How a Kennedy built an anti-vaccine juggernaut amid COVID-19 from The Washington Post
December 15, 2021
By Michelle R. Smith, AP News
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — While many nonprofits and businesses have struggled during the pandemic, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’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, launched an internet TV channel and started a movie studio. In addition to opening new U.S. branches, it now boasts outposts in Canada, Europe and Australia and is translating articles into French, German, Italian and Spanish.
The group has become one of the most popular “alternative and natural medicine sites” in the world, according to data from digital intelligence company Similarweb. It now draws millions of monthly visitors to its articles — many of which sow doubt about the COVID vaccine — up from less than 150,000 before the pandemic.
As CHD has worked to expand its influence, experts said, it has targeted its false claims at groups that may be more prone to distrust the vaccine, including mothers and Black Americans. It’s a strategy that experts worry has deadly consequences during a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, when misinformation has been deemed a threat to public health.
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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