A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
What RFK Jr.’s Antisemitic Lunacy Tells Us About His Whole Con Game
By David Corn July 18, 2023
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. attends an anti-vaccination mandate protest in Milan, Italy, on November 13, 2021. Alessandro Bremec/AP
An essential part of journalism is luck: getting and publishing the story at the right time. On Saturday, I sent out an issue of this newsletter with a lead essay explaining why Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s longshot presidential campaign is dangerous. It’s not because he poses a threat to Joe Biden; it’s because his candidacy, with all the media and social media attention he has drawn, has expanded his reach, boosting the signal for his noxious blend of anti-vax disinformation and an array of conspiracy theories. It was fortunate that as the newsletter hit email inboxes, Kennedy proved me right. More important, he showed us how he runs his con.
This telling episode—which is worth dissecting—began with a scoop from the New York Post, which, not surprisingly, has a long history of breaking news on Bobby Jr. (In 2013, the tabloid revealed what it called his secret "sex diary.”) The story this time: RFK Jr., at a dinner in New York City, suggested that Covid was designed “to attack Caucasians and black people” and that the “people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” His remarks were widely regarded as antisemitic gibberish: Some malevolent entity had cooked up Covid to kill white and Black people and had spared Jews and Chinese. And he was hinting—actually, more than hinting—that this evil cabal involved government forces in league with Jews and China.
It’s worth looking at Kennedy’s whole spiel:
We need to talk about bioweapons. I know a lot now about bioweapons because I’ve been doing a book on it for the past two and a half years. The technology that we now have to develop these types of… We have…we’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars into ethnically targeted microbes. The Chinese have done the same thing. In fact, Covid-19, there’s an argument that it is ethnically targeted. Covid-19 attacks certain races disproportionately. The races that are most immune to Covid-19 are…because of the genetic structure…genetic differential among different races of the receptors, of the ACE2 receptor, Covid-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese. We don’t know if it was deliberately targeted like that or not. But there are papers out there that show the racial and ethnic differential impact of that. We do know that the Chinese are spending hundreds of millions developing ethnic bioweapons. And we are developing ethnic bioweapons. That’s what all those labs in the Ukraine are about. They’re collecting Russian DNA. They’re collecting Chinese DNA. So we can target people by race.
It's clear that despite his after-the-fact protestations Kennedy was raising the idea that Covid-19 was a bioweapon designed to kill white and Black people and not affect Jews and Chinese. That would certainly suggest that the developers of this weapon were allied with Jews and Chinese. What’s more—and what was largely overlooked in the media coverage of his remarks—Kennedy then reiterated a key piece of Russian disinformation: that the United States was developing bioweapons in Ukraine before the war. As I noted last year, Tucker Carlson eagerly amplified this unsubstantiated accusation that originated with Vladmir Putin’s regime, as did such conservative luminaries as Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. Now Kennedy was doing the same, repeating a talking point deployed by the Kremlin to justify its horrific invasion of Ukraine.
In less than two minutes, Kennedy had both alleged there was a diabolical plot that aimed to kill people but protect Jews and Chinese and legitimized the unfounded propaganda of genocidal war criminals. That is, he was doing his usual bonkers routine.
Perhaps the more important piece of this tale was what came next. No surprise, Kennedy’s comments triggered a shitstorm. He was lambasted on social media. Jewish organizations denounced him. (This was not the first time he had caused such a fuss. At a 2022 rally in Washington, DC, against Covid vaccine mandates, he equated government actions to thwart the pandemic with the Holocaust.) His response was quite revealing.
Kennedy issued a statement, in which he denied any wrongdoing:
The @nypost story is mistaken. I have never, ever suggested that the COVID-19 virus was targeted to spare Jews. I accurately pointed out—during an off-the-record conversation—that the U.S. and other governments are developing ethnically targeted bioweapons and that a 2021 study of the COVID-19 virus shows that COVID-19 appears to disproportionately affect certain races since the furin cleave docking site is most compatible with Blacks and Caucasians and least compatible with ethnic Chinese, Finns, and Ashkenazi Jews. In that sense, it serves as a kind of proof of concept for ethnically targeted bioweapons. I do not believe and never implied that the ethnic effect was deliberately engineered.
Kennedy was lying to cover his ass. His discussion of Covid was in the context of talking about bioweapons. And he had plainly said, “there’s an argument that it is ethnically targeted.” That sure seems to me like a suggestion. But who are you going to believe—Kennedy or your own lying ears?
