramatic mortality declines.”

So in this area, there is some tension between some of Kennedy’s statements.

Now, maybe he believes vaccines have saved “millions of lives,” but not as many as popularly thought. Or maybe he doesn’t really believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives. Or maybe he once believed this, but has since changed his mind.1

This is something that only Kennedy can answer.

“There is some tension between some of Kennedy’s statements”? How about this? Maybe, just maybe, RFK Jr. is lying on his website when he says that he believes that vaccines really did save millions of lives because he does not want to be so obviously antivaccine that even the average person who doesn’t pay much attention to these issues could recognize him as an antivaxxer? Seriously, right here Kim is so very, very close to recognizing RFK Jr.’s schtick about being “fiercely pro-vaccine” for what it is: Bullshit. Unfortunately for here, she’s so invested in believing RFK Jr.’s claim that he is “fiercely provaccine”—or at least in believing that he is “not antivaccine”—that she basically ignores RFK Jr.’s explicitly antivax claims, one of which is to question germ theory by questioning whether vaccines have saved millions of lives. It’s right there in black and white in his recently published book!

I also note that RFK Jr. did a frequent antivax trick and cherry-picked a favorite quote of antivaxxers from this article. Here is the quote in context, the cherry-picked part bolded by me. I note that he didn’t quote quote even his cherry-picked passage correctly as well, as the article states that these declines in mortality were in the first half of the 20th century, not just the “20th century”:

Vaccination, while first used in the 18th century, became more widely implemented in the middle part of the century. Vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis became available during the late 1920s but only widely used in routine pediatric practice after World War II. Thus vaccination does not account for the impressive declines in mortality seen in the first half of the century. The reductions in vaccine-preventable diseases, however, are impressive. In the early 1920s, diphtheria accounted for about 175 000 cases annually and pertussis for nearly 150 000 cases; measles accounted for about half a million annual cases before the introduction of vaccine in the 1960s. Deaths from these diseases have been virtually eliminated, as have deaths from Haemophilus influenzae, tetanus, and poliomyelitis.45

In other words, vaccines worked.

Note how the message, in context, is very different from how RFK Jr. represented it in the cherry-picked snippet from the article that he quoted in his book. This is commonly known as the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit, in which antivaxxers point to the declines in mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases that had occurred, due to better medical care, before the introduction of vaccines in order to claim that vaccines really didn’t do us much good. It’s a deceptive antivax trope that I first addressed here in 2010.

So how should we think of RFK Jr?

Kim concludes her Substack with the question in the subheading above. My answer is simple: We should think of RFK Jr. as an antivax propagandist, because that’s what he is. His own words as quoted by Kim demonstrate that. Kim, however, tries to obfuscate. After noting that RFK Jr. has “explicitly said that he’s not ‘anti-vaccine'”; that “that he wants ‘safe vaccines'”; and that “he thinks vaccines should be subject to the same level of rigorous testing as other medications,” she writes:

At the very least, it seems clear from his statements that Kennedy isn’t against the idea of vaccines and believes that vaccines could be safe.

This is pretty weak sauce. It also ignores RFK Jr.’s history of setting the bar for “safe vaccines” so high that it can’t possibly be reached. Basically, he demands 100% safety, an impossible standard that even the safest existing vaccines can never meet.

Kim then adds:

When it comes to particular vaccines that are available to the public, it’s unclear which, if any, Kennedy would recommend, given that he thinks we don’t have a trustworthy regulatory system. Maybe he wouldn’t recommend any of them, or maybe he’d only recommend a few of them. Maybe he thinks that some of the earlier vaccines are safe, before vaccines were given a liability shield in the late 1980s. Again, only Kennedy can answer this.

Again, she is so very, very close to realizing that RFK Jr. is antivaccine. She just doesn’t want to admit it. She even invokes the question that I routinely ask antivaxxers who claim they’re “not antivaccine”: Which vaccines do you consider sufficiently safe and effective to recommend generally? Of course, she immediately makes excuses for the likely answer from RFK Jr., which is none. I keep hoping that one of the clueless reporters who grant RFK Jr. credulous interviews would become somewhat less clueless and explicitly ask him my favorite question for antivaxxers: “You state that you’re ‘fiercely pro-vaccine, yet are very critical of most vaccines. Given that you say you’re pro-vaccine, which vaccines do you consider sufficiently safe and effective that you generally recommend their use according to the CDC schedule?” A good reporter could then make RFK Jr. squirm as he tries to avoid a concrete answer, which he almost certainly would. Sadly, no reporter ever seems to ask him this question in this manner.

Finally, Kim implores her readers:

Regardless, I encourage you to judge him by his own words, instead of relying on what the media says about him.

I agree. I’ll also bring up a few more statements from RFK Jr. that Kim left out by which he should be judged “in his own words.” For example, in the midst of a deadly measles outbreak in Samoa that had killed over 70 children, RFK Jr. wrote a letter to the Samoan Prime Minister insinuating that the outbreak had been caused by a “defective measles vaccine.” He even falsely claimed that the Merck measles vaccine had “created a crisis where infants under the age of one are now highly vulnerable to these infections.” He even invoked “shedding”:

There is also the possibility that children who received the live measles virus during Samoa’s recent vaccination drive may have shed the virus and inadvertently infected vulnerable children. It is a regrettable possibility that these children are causalities of Merck’s vaccine. Alarmed CDC officials documented this emerging phenomenon during the measles outbreak in California in 2015. Federal epidemiological investigations found that at least 1/3 of Californian cases were vaccine strain.

This is a favorite antivax claim that even has nothing to do with thimerosal. There were no vaccine strain measles cases in the Disneyland outbreak. All measles cases in that outbreak were caused by wild-type measles. The claim that “vaccine shedding” can cause measles outbreaks is not scientifically supported. It is, in fact, utter nonsense. As I said at the time, either RFK Jr. was utterly clueless but didn’t care, or he knew and was lying. Take your pick.

I could go on and on and on, but I’ll finish with a couple of doozies from RFK Jr. I like to start with Dan Olmsted’s report on a talk given by RFK Jr. in 2013 about autism as “vaccine injury,” about which Olmsted wrote a post entitled RFK Jr., Nazi Death Camps and the Battle For Our Future. The link to the article is no longer there, but I did quote from it extensively, asking antivaccinationists if they could please knock it off with the autism-Holocaust analogies, already:

Each of us will have our highlights from last weekend’s extraordinary Autism One gathering in Chicago, but for me it was Bobby Kennedy Jr. saying, “To my mind this is like the Nazi death camps.”

“This” is the imprisonment of so many of our children in the grip of autism. Talk about cutting through the neurodiverse claptrap! When Bobby Kennedy says something, it gives “cover,” in a sense, for others to use the same kind of language and frame the debate in the same kind of way. (Language that reminds me of David Kirby’s phrase, “the shuttered hell” of autism, in Evidence of Harm.)

Those who can advocate for themselves should do so. Move right along, please. Those who cannot have advocates like their parents and RFK Jr. who are sick of mincing words.

RFK Jr. even “went there” a decade ago:

The enablers may not belong in Nuremburg, but they do belong in jail, Bobby said. “I would do a lot to see Paul Offit and all these good people behind bars,” he said, after listing Offit’s litany of lies and profit. Just to make sure people got the point, he returned to it in his speech. “Is it hyperbole to say they should be in jail? They should be in jail and the key should be thrown away.”

This is an early example of what has since the pandemic come to be known as “Nuremberg 2.0,” the antivax fantasy of justice retribution for vaccine proponents in a Nuremberg-like tribunal. Note how RFK Jr. reportedly openly fantasized about putting vaccine advocates like Dr. Paul Offit behind bars! In 2013! People who are truly pro-vaccine do not fire up an antivax conference by fantasizing about putting their provaccine shared enemies behind bars.

Amusingly, sometime soon after, Olmsted’s article disappeared from AoA, and the site’s file apparently was apparently modified so that the almighty Wayback Machine at Archive.org could no longer keep the article archived after it had been deleted. It doesn’t matter, because, oops, he did it again in 2015:

But some parents fear information about the hazards of vaccines has been suppressed, largely because of what they call the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over health officials. Many parents believe their children have been damaged by vaccines. When Kennedy asked the crowd of a few hundred viewers how many parents had a child injured by vaccines, numerous hands went up.

“They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said. “This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

I would gently suggest to Kim that someone who is provaccine will not compare vaccines and autism to the Holocaust, nor will he suggest that vaccine proponents like Dr. Offit should be behind bars for the “crime” of defending vaccines against antivax misinformation and promoting them as the best means of protecting children from deadly infectious diseases. Of course, the only difference between RFK Jr. in 2015 and RFK Jr. in 2023 is that in 2015 he still had enough shame to apologize after comparing “vaccine-induced autism” to the Holocaust, even if it was a “notpology.” In 2022, for instance, he gleefully invoked Anne Frank in attacking vaccine mandates and masks and never apologized.

Like Joomi Kim, I, too, encourage you to judge RFK Jr. “by his own words.” If you do, it will rapidly become obvious that he is fiercely antivaccine, not fiercely pro-vaccine. It’s not even close, his dog whistles and pathetic attempts to maintain plausible deniability notwithstanding.

I will conclude with a comment after Kim’s post:

We can only hope he (secretly already) is or quickly becomes fully anti-vax.

There is no need to hope. RFK Jr. is already fully antivax, and even his own family knows it. He has been fully antivax since at least 2005, and he’s never been particularly good at keeping his antivax beliefs secret, no matter how much supporters like Joomi Kim want to delude themselves otherwise by cherry picking quotes and making excuses for him.


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