As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. throws his hat in the latest American presidential race, it would be easy to confine his bad ideas to the label “anti-vaccine.” He is, after all, the founder and chairman of the board (now on leave) of the Children’s Health Defense (CHD), one of the leading anti-vaccine organizations. This line of work has been very lucrative to him. The New York Times recently reported his earnings with CHD as USD 516,000, while he gained an additional USD 1.6 million as co-counsel on legal cases involving an HPV vaccine and the Roundup weed killer. His grand total income for the year preceding his run for political office? USD 7.8 million.
The branding of “anti-vaccine” can act as a false quarantine because the ideology that animates him spills over into a comprehensive, paranoid philosophy. Few people seem to know that CHD has a media branch called “CHD TV.” While not an actual television channel, it boasts a weekly schedule of shows (mostly conducted over videotelephony software) streaming on their website, for a total of roughly fourteen hours.
I watched every one of these shows for the week of June 25 to July 1. What I saw was not just the expected ramblings against vaccines, but an alternative worldview firmly anchored in conspirituality.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Watching CHD TV is like receiving a shot of fear right in the deltoid. The Wednesday morning show, called The Jerusalem Report with Ilana Rachel Daniel, showed Daniel, sitting outside in the baking Middle Eastern sun, jumping from one real concern to the next, reducing them to corkboard pins around which to tie a long piece of red yarn. In a forty-five-minute monologue that exemplifies the trope of “just asking questions”—by hiding wild accusations as simple questions rather than statements—, Daniel touched upon artificial intelligence; the CIA’s operation to infiltrate American media in the 1950s; pharmaceutical ads on television; ties between Google and military organizations; brain chips; and Apple’s upcoming VisionPro headset. The anxieties are real, but their treatment is superficial. Their only purpose is to act as bricks in the construction of a grand conspiracy theory.
The fear of our babies receiving “too many needles” was also a recurring theme on CHD TV, with many guests comparing the current childhood vaccine schedule to what they had experienced as infants. It doesn’t matter to them that babies today get exposed through their vaccines to fewer antigens—the molecules from viruses and bacteria that are recognized as foreign and trigger an immune response. Vaccines used to be quite crude and contain many more antigens; today, there may be more vaccines, but they are more targeted. And those newer vaccines that didn’t exist half a century ago protect us from diseases that used to be debilitating and sometimes deadly. None of this matters, though, to the anti-vaxxers counting the needles.
I saw hospitals being compared to “DUI checkpoints” by a nurse who “shared her opinion” that you do not have to volunteer any information to healthcare workers beyond the reason for your visit, which includes refusing to fill out family history questionnaires. She seems to think genetic risk factors are not your doctor’s business when they try to diagnose you. On CHD TV, most doctors simply cannot be trusted. The nurse also recommended a book detailing a holistic approach to viruses. “And even if you don’t think there are viruses,” she commented, “it’s a holistic approach to being well.” The denial of the germ theory of disease gained a foothold in anti-vaccine circles during COVID. Maybe, they thought, viruses aren’t even real.
HIV denialism is also making a comeback, with an entire hour of CHD TV’s The People’s Testament dedicated to platforming a former columnist for SPIN magazine who started interviewing contrarians at the height of the AIDS epidemic and interpreted the pushback she received as evidence that she was uncovering a hidden truth. On the show, she claimed, very misleadingly, that the antiretroviral AZT killed over 300,000 gay men in the early years of AIDS. As with COVID, the belief is that the disease is mild or its causes are misunderstood, but the pharmaceutical solution is the real killer.
CHD TV is a fear delivery system. Everything, from public health experts preparing for the next pandemic to QR codes, becomes evidence of nefariousness. Top scientists know what is really happening, we are told by outcast interviewees who somehow claim to be connected to the grapevine, but they are either corrupt or are not allowed to speak. It must be exhausting to be constantly afraid that everyone is out to get you.
This ceaseless anxiety is justified by bad logic and worse science, with the spectre of the false vaccine-autism connection always in the background. Andrew Wakefield, the father of the modern anti-vaccine movement, was a guest on Good Morning CHD, where he claimed the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine has actually made the measles virus worse and has stripped us of our immunity to it. His solution? Natural measles exposure, as he is “a great believer in the power of nature.” But if the vaccine doesn’t work and measles is bad, how is the answer for all of us to contract measles now? Meanwhile, Steve Kirsch, the wealthy entrepreneur and COVID contrarian who is asking everyone to debate him for a cash prize, is still trawling the VAERS database to prove the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe, and he told the host of Good Morning CHD that Bruce Willis’ diagnosis of dementia needs to be investigated, as it could be due to the COVID vaccine. As for ivermectin, an osteopathic physician in Chicago said on CHD TV’s The Solution with Dr. Tony O’Donnell that “under my own hands, I saw miraculous—quasi-miraculous things happen.” He cited as evidence the work of Dr. Carvallo in South America, which may not even have happened.
Two individuals can look at the same data and come to radically different interpretations. Talking heads on CHD TV mention that Americans have lost two years of life expectancy since the pandemic started and that rare conditions are suddenly becoming more common. Their interpretation? It has to be the COVID-19 vaccines. It could not possibly be the emergence of a new pandemic virus which targets multiple organ systems in the body. No: the mRNA vaccines must be blamed at all costs.
