June 16, 2024

Archie Wertheim

Technology Integration and Foundations for Effective Leadership

RFK Jr. Is Priming His Audience for Election Denialism

3 min read
RFK Jr. Is Priming His Audience for Election Denialism

The idea of “rigged polling methodologies” is obviously self-serving—Kennedy argues that in a poll he commissioned, he comes out ahead of Biden and scarcely behind Trump. But it’s also fundamentally a complaint about not being portrayed as a serious candidate, despite his having been featured in countless articles, podcasts, and interviews with outlets both fringe and mainstream.

In a marker of just how seriously his candidacy is being taken, in fact, both the DNC and Trump are now treating Kennedy as a true threat. A pro-Trump super PAC launched a website recently aimed at painting Kennedy as a radical leftist, and President Biden pointedly appeared with more than a dozen other Kennedys to celebrate their endorsement. (In a bit of an ongoing theme, a coalition of 50 people at the Natural Resources Defense Council also recently called on him to drop out in an open letter that ran in The New York Times.) Neither standard opposition research from his opponents nor his own family denouncing him is proof of a conspiracy against him, but it’s convenient to his interests to be able to claim that the establishment is targeting him, personally and specifically.

Kennedy has busily suggested that the conspiracy against him is exceedingly broad, involving not just the political establishment but also media elites. He recently amplified a baseless claim that the current CEO of NPR is a spy, tweeting “Operation Mockingbird is alive and well,” and asserted that a journalist named Dick Russell, who often writes about the Kennedy assassination, had proved that “liberal media outlets,” including the Daily Beast, Salon, Rolling Stone, and Daily Kos, “have all come under the control of Intelligence Agency operatives.”

“As president, I will direct US Intelligence Agencies to end these dangerous and unsavory relationships,” Kennedy added.

Operation Mockingbird was an alleged CIA program—which would have been active during the presidency of Kennedy’s uncle, John F. Kennedy—to manipulate the American press. While there is no conclusive proof that Operation Mockingbird existed, it’s true that the CIA did try to influence media outlets and cultural figures, both domestically and abroad. Here, again, Kennedy used a grain of truth to create a deeply self-serving work of fiction, implying that the “liberal media outlets” that happen to be critically covering his campaign are all filled with spies and CIA dupes.

In elections, as in all things, Kennedy’s world is a web of conspiracy theories, allegations, half-truths, and unfalsifiable claims. There’s a symmetry between his attitude toward vaccines and his attitude toward elections—both are self-serving positions that also pose a genuine danger to the public and the body politic.

None of that, however, is likely to keep Kennedy and those around him from using this rhetoric to his advantage over the next few months. For his most devoted fans, he’s building an architecture of belief, a cosmology that will be used to explain things if he fails to perform well at the polls. Election denial is, ultimately, a means to an end, a bridge to bring Kennedy even closer to realms of real influence and power. It’s the place to which he was born, and where he has clearly always felt that he belongs.

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