Moreover, Kennedy’s assertion that the United States is developing ethnically targeted bioweapons is baseless. A Chinese general reportedly declared an interest in such weaponry. Yet in May, it was the Chinese government that accused the Pentagon of developing “genetically engineered weapons”—a charge the Defense Department denied. (The Pentagon, a spokesperson said, “is not developing bioweapons and strongly refutes the assertion that we are.") Without evidence to back up this claim, Kennedy was promoting Chinese propaganda—in both his initial comments and his subsequent statement. And that no-apologies statement did not address the fact that he had echoed and endorsed Kremlin disinformation about the US supposedly pursuing bioweapons in Ukraine.
In his response, Kennedy would not acknowledge what he had said. He tried to dial back his comments and depict them as merely musings on the theoretical possibility of an ethnically targeted Covid weapon. Yet he simultaneously promoted the unsubstantiated notion that the United States was developing this sort of weapon.
This is an example of how slippery and dangerous Kennedy is. Like the typical conspiracy theorist, he bobs and weaves when caught saying something outrageously wrong, and he won’t give ground, claiming he was only asking questions or simply addressing a possibility, while exploiting the occasion to peddle more bunk. As I explained in the last issue, all the attention he is getting for pitching loony beliefs and antisemitic ideas will not help him wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Biden. But his candidacy is increasing his prominence and strengthening his ability to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation. He was slammed for suggesting Covid was engineered to spare Jews and Chinese. But he will continue to be embraced by the conspiratorial, pro-Trump right and will likely remain a potent virus within our national discourse.
Amid all the ballyhoo, Kennedy taught us a valuable lesson: A con man doesn’t stop conning when he is caught conning; he just adds the latest development to the con.
Got anything to say about this item—or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s an indicted, Trump-loving Republican to do when he needs to raise campaign cash? If you’re disgraced-but-not-ashamed Rep. George Santos, you turn to another indicted and alleged fraudster, Miles Guo, the Chinese MAGA mogul and Steve Bannon pal accused by federal prosecutors of operating a $1 billion scam. Or to his devoted followers.
Whenever Santos files a campaign finance report, there’s a story. (We at Mother Jones have broken several.) As his latest disclosure became public last week, reporters rushed to peruse it. That included my Mother Jones colleagues Noah Lanard and Dan Friedman and myself. We immediately noticed something odd: Of the 50 or so donors listed on the report, about three dozen had given the maximum permissible—$3,300—and had what seemed to be Chinese names. And these financial backers were spread out across the country, obviously not Santos’ constituents in Queens, New York. We began reaching out to them, and I found one who had donated to Santos because she was a fan of Guo. We found other Guo connections. And Friedman discovered that Guo’s supporters had set up a Google document to keep track of who among them gave money to Santos.
This made sense. Santos has been one of Guo’s biggest defenders, supporting Guo’s claim that he is being persecuted by the Justice Department at the behest of the Chinese government. (Guo, who was also accused of fraud in China, has branded himself as the No. 1 global foe of the Chinese regime.) After Santos started speaking out for Guo, the money poured into his campaign from these donors, totaling about $130,000, which is most of the $133,000 Santos raised for the second quarter of 2023. Tit for tat?
There’s more. Santos used most of that money to repay himself for $85,000 he had loaned his congressional campaign. The bottom line: Money from the Guo faithful eventually landed in Santos’ personal bank account. From the fans of one accused grifter into the pockets of another accused grifter. This is a true tale of Trumpworld. You can read our story here.
It’s Tonight: The Our Land Zoom Get-Together
Here’s the final repeat of a previous announcement: As promised—or threatened—we will be holding a Zoom gathering for premium subscribers to Our Land. The time: 8:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 18. (That’s today!) The place: wherever you have an internet connection. Here’s how it works: Premium subscribers—which means those of you who pay that small monthly amount to receive the full version of Our Land—will get a separate mailing with a Zoom link. So look for that email. Click on the link at the scheduled time, and you will be transported to our group chat, where we will discuss recent news, recent issues, and whatever else might be on your (or my) mind. To be clear: only premium subscribers will receive this invitation. If you’d like to become part of that club, you can sign up at www.davidcorn.com.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
Night of Camp David, Fletcher Knebel. “What would happen if the president of the USA went stark-raving mad?” That question—white letters against a black background—appear on a flap affixed to the front cover of a recent reissue of Fletcher Knebel’s 1965 thriller, Night of Camp David. The marketing folks at Vintage Books saw a great opportunity for pitching a novel over half-a-century old. After all, Knebel was quite prescient with his story of a president who goes off his rocker.
Knebel, who was a longtime newsman in Washington, DC, scored a big hit in 1962 with Seven Days in May, a novel he cowrote about a potential military coup in the United States. (Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas starred in the marvelous film version.) As a Washington correspondent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Knebel had a great eye for the manners and ways of the nation’s capital. And reading Night of Camp David, you can see that a lot hasn’t changed in 60 years.
The book’s protagonist, Jim McVeigh, a young senator from Iowa whose ambitions exceed his willingness to work hard, lands in a jam when President Mark Hollenbach invites him to the presidential retreat in rural Maryland for a late-night private chat to tell McVeigh that he is considering tapping him to replace the vice president, who has been snared in a minor pay-to-play scandal. That’s the good news. The bad news: Hollenbach engages in a rant that prompts McVeigh to wonder if he’s become mentally unhinged. What to do?
Much of the narrative follows McVeigh’s efforts to determine if the president has lost any marbles and to privately raise this sensitive issue with party leaders and the pooh-bahs of Washington. When Knebel wrote this book, at the height of Cold War fear and popular apprehension about nuclear war, he was deeply concerned with the unsettling matter of how the fate of the world was quite literally in the hands of one fellow—and that could be a person who might have what we call issues.
Of course, that remains—or ought to remain—a concern all these years later, though we rarely talk much about nuclear weapons and the prospect of global annihilation. But Trump’s reign in the White House did prompt a bit of a discussion about the dangers of assigning this awesome power to an intemperate and erratic person. And within his own government, reportedly, there was even talk of invoking the 25th Amendment.
What is jarring about reading Knebel’s novel today is that the major sign that Hollenbach has gone round the bend is that he has become paranoid. He obsessively complains to intimates that there is a wide-ranging plot involving government officials and members of his own party to destroy him. Sound familiar? Trump’s ceaseless ravings about the Deep State go far beyond Hollenbach’s gripes. And we have seen veterans of his White House, after the fact, tell us that they feared what he might have done as president. But during his stint as chief executive, his aides covered for him, and we citizens became somewhat inured to his reality-defying tirades. As secretary of defense Sid Karper tells McVeigh, “Nobody wants to be believe the President of the United States is deranged.” These days, millions of Americans believe Trump’s paranoid pronouncements and cheer on his derangement.
Knebel interweaves melodrama—McVeigh is having an affair with the secretary to the head of the Democratic Party—with suspense, and you feel for McVeigh, who is stuck in a lonely plight. The book is hindered by its now-anachronistic rendering of the few women in the story, and the denouement is more of a fade-out than a bang. Yet Knebel’s characters were wrestling with a troubling topic that is relevant these days. At one point, Karper observes, “Millions of ordinary people like to imagine there’s a conspiracy behind everything, from the Kennedy assassination to the fluoridation of water. But when a man of [the president’s] caliber and education imagines there’s a cabal operating to persecute and to destroy him personally, well, there’s only one word for it—paranoia.” Indeed, that’s what we had in the White House for years—and it could happen again.
In 2021, it was reported that Paul Greengrass, who directed the Jason Bourne movies, United 93, and Captain Phillips, would be developing a film version of Night of Camp David. I don’t know how far that project has come. But here’s the trailer for Seven Days in May:
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
July 15, 2023: RFK Jr.: should we give a damn?; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Lawrence Summers); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
July 11, 2023: Don’t forget Rudy Giuliani was a Russia disinformation stooge; Elliott Abrams, again; the tantalizing Silo; Chrissie Hynde as Frank Sinatra; and more.
July 8, 2023: Ron DeSantis and the GOP primary of hate; from Twitter to Threads; an Our Land Zoom get-together; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Linda Yaccarino); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
July 1, 2023: The patriotism of government bureaucrats; Marvin Kitman, RIP; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Rick Scott); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
June 27, 2023: When lying doesn’t matter (including John Durham’s testimony); Hightown, a crime drama that explores the underside of Cape Cod; and more.
June 24, 2023: Why Jack Smith must go farther; Dumbass Comment of the Week (the Trump and DeSantis war rooms); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
June 21, 2023: How Daniel Ellsberg changed the world—and my life; how you can support Our Land; Loves Comes to Buildings on Fire’s love letter to the NYC music scene of the 1970s.
June 17, 2023: How dangerous is Elon Musk?; anatomy of a (No Labels) scoop; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Fox News); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.