And it’s not just the COVID-19 vaccines. Denying their overall safety leads you down the rabbit hole to full-on anti-vaccine territory, as described by Kirsch during his interview: “It’s kind of like you got a fishing line, and you’re bringing up the fishing line, and it starts bringing up all this COVID stuff, and then you see something funny that comes on the line and it’s like, ‘Hey, maybe there’s another vaccine—are all these vaccines safe? I read something about this guy Andrew Wakefield. […] It sounds like he's being labelled as a misinformation spreader and I know something about that.’”
The most reproduced finding in the literature on conspiracy beliefs is that the more you believe in one conspiracy theory, the more likely you are to believe in others. The pandemic was definitely a radicalizing event for many of the guests on CHD TV. If you decide the mainstream narrative on COVID-19 vaccines cannot be trusted, why would you trust the narrative on the childhood immunization schedule? In this way, trust in governments, the pharmaceutical industry, academia, the healthcare system, and “the mainstream media” decays. This makes you primed to enter CHD’s alternative media ecosystem, which is imbued with strong religious and spiritual language.
“I don’t know anything except what I feel”
Contrarians and science deniers grow their audiences by going on each other’s platforms and having the host plug their latest work. On CHD TV, viewers were recommended Del Bigtree’s The High Wire (“true investigative journalism!”), Andrew Wakefield’s production company website (7th Chakra Films), Dr. Pierre Kory’s The War on Ivermectin, and so many guests’ Substack blog. The pamphleteering of car windshields to warn about the coming of the new world order seems to have been replaced by Substacking about it.
I learned that Andrew Wakefield is finishing the edit of his latest film, Protocol 7, which will not be a “documentary” but a scripted movie “based on true facts,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, America’s favourite Disney mom Leigh-Allyn Baker, who “blew up her career” by becoming an anti-vaxxer, is involved in the production of The Glitch, a three-part scripted series that will teach kids not to trust the government. The idea for the series was apparently put in the head of a 17-year-old girl by none other than God.
Promoting others is great, but self-promotion is also important, and you would be hard-pressed to watch any show on CHD TV and not spot a copy of the book The Real Anthony Fauci by RFK Jr. somewhere in the background. Their morning show also frequently features a rundown of CHD’s latest articles from their blog The Defender, each one being portrayed as shocking and ground-breaking in its revelation of alleged censorship or mad-scientist-type experiments. This coverage is often repeated ad nauseam across multiple shows, demonstrating that for all of its posturing against the mainstream media, CHD TV falls victim to the same repetitious tricks of the 24/7 news cycle.
After scaring their viewers and eroding their trust in official bodies, RFK Jr.’s CHD TV comes to their rescue with irrational solutions. The rallying cry of “do your own research” can often be heard. It is not an invitation to learn the complexities of scientific thinking, but rather a Marco Polo-style call-and-answer for anti-vaccine leaders to guide their followers to where they are in the rabbit hole. “Do your own research” means “I hope you follow the breadcrumbs to the same truth I now choose to believe.” It is also a convenient legal shield. They are not giving out medical advice or telling you what to do. It is part of CHD TV’s careful treading around the law, which includes regular disclaimers and the refrain of “in my opinion” following any bold statement. The website itself warns that the opinions expressed by the hosts and guests are not necessarily the views of CHD (or, by extension, RFK Jr. himself), but when your entire “television channel” spews out anti-vaccine, anti-government, and anti-science views, it is hard to imagine that its founder believes the exact opposite. (In fact, we know he doesn’t.)
But doing your own research is not enough. Analytical thinking must be put aside to make way for intuition. Trust your gut, we are told over and over again, as if our brain’s quick-and-dirty threat assessment function can help us understand what the contents of a syringe does to our body. Monday’s Tea Time programme went even further. The guest, who teaches the art of emotional connection, declared, “I don’t know anything except what I feel,” before one of the hosts said that “our minds and thoughts create our reality,” which was echoed by Ilana Daniel in The Jerusalem Report claiming that “what you think and what you believe is what will come true for you.” This is straight out of the book The Secret, a New Age wish-fulfilment fantasy that makes it easy to blame people for failing in life. They simply did not wish hard enough.
This itching for the reassurance of intuitive thinking leads us straight into the arms of religion and spirituality, and for a channel allegedly dedicated to denouncing vaccines, CHD TV is surprisingly church-like. I counted half of all shows that week making clear, often repeated mentions of the importance of God and spirituality. There was talk of healing crystals and high-soul tribes, but most allusions were of a Christian nature. The AIDS denialist who worked at SPIN magazine counts on God’s plan and protection during this “spiritual warfare,” while a former television producer and sound engineer who wrote an anti-vaccine booklet for his grandchildren ended the interview by declaring that “you don’t want to inject things into [your children’s perfect bodies] to disrupt what God put into them.”
Anti-vaccination is now a quicksand. It will pull you down into a conspirituality trap. Conspirituality was recently described by the authors of the book of the same name as the phenomenon in which “political anxieties merge with spiritual hopes,” whereby “every cruel plot point begets the necessity for spiritual warfare and renewal.”
RFK Jr. is one of the heads of not just an anti-vaccine movement, but of a far-reaching ideology that cultivates conspiