RFK Jr.’s Very Online, Conspiracy-Filled Campaign

RFK Jr.’s Very Online, Conspiracy-Filled Campaign

In the year since Robert F. Kennedy Jr. officially launched his presidential campaign, his extreme conspiracies and very online outreach tactics have added up to a pretty effective independent bid. Today on Wired Politics Lab, we look into how RFK Jr. continues to build a following. We talk about his recent VP pick, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan, his media outreach, and the staff behind it all. And, of course, how his push for ballot access in the US might make him a spoiler candidate in the 2024 election.

You can find more from Makena Kelly on RFK Jr. here, and from Anna Merlan here. Be sure to subscribe to WIRED Politics Lab here.

Leah Feiger is @LeahFeiger. Makena Kelly is @KellyMakena. Anna Merlan is @AnnaMerlan. Write to us at politicslab@WIRED.com. Our show is produced by produced by Jake Harper. Jake Lummus is our studio engineer and Amar Lal mixed this episode. Jordan Bell is the Executive Producer of Audio Development and Chris Bannon is Global Head of Audio at Condé Nast.

Also be sure to subscribe to the WIRED Politics Lab newsletter here.

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Archival audio clip: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next President of the United States, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.!

Leah Feiger: Welcome to WIRED Politics Lab, a show about how tech is changing politics. I’m Leah Feiger, the senior politics editor at WIRED. Today on the show, we’re going to be talking all about Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who officially launched his campaign for President almost exactly one year ago.

Archival audio clip: I am going to take back this country with your help, the help of all the homeless Republicans, and Democrats, and Independents who are Americans first. Thank you all.

Leah Feiger: RFK Jr.’s history, his extreme conspiracies and his very online campaign tactics have all added up to a pretty effective independent Presidential bid, one that continues to build a following. In recent weeks, he’s been everywhere. Announcing his Silicon Valley VP pick.

Archival audio clip: There is no American more qualified than Nicole Shanahan to play this role.

Leah Feiger: Appearing on dozens of podcasts to promote the campaign, pushing to actually get on the ballot across the United States. Six months from now, he might be a spoiler candidate in the 2024 election. Joining me in the studio to talk about all of that and more is Makena Kelly, a senior politics writer at WIRED, who also puts together our fabulous Politics Lab newsletter. Makena, hi. How are your allergies?

Makena Kelly: I’m loaded up on Zyrtec, but I am very excited to be here.

Leah Feiger: Fantastic. And also, Anna Merlan, a WIRED contributor and RFK Jr. expert. Anna, how busy are you these days, keeping up with the campaign?

Anna Merlan: Depressingly busy.

Leah Feiger: I mean, not the worst problem but also not the best.

Anna Merlan: Not the best.

Leah Feiger: Not the best. You’ve been covering RFK for years, it’s not just been recently. Take us back a little bit. Who is this man and how did he get to where he is today?

Anna Merlan: Right. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is one of the most famous and well-connected anti-vaccine activists in the United States. He is of course one of those Kennedys, he’s former President John F. Kennedy’s nephew and the son of former Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy Sr., who was of course assassinated during his own Presidential run.

Leah Feiger: Right.

Anna Merlan: The important things to know about Kennedy Jr. is that he began his career as an environmental attorney for a non-profit called Natural Resources Defense Counsel. He had a very long, very well respected career as a legitimate environmental lawyer. Then in 2005, he began promoting anti-vaccine ideas and causes, and pretty much never stopped. He’s now the chairman, and currently during his campaign the chairman-on-leave, for an organization called Children’s Health Defense, that holds itself out to be a public health organization, and is in fact one of the major drivers of anti-vaccine ideas in the United States.

Leah Feiger: Let’s get into some of these anti-vax conspiracies that he’s promoting by himself, with CHD for the last two decades. The greatest hits if you will, what are these?

Anna Merlan: One thing to know specifically about Children’s Heath Defense is that when it was founded in 2011, it was called the World Mercury Project. It claimed that its purpose was to protect people from mercury in fish, medical products, dental amalgams and vaccines. In reality, he was actually pretty focused on just the vaccine part. And repeatedly claimed that thimerosal, which is a preservative that was once used in some childhood vaccines that was removed by 2011 was causing autism. That’s the gist. This is unproven. Vaccines do not cause autism. There is a huge body of scientific evidence to prove this.

Leah Feiger: An important note for all of our listeners. Vaccines are good.

Anna Merlan: Vaccines are pretty good.

Leah Feiger: Yeah.

Anna Merlan: Vaccines are good. He began with making this claim about mercury, and then at some point decided to broaden out a little bit and change the name of the organization to Children’s Health Defense. Which again, purports to be an environmental organization but is almost singularly focused on vaccines.

Leah Feiger: And very specific branding, too, Children’s Heath Defense. Of course he is getting support in this.

Anna Merlan: Yeah.

Leah Feiger: Who does not want to defend children’s health?

Anna Merlan: Yeah. It’s a very, very canny name.

Leah Feiger: This is all pre COVID era, right?

Anna Merlan: It is.

Leah Feiger: Then, COVID happens.

Anna Merlan: Yeah. The thing about COVID is that it has been such a boon to both Kennedy and other anti-vaccine activists, and arguably Kennedy more than most anti-vaccine activists because, in addition to focusing on the purported harms of vaccines, he is also uniquely focused on the supposed Civil Rights restrictions coming from the Federal government aimed at the anti-vaccine community. Has been heavily involved in suing the Biden Administration for supposedly censoring anti-vaccine activists during the pandemic. This has been an enormous boon to the anti-vaccine movement and Kennedy specifically. Then, this isn’t just opinion. They have made a lot of money during this era. There’s been a bunch of reporting about this.

Leah Feiger: They’re everywhere, right, Makena? We were just talking about how his influence exploded online after this.

Makena Kelly: The COVID pandemic really created the perfect storm for Kennedy. He already had this large following, people know that he’s Kennedy. He was building up his social media platforms. Even post Trump, in 2016 when Trump was elected, he had this whole movement of Fake News, anti-institutionalism. All this really bolstered what Kennedy was saying. By the time we get to 2020, he’s blowing up on Instagram so much, saying all this anti-vax stuff that Instagram ends up taking him down.

Leah Feiger: Right. But he gained this huge following. Just a rundown of some of the stuff that he was saying, claimed that the vaccine could kill people, proponent of the 5G tracking microchip implanted by Bill Gates controversy, Ivermectin use. This is all from him, right, Anna?

Anna Merlan: Yeah. He has promoted all of those things in various forms. It’s also worth nothing that Kennedy has said throughout his career that he is pro safe vaccine, which is of course a total red herring. Vaccines are incredibly safe, they’re one of the most tested medical products on Earth. But it has been a way for him to try to sidestep around the thing that he is the most known for, which is anti-vaccine activism in all its forms.

Leah Feiger: Yeah, absolutely. In 2022, his comments at the anti-vax rally in DC, they were wild.

Anna Merlan: Yeah. He intimated that vaccine mandates were worse than the Holocaust.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Even in Hitler Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland, you can hide in attic like Anne Frank did.

Anna Merlan: Which was so controversial that his wife, Cheryl Hines, the actor who mostly tries to stay out of this to some extent, actually had to issue a statement saying, “My husband’s reference to Anne Frank at a mandate rally in DC was reprehensible and insensitive. 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.” It is worth noting that that tweet has since, several years later, been deleted.

Leah Feiger: Oh, good find. Love to hear that. That’s vaccines. Talk to me about his other conspiracies that he’s been promoting.

Makena Kelly: Well, when we talk about online conspiracies, what is one of the biggest ones that we see? What is an entry point for people?

Leah Feiger: Hit me.

Makena Kelly: The CIA assassinating JFK.

Leah Feiger: Yes.

Makena Kelly: He’s dabbling in that. The first big interview that he did with Joe Rogan last summer, they spent a lot of time questioning whether the CIA was involved with the assassination.

Joe Rogan: You’re talking about your uncle, who was assassinated, and you believe the intelligence agencies were a part of that. What happens to you?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well, I got to be careful. I’m aware of that danger. I don’t live in fear of it, but I’m not stupid about it and I take precautions.

Makena Kelly: That’s been part of the thing for him, where he’s asking for Secret Service and being denied it by the Administration. That’s something that I’m always getting campaign fundraising emails about from him.

