Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. denied allegations of racism and anti-Semitism Saturday after he reportedly suggested Covid-19 could have been genetically engineered to reduce risks to Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.
Kennedy — a longtime vaccine skeptic who is running a longshot primary campaign against President Joe Biden — said during a Tuesday night press event that Covid-19 was “targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people.” He went on to say that “the people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.”
After a broad backlash to his comments, first reported by the New York Post, Kennedy took to Twitter to defend himself, calling the reporting “mistaken” and writing that he did not believe Covid-19 had been deliberately engineered against specific ethnicities.
“I have never, ever suggested that the Covid-19 virus was targeted to spare Jews,” Kennedy wrote.
Instead, Kennedy claimed, he had meant to express his belief that the United States and other governments were developing “ethnically targeted bioweapons,” broadly citing a 2021 study on genetic susceptibility to Covid-19 as “proof of concept” that such bioweapons could be created.
Marianne Williamson, the self-help author who is the only other competitor for the Democratic nomination, condemned Kennedy’s comments on Saturday.
“Whether intentionally or not, his remarks amplify sinister and unfounded notions that are both anti-Semitic and anti-Chinese,” Williamson wrote on Twitter. “As a Jewish American candidate in the 2024 presidential race, I stand against this covert racism writ large.”
“Hard to imagine a son who has done more to dishonor his father’s name than RFK Jr,” Torres wrote on Twitter.
Kennedy has been publicly criticized by members of his own family for his stance on vaccines, and his sister, Rory Kennedy, and cousin, Patrick Kennedy, both declined to support his longshot bid for the presidency.
The press dinner on Tuesday — which came as Kennedy struggles to continue some momentum in early polls — first made headlines not because of Kennedy’s vaccine comments, but because of a so-called “war of words and farts” that reportedly broke out among attendees over a disagreement on climate change.
Giselle Ruhiyyih Ewing contributed to this report.