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A Timeline of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Controversies

Here's a look back at the former environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine conspiracist's controversial moments over recent years


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had made an official announcement that he's running for President of the United States in 2024.

The 69-year-old nephew of late President John F. Kennedy and son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run as a Democratic candidate for president in 2024 in early April.

However, RFK Jr.'s decision to run for office has sparked a debate due to his long history of controversies. The former environmental lawyer and a longtime anti-vaccine conspiracist is one of the loudest voices behind the modern anti-vaccine movement.


The now-presidential candidate has previously lobbied Congress to allow parents to opt out of state requirements for vaccinating their children, and a 2019 study found that his nonprofit, called Children's Health Defense, had paid for more than half of the ads on Facebook that promoted false claims about vaccines, according to The New York Times.

Related:Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Files to Challenge President Joe Biden in 2024 Democratic Primary

In recent years, RFK Jr. has courted controversy for criticizing former U.S. top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci's handling of the pandemic. In 2021, he published a book, The Real Anthony Fauci, accusing the doctor of promoting "a historic coup d'etat against Western democracy."

His statements have received much backlash, especially after an anti-vaccine speech he made in Washington, D.C. comparing U.S. vaccine policies to actions taken by Nazi Germany. As a result of his claims, members of his own family have spoken out against him.

One of his younger sisters, Kerry, said in a statement that she does not approve of RFK Jr.'s harmful views. More recently, in response to his candidacy, his youngest brother, Doug Kennedy, told PEOPLE that "not everyone agrees with his positions" despite his "immense political talent."

RFK Jr.'s wife, Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Cheryl Hines, has previously stated that she and her husband "differ on many current issues." But regarding his current presidential pursuit, she "supports his decision."

Here's a timeline of some of RFK Jr.'s controversies over the years.


Sept. 22, 2015: A book with surprising claims about RFK Jr. is published

A book RFK Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream, written by Jerry Oppenheimer, published in September 2015 claimed RFK Jr. was a serial cheater who proposed to second wife Mary Richardson while still married to first wife Emily Black, among other bombshells.

Upon publication, RFK Jr. fired back at the allegations, deeming the book "a fictional inventory of unsubstantiated rumors and outright invention" on his website.

"[Jerry] Oppenheimer did not speak to me or any member of my family or any of my friends. The book is largely composed of unattributed quotes and scurrilous rumors cut-and-[pasted] from the most unreliable frontiers of the Internet," he claimed.

The book detailed RFK Jr.'s first two marriages and challenges with drugs. Eventually, he attained sobriety through the Twelve Step program and explained in his own book, American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, that he maintained a "spiritual fire" by finding ways to help others each day.

"Friends say he still tries to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on most days," the New York Times reported in February 2022.

Jan. 10, 2017: RFK Jr. claims he was asked by Donald Trump to chair commission vaccine safety

In early 2017, RFK Jr. claimed he was asked by then-President elect Donald Trump to chair a commission on vaccine safety. The move would have been notable since RFK Jr. had been a staunch critic of vaccines.

Shortly after, RFK Jr. told press in the lobby of Trump Tower that he had accepted an offer from Trump, after attending a meeting at the president-elect's request. However, the Trump camp told CNN that "no decisions have been made" at the time.

Despite having promoted a documentary film which purported to link autism to the vaccine preservative thimerosal and criticizing public health officials who argue against the claim, RFK Jr. said he and Trump were very "pro-vaccine."

(Multiple large-scale studies have found that vaccines are safe. There is no scientific link between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.)

At the time, the Washington Post reported that the announcement was met with alarm from health professionals who spoke of the dangers of putting a proponent of a conspiracy theory in a position of authority.

Ultimately, Trump never appointed RFK Jr. to chair a vaccine safety commission, despite their discussion in January 2017.

May 15, 2018: RFK Jr. publishes book with surprising details on his relationship with mom Ethel

RFK Jr.'s book, American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, revealed that his relationship with his mother Ethel was complex and fraught.