Anna Merlan: Yeah, that’s turned into a big hobbyhorse for him, is implying that it is unusual to not be granted Secret Service protection as a candidate.

Leah Feiger: Which is just not true. We’re scratching the surface here of all of these conspiracies, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. They’ve already impacted people. Talk to us about that.

Anna Merlan: Mr. Kennedy’s ideas have been enormously influential in the United States. I’ve watched him speak at so many anti-vaccine rallies and get standing ovations, people cry when he comes in the room. But it is also worth nothing that he has had an effect abroad. In June 2019, Mr. Kennedy and Cheryl Hines took a trip to Samoa, a trip that was organized by a local anti-vaccine activist. In the months that followed Kennedy’s visit, there was an enormous measles outbreak in Samoa, where previously there had not been extremely high incidents of measles. 83 people died, mostly infants and children. He has denied an responsibility for that outcome or those deaths, but a vaccinologist in New Zealand told the Associated Press that local and regional anti-vaccine activists had very much been taking their ideas and their cues from Kennedy, specifically the idea that the MMR vaccine which protect infants from measles, was in some way harmful. This vaccinologist, whose name is Helen Petousis-Harris, told the AP, “They amplified the fear and mistrust, which resulted in the amplification of the epidemic. It increased the number of children dying. Children were being brought for care too late.”

Leah Feiger: That’s absolutely terrible. Anna, it’s clearly being used to mobilize his supporters right now. How have these conspiracies been featuring in his campaign so far?

Anna Merlan: What was interesting is that initially, RFK’s campaign announcement tried to downplay his anti-vaccine activism. It very much focused on his family legacy. The announcement was made in Boston, rather than in Santa Monica where he lives. Clearly, trying to tie himself to the Kennedy family name, despite the fact that-

Leah Feiger: It’s so interesting.

Anna Merlan: Right. A not insignificant number of his family members have issued statements denouncing both his anti-vaccine activism and his candidacy. But he quickly returned to form, I wrote about this. A few months after he launched his candidacy, he had a health roundtable that was entirely focused on very well-known anti-vaccine activists.

Makena Kelly: These conspiracists are on his campaign right, Anna? On the campaign team?

Anna Merlan: Yes. Del Bigtree is a former TV producer who is now the executive director of another anti-vax organization called ICAN. He was also the producer of a documentary called Vaxxed, which is a very, very famous and infamous anti-vax document that was pretty effective and widespread.

Makena Kelly: He’s the comms manager.

Anna Merlan: Yes.

Makena Kelly: He is the guy responding to press inquiries and basically leading messaging for the campaign.

Leah Feiger: His entire campaign though is littered with this. A few weeks ago, he announced Nicole Shanahan as his VP pick. You covered that announcement for us. She has been coming out in recent weeks with a ton of vaccine related conspiracies. How does she factor in to his conspiracy world? Talk us through that.

Anna Merlan: The interesting thing about Nicole Shanahan is …. Makena, I think this is true for you, too. We didn’t exactly know what she was doing in the RFK world and then she came on stage.

Nicole Shanahan: If you are one of those disillusioned Republicans, I welcome you to join me, a disillusioned Democrat, in this movement to unify and heal America.

Anna Merlan: Then on Tuesday, she issued a tweet that seemed to indicate that she believes that she was harmed by COVID vaccines. Clearly, these are beliefs that run pretty deep for her.

Leah Feiger: Even if he has been claiming that he’s staying away from some of these conspiracies, specifically COVID vaccine related conspiracies in his campaign, she is a part of his campaign, a major forward-facing part of his campaign. For her to be tweeting things like that, it’s very clear where their priorities are. The last few weeks of media coverage on RFK though has felt really devoid of all of these conspiracies and just hasn’t really been talking about it. It’s been very confusing to be reading articles about him and his campaign and it takes, I don’t know, 10 paragraphs until someone says, “Ah yes, once a noted anti-vax advocate.” What’s happening there? Why are we normalizing this?

Makena Kelly: I think it’s partially, we saw this happening with Trump in 2016 too, where all these outrageous things just became the press was saying it time and time again, time and time again, that I guess some people expect it to be common knowledge. But we’re still in the beginning of the Presidential campaign, people are still getting familiarized with a lot of these candidates, getting ready to vote in November.

Leah Feiger: People are still learning who this is.

Makena Kelly: They’re doing a disservice to their audience if you’re not saying in the lead paragraph of your story, “RJF Jr., noted anti-vaxxer guy,” and then getting into your lead. That’s a total disservice to your audience.

Leah Feiger: Agreed, agreed.

Anna Merlan: I’ve also seen him referred to as a former anti-vaccine activist-

Leah Feiger: Stop!

Anna Merlan: Which is insane and garbage.

Leah Feiger: That’s wild.

Anna Merlan: And ridiculous. Yeah. I think that there is also, not to make generalizations among political reporters, just more of an interest and an obligation to cover the horse race element of it. It is difficult for folks who have not been steeped in his misinformation for years to really parse some of what he’s saying and deal with it effectively in an article.

Leah Feiger: But the thing is, is we can’t separate these things. He’s been using these conspiracies to boost his campaign and bolster his online presence. We’re going to take a quick break and when we get back, we’re going to talk about all of that and what it means for 2024. Welcome back to Wired Politics Lab. Makena, you wrote a piece a bit ago about how RFK Jr. has successfully turned the internet into his campaign headquarters. What exactly does that mean?

Makena Kelly: The campaign has invested so much money and time into getting Kennedy’s name in front of voters. He, of course, has a problem with the mainstream media, he believes he’s being censored, so he’s looking for different channels and avenues to reach people. Right out of the gate, he went on Joe Rogan like we mentioned, and he’s just been talking to literally almost any podcast host and any internet creator who would talk to him.

Leah Feiger: He’s called 2024 the Podcast Election.

Makena Kelly: Yes. I think what he actually meant was that he was referencing how fragmented the media ecosystem is right now. We’re seeing Trump’s campaign, Biden’s campaign, everyone’s struggling to reach voters where there are, because some are on Discord, some are on Instagram, some are on Facebook still. How do you tailor your message for not only these platforms but the people who consume that kind of content?

I think part of his strategy is to find people with large followings who maybe have a real direct relationship with their followers to get his name out there. The apoliticalness of many of the creators that he’s talked to, like there was the shark lady.

Leah Feiger: Oh my gosh, I’m still very sad about this. A scuba diving shark influencer that I follow in Hawaii, who does some really excellent work, featured him and had him on her Instagram to her many, many followers who are all environmentalists and very, very excited about RJK. He is out there. He is everywhere online.

Makena Kelly: Sure. That’s the kind of audiences that he’s hoping to reach, these people who aren’t quite so steeped into the conspiracy stuff, the anti-vax stuff, are passionate about different parts of his platform and trying to reach people who aren’t going to ask him those hard questions about vaccines and all this stuff that we’re talking about right now.

Leah Feiger: Simultaneously, he is talking to “mainstream media.” He’s in The Times, he’s on Fox, he’s everywhere.

Makena Kelly: He’s not being censored.

Leah Feiger: He’s not being censored. But a lot of campaigns are courting influencers right now. He was maybe early to his, but it does seem like Biden and Trump have been picking up on this. What makes him different?

Makena Kelly: The thing that makes him different is that he is doing this constantly. I think with Biden, their team has been very specific in courting specific people who come to these different events. For example, I was at this fundraiser, the Biden Obama Clinton fundraiser a couple weeks ago when they were being interviewed by Stephen Colbert. While I was hidden away in the Rockettes’ dressing room from 4:30 to 8:30-

Leah Feiger: Sending me very sad texts, I might add.

Makena Kelly: I know. All of these influencers were in the Radio City Music Hall, watching the entire performance. Beforehand, they even went out to dinner with Biden. This is a very specific relationship in integrating these people into the campaign. Trump, on the other hand, he’s been doing some podcasts. He hasn’t been doing too much influencer stuff. Of course, this week, Jake Paul asked Trump to come to his Mike Tyson fight this summer. But other than that, he’s been on the Nelk Boys Podcast, he’s done stuff like that. But when it comes to RFK Jr. and what he’s doing, it’s that it is absolutely constant. This man is churning out content, churning out content. He’s clipping the things, the interviews that he does and throwing them on TikTok, where he is the Presidential candidate with the largest following on TikTok.

Leah Feiger: Also, it’s not all related to politics. The content that he’s promoting isn’t even all necessarily related to his campaign. In your piece, you talked about the PAC that’s supporting him, American Values 2024, which was throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at Instagram fitness influencers. Talk to us about that.

Makena Kelly: And they’re still doing it. I think that this was really creative and innovative way to get emails of people. But what happened is that the campaign was feeding hundreds of thousands to this company called Creator and Company. I was looking at the FEC records and I was like, “This is interesting.” I go to the American Values Instagram and I’m seeing that they’re getting tagged in all of these fitness posts. It’s just random fitness influencers who are promoting this America Fitness Challenge ’24 that the PAC has been throwing. It’s a very apolitical thing telling people to post how you get 24 minutes of exercise.

Leah Feiger: Are they reference RFK Jr. in these posts?

Makena Kelly: Some are and some don’t.

Leah Feiger: That’s so weird.

Makena Kelly: These are micro influencers with a couple thousand followers to people who are closed to a million followers. It’s a very different size than that. The thing is, is that if you were posting it and you tagged the challenge, you could win this $25,000 gym setup at your house, which of course you have to go to the American Values PAC website and type in your email.

Leah Feiger: Wild.

Makena Kelly: Yeah.

Leah Feiger: Absolutely wild. Taking us back for a moment, to our first segment. How did RFK Jr. make the leap from the conspiracy world to the online campaign world? It does feel like quite a natural step, following with anti-vax content and weaponizing it, and gaining all these followings on Instagram, et cetera.

Makena Kelly: Yeah. I think he has been using social media to his advantage for a very long time. Talking about Jake Paul, RFK Jr. also met with Jake Paul, where he said that he was having Jake teach him how to TikTok and things like that. Now, like we were talking about The Washington Post just profiled this creator called Link Lauren, who has been creating … He’s been doing a lot of stuff. Before he was making music, last summer he was a Royals commentator, talking about Meghan Markle. Then he got slowly into politics. By just last month, he is a senior advisor on the campaign. This kid, whose 25, whose main job is creating internet viral content.

Leah Feiger: Right, right. Wow. Anna, talk to me about that jump, the conspiracy world to the online campaign world. What are you seeing there? How did that even happen?

Anna Merlan: One of the big things that happened for RFJ specifically is that there a bunch of, let’s just generalize, tech guys who are very interested in heterodox systems of knowledge. They’re very interested in knowledge outside the mainstream. That really started in the tech world with body hacking. A lot of these tech guys got very interested in bulletproof coffee, and how to make themselves stronger and fitter through unorthodox means.

Leah Feiger: The Huberman of it all.

Anna Merlan: The Huberman of it all. He goes to the same gym as RFK and they have often talked about-

Leah Feiger: What?

Anna Merlan: Running into each other at the gym. Sure. It’s a small club and you’re not in it. Yeah, none of us are.

Leah Feiger: Oh my gosh.

Anna Merlan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Makena Kelly: A surprising thing that makes so much sense.

Leah Feiger: So much sense.

Anna Merlan: It does. It’s been a very comfortable leap for RFK to be talking to people like Rogan, to be talking to all these other tech guys who have podcasts because they’re all together interested in what is often called by academics stigmatized knowledge. It is very easy for them to discuss that and to transition very naturally from anti-vax stuff into other forms of stigmatized knowledge. It’s a great, comfy, cozy fit all around.

Leah Feiger: He really is the most wired candidate this cycle. The combination of influencer meets money meets prestige meets conspiracy meets online. It’s wild to watch this all play out. Can we talk a little bit about him using his family name to garner support? How does that factor into everything, Anna?

Anna Merlan: Well, he’s drawn very heavily on his family legacy. As I said, he had his announcement in Boston. He has talked a lot in very casual terms about, “My uncle, my father.” He’s constantly reminding you that he is a Kennedy.

At the same time, this has backfired a bit because as I said, so many Kennedys … Every time you think you’ve reached the end of the Kennedys, there are more Kennedys just popping out of the woodwork. It’s incredible.

Makena Kelly: The Russian Doll of American royalty.

Anna Merlan: It’s a Russian doll of Kennedys, that’s right. A group of Kennedys wrote an open letter, in I believe 2019, calling him “tragically wrong about vaccines.”

Then just recently, his Super Bowl ad, a Super Bowl ad promoting RFK’s campaign that was paid for by Nicole Shanahan, his now VP, was literally designed to look like a vintage JFK ad. It was created in this very certain and specific way, and then elements of his family also objected to that and said, “Our family would not have approved of your anti-vaccine activism. We find it offensive that you are tying your campaign to this.”

Makena Kelly: The best part of that moment was he apologized on Twitter. He was like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend anyone in the family, I didn’t mean to do that.” Then left the campaign video as his pinned tweet. It was good seeing that together.

Leah Feiger: Love that.

Anna Merlan: Yeah, he did. Yeah, yeah.

Makena Kelly: The thing that’s very notable about that ad is that it’s literally just reference Kennedy, the Kennedy empire, and not once does it talk about policy, does it really gesture an anything. There’s been a lot of polls recently, from organizations like non-profit groups and stuff, who have been asking voters who they’re going to vote for. If someone only knows Kennedy by name, he’s a lot higher up.

Leah Feiger: Right.

Makena Kelly: His chances are a lot higher. But once you tell someone anything, it was literally anything about RFK Jr., these numbers just tanked.

Leah Feiger: Wild.

Makena Kelly: That’s why that ad is very interesting to me because it leaves all of that out.

Leah Feiger: Totally, totally. Makena, you’ve been looking at this for so long now it’s not just the Kennedy celebrity, he has tons of other celebrities.

Makena Kelly: A lot of other celebrities, like comedians, who have podcasts as well. I’m thinking he was on Theo Vaughn recently. Rob Schneider is constantly stumping for RFJ Jr. What was it, Eric Clapton.

Leah Feiger: Well, Eric Clapton-

Anna Merlan: It makes sense.

Leah Feiger: It’s so sad.

Makena Kelly: But Eric Clapton had a huge fundraiser. He’s able to get-

Leah Feiger: Alicia Silverstone.

Makena Kelly: I know.

Leah Feiger: That’s the one that you told me about that made me particularly sad. I cannot re-

Anna Merlan: Well, she’s been involved in anti-vaccine activism since at least 2015.

Leah Feiger: Yeah, that was new to me. I’ll be honest, that was new to me. Obviously not new to you, as all of our conspiracy vaccine experts over here. But can I re-watch Clueless in the same way? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think not.

Makena Kelly: Yeah, the celebrities really have that macro influence where they’re able to help spread his name, his things like that. Then you see the PAC, of course, reaching these fitness influencers, targeting micro influencers who have that direct engaged relationship. The campaign is really focused on reaching people all across the board, and then at a smaller level, engaging them and activating to vote.

Leah Feiger: Right, right. What does all of this add up to? The family conspiracies, the money, the celebrity fundraising, the podcasts, the conspiracies. Where does this campaign go from here and could his candidacy actually make a difference? What states is he actually eligible to run in?

Makena Kelly: The campaign has reported that it’s gathered enough signatures to be on a handful of ballots in states like Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire and Utah. He’s also claiming that he’s on ballots in North Carolina and Arizona as well. At least three major battleground states for this election.

Leah Feiger: He just added Iowa this passed weekend he says, the campaign says. I guess to clarify, this is what his campaign is saying, this is what the Super PAC is saying. We don’t actually know this for sure. Could his candidacy actually make a difference? Anna, what do you think?

Anna Merlan: This has been the argument since the beginning of his candidacy. Who is it going to make a difference for? He is not going to be President, I feel pretty confident in saying that. So the argument is, is it going to draw more votes from the Trump or the Biden side? I would say that anybody who makes one of those declarations confidently is probably overly confident. I think it will probably draw votes from both sides of the aisle.

But I wrote, when he announced his candidacy, that primarily his candidacy is an ad for himself. It’s an ad for himself, his anti-vax activism and for Children’s Health Defense. Whatever it does to the elections or the vote, it’s going to do infinitely more for his public image and his ability to fundraise for his other causes after he’s no longer on the campaign trail.

Leah Feiger: I don’t know, Anna. I think I have to disagree a little bit. I think that the RFJ Jr. campaign is only going to help Trump. When we’re looking at polls of Trump voters and Biden voters, Trump voters are committed. They are ready to vote for Trump for another term. Biden voters are slightly less so. This is a very unpopular election across the board generally. There are a lot of voters out there, independent, or Biden or otherwise, that may be able to overlook RFJ Jr.’s conspiracy addled past. If it’s not being discussed that much in media right now, which it’s unfortunately not, then it’s an easy way to zoom ahead and say, “I hate these two options, I’m going to go for this one, I’m going to make a statement.” It really doesn’t take that many votes to have a big impact, especially in the states that Kennedy’s trying to get on the ballot for. I’m really nervous about how this could play out.

Anna Merlan: I think we’re all nervous.

Makena Kelly: It’s a nerveracking next six months.

Leah Feiger: It’s a nerveracking next six months.

Makena Kelly: I don’t know if I have a precise opinion on who RFJ Jr. benefits in the long run, but earlier this week, a former RFJ Jr. campaign official in New York was fired because she had said that her main goal was preventing a Biden victory and that an RFK ticket really helps trump.

Leah Feiger: That says a lot about where people within the campaign are at right now and I don’t think we can discount that. You can find more on Makena and Anna’s reporting on this, and RFK Jr.’s campaign at large on wired.com. Go give it a read and we’ll be back in one moment to talk about our conspiracies of the week, Kennedy edition. Welcome back to WIRED Politics Lab. It’s time to play Conspiracy of the Week. Makena and Anna have picked out their favorite conspiracies related to the Kennedy family and I’m going to pick my winner.

Anna, what do you have this week?

Anna Merlan: My favorite Kennedy conspiracy theory is that the Kennedys are one of the 13 Satanic bloodlines that rule the world.

Leah Feiger: Stop!

Anna Merlan: Yeah, which is a good one. And is actually recirculating, mostly on Telegram right now, obviously as one of the fringe oppositions to his campaign. But this idea that the Kennedy’s are part of the 13 Satanic bloodlines, that all of the Satanic bloodlines are also Illuminati. But also-

Leah Feiger: Incredible.

Anna Merlan: That all of the Satanic bloodlines are being subjected to mind control by some other entity. It’s great. There’s no limit to how far down you can go if you want to get into that stuff.

Leah Feiger: I love this one a lot. Makena, can you beat Satanic family legacies?

Makena Kelly: I don’t know. But my favorite, my personal favorite, because I love Ted Cruz Zodiac Killer conspiracies, and like we mentioned, CIA JFK assassination conspiracies. There is one conspiracy that Ted Cruz’s father was involved some way with Lee Harvey Oswald in assassinating JFK.

Leah Feiger: That’s ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous. A real good full circle moment for the tinfoil hats out there. Love to see it. I’m so sorry, I think I have to give Anna the win this week.

Makena Kelly: No, she wins.

Leah Feiger: That is a really, really good one.

Anna Merlan: Yeah. Can you blame me?

Leah Feiger: Absolutely.

Anna Merlan: I spend a lot more time on this than Makena does. She has a real job.

Makena Kelly: Oh, stop.

Leah Feiger: Thanks for listening to WIRED Politics Lab. If you like what you heard today, make sure to follow the show and rate it on your podcast app of choice. We also have a newsletter, which Makena writes every week. The link to the newsletter and the WIRED reporting we mentioned today are in the show notes. Anna, what can we promote for you? What are you up to right now?

Anna Merlan: You can find me on Twitter and Bluesky.

Leah Feiger: Find her there. If you’d like to get in touch with us with any questions, comments or show suggestions, please write to politicslab@wired.com. That’s politicslab@wired.com. We’re excited to hear from you. WIRED Politics Lab is produced by Jake Harper. Jake Lummus is studio engineer. Amar Lal mixed this episode. Jordan Bell is our executive producer. Chris Bannon is global head of audio at Conde Nast. I’m your host, Leah Feiger. We’ll be back in your feeds with a new episode next week. Thanks for listening.

Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.


Leah Feiger, Makena Kelly

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