How a Kennedy built an anti-vaccine juggernaut amid COVID-19 from ABC News
December 15, 2021
By Michelle R. Smith, Associated Press
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. strode onto the stage at a Southern California church, radiating Kennedy confidence and surveying the standing ovation crowd with his piercing blue Bobby Kennedy eyes. Then, he launched into an anti-vaccine rant. Democrats “drank the Kool-Aid,” he told people assembled for a far right conference, branded as standing for “health and freedom.”
Then, Kennedy hawked his book. If just 300 attendees preordered it on Amazon that night, he told the crowd, it would land on the bestseller list and they could “stick it to Amazon and Jeff Bezos.”
All profits, he said, would go to his charity, Children’s Health Defense.
While many nonprofits and businesses have struggled during the pandemic, Kennedy’s anti-vaccine group has thrived. An investigation by The Associated Press finds that Children’s Health Defense has raked in funding and followers as Kennedy used his star power as a member of one of America’s most famous families to open doors, raise money and lend his group credibility. Filings with charity regulators show revenue more than doubled in 2020, to $6.8 million.
Since the pandemic started, Children’s Health Defense has expanded the reach of its newsletter, which uses slanted information, cherry-picked facts and conspiracy theories to spread distrust of the COVID-19 vaccines. The group has also launched an internet TV channel and started a movie studio. CHD has global ambitions. In addition to opening new U.S. branches, it now boasts outposts in Canada, Europe and, most recently, Australia. It’s translating articles into French, German, Italian and Spanish, and it’s on a hiring spree.
According to data from Similarweb, a digital intelligence company that analyzes web traffic and search, Children’s Health Defense has become one of the most popular “alternative and natural medicine sites” in the world, reaching a peak of nearly 4.7 million visits per month. That’s up from less than 150,000 monthly visits before the pandemic.
Kennedy has been a key part of the anti-vaccine movement for years, but doctors and public health advocates told the AP that COVID-19 launched him to a new level.
“With the pandemic, he’s been turbocharged,” said Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and a critic of the anti-vaccine movement.
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