While RFK Jr. has grown to admire her "exceptional qualities," he wrote that for years he was averse to his mother's "tough love" approach and her tendency to divide "the world into friend and foe."

"From my angle, her love didn't always feel unconditional," he wrote. "Her approach was what today people would call 'tough love,' for which I proved a tough audience. Her exceptional qualities were mainly invisible to me as a child."

Related:RFK Jr. Paints Surprising Portrait Of Mom, Ethel: 'Her Love Didn't Always Feel Unconditional'

May 8, 2019: The Kennedy family says RFK Jr.'s vaccine stance is 'wrong' in op-ed

In recent years, members of the Kennedy family have spoken out against RFK Jr.'s anti-vaccination beliefs. In May 2019, three members of the famed American political family— Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Maeve Kennedy McKean — wrote an op-ed in Politico denouncing Kennedy Jr. for pushing anti-vaccination theories online.

"We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment," they began. "We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong."

"And his and others' work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences," they continued. "The challenge for public health officials right now is that many people are more afraid of the vaccines than the diseases, because they've been lucky enough to have never seen the diseases and their devastating impact."

June 13, 2019: RFK Jr. lobbies against California state pro-vaccine bill

Kennedy Jr. lobbied against a California state pro-vaccine bill known as SB 276, which would limit medical exemptions from vaccinations without approval from a state public health officer. It would require the State Department of Public Health to develop a statewide standardized medical exemption request form for use by licensed physicians and surgeons.

Nov. 14, 2019: Study finds RFK Jr.'s organization funded anti-vax ads on Facebook

A 2019 study found that a large percentage of the anti-vax ads on Facebook were funded by two organizations run by well-known anti-vaccination activists: The World Mercury Project chaired by RFK Jr. and Stop Mandatory Vaccinations run by Larry Cook.

The The Guardian citing a study in the journal Vaccine, reported that "54% of the anti-vaccine ads shown on the platform during the study period" were brought in by those organizations.

Aug. 30, 2020: RFK Jr. rallies against Germany's coronavirus restrictions

RFK Jr. spoke at a protest in Berlin to rally against Germany's coronavirus restrictions, which he said was a form of "totalitarianism."

Related:Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Doubles Down on False Anti-Vaccine Claims After He Is Banned from Instagram

Dec. 30, 2020: RFK Jr.'s niece speaks out against her uncle's anti-vaccine stance

Robert F. Kennedy's granddaughter spoke out against her uncle, RFK Jr., and his controversial stance on COVID-19 vaccinations. "I love my uncle. But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong," Dr. Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, a granddaughter of the late RFK, wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece.

"His concern — that the Covid vaccine is potentially unsafe, and hasn't been properly tested — is widespread, and dangerously wrong," Meltzer, an internal medicine resident physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, wrote in a 2020 response to her uncle's views.

Meltzer said her uncle has shared 'dubious' information on Facebook, which pushed false narratives about COVID-19 vaccines, reaching a wide audience with thousands of reactions and comments.

Feb. 12, 2021: Instagram bans RFK Jr. after spreading false anti-vaccine claims

Instagram banned RFK Jr. from its platform for repeatedly sharing false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines. "We removed this account for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines," Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement.

Despite his efforts to discredit vaccines, RFK Jr. has said that he is not against safe vaccines and has vaccinated his children. His Facebook page, though, is filled with posts with vaccine misinformation.

In a statement to PEOPLE, RFK Jr. defended the content he shares online and doubled down on his false assertion that vaccines are being "hastily" created. However, all vaccines currently available for use, including the COVID-19 vaccines, have undergone large clinical trials and extensive analysis to ensure that they are safe.

Meanwhile, RFK Jr. claimed in his statement that his removal from Instagram is "a formula for catastrophe and a coup d'état against the First Amendment."

November 2021: RFK Jr. publishes book criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci's handling of COVID-19

RFK Jr. criticized the U.S. government and U.S. former top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He released a 2021 book called The Real Anthony Fauci that accused the doctor of assisting in "a historic coup d'etat against Western democracy," per the NYT.

Jan. 24, 2022: RFK Jr. makes offensive Anne Frank comparison and his wife speaks out

RFK Jr. compared his anti-vaccine convictions to the plight of Anne Frank at an anti-vaccine rally in Washington, D.C. — and his wife, Cheryl Hines, responded to a Twitter post.

"Even in Hitler's Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did," Kennedy Jr. said at the rally. "Today the mechanisms are being put in place so none of us can run and none of us can hide."

The following day, Hines replied to a Twitter user who tagged her and said she needed to make a statement. "Do you stand with your husband?" the user asked. To which she replied, "My husband's opinions are not a reflection of my own. While we love each other, we differ on many current issues."

Hines subsequently posted several tweets on the controversy, some in response to users who asked her to be more specific about where she stood.

"My husband's reference to Anne Frank at a mandate rally in D.C. was reprehensible and insensitive," she wrote in one post. "The atrocities that millions endured during the Holocaust should never be compared to anyone or anything. His opinions are not a reflection of my own."

Jan. 25, 2022: RFK Jr. apologizes for Anne Frank reference in anti-vaccine speech

Upon facing backlash from the public, and his sister, Kerry Kennedy for his offensive comparison to Anne Frank during his anti-vaccine speech, RFK Jr. issued an apology.

"I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors," he wrote on Twitter. "My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control. To the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry."

March 10, 2023: RFK Jr. asks Twitter if he should run for President of the United States

RFK Jr. alluded that he would run for the office in a tweet asking people to "help me decide whether to run for president."

"If it looks like I can raise the money and mobilize enough people to win, I'll jump in the race," he tweeted. "If I run, my top priority will be to end the corrupt merger between state and corporate power that has ruined our economy, shattered the middle class, polluted our landscapes and waters, poisoned our children, and robbed us of our values and freedoms."

April 6, 2023: RFK Jr. declares his U.S. President candidacy

RFK Jr. made the decision to run for president in 2024. He filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run as a Democratic candidate for president next year. His father was assassinated while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.

Related:Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Files to Challenge President Joe Biden in 2024 Democratic Primary

April 6, 2023: Kerry Kennedy speaks out against Bobby's presidential bid

Shortly after RFK Jr. revealed plans to challenge President Biden in the 2024 Democratic primary, several of those close to him have weighed in on his political aspirations, including two of his siblings.

His younger sister, Kerry, who works to carry on the legacy of her late politician father, Robert F. Kennedy, said in a statement that the advocacy organization RFK Human Rights, which she has run since 1988, does not approve of RFK Jr.'s harmful views.

April 19, 2023: Cheryl Hines states she's in 'support' of husband RFK Jr.'s decision to run for president

While several of RFK Jr.'s family members vocalized opposition to his presidential pursuit, his wife Cheryl said she supports her husband's decisionto run for president and issued a statement on April 19, the same day he made an official announcement regarding his 2024 campaign.

"My husband, Robert Kennedy Jr. announced today he will be running for President and I support his decision," Hines said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. She added, "He is a fearless leader who understands the needs of the American people and has devoted his life to fighting for democracy."

Related:Biden 'Hugely Popular' Among Kennedy Relatives, Says Source, as RFK Jr. Launches 2024 Campaign (Exclusive)

April 19, 2023: RFK Jr. acknowledges that some of his family members 'plain disagree' with his views

RFK Jr. acknowledged that he and his family members don't always see eye-to-eye, noting in his first official press conference as a presidential candidate that some of them "just plain disagree" with his views.

He also acknowledged that his family members have "long personal relationships" with President Biden, who is also expected to run for the presidency in 2024.

"My whole family including myself have long personal relationships with President Biden ... and many of them just plain disagree with me on issues like censorship and war and public health," RFK Jr. added. "They are entitled to their beliefs...and I love them back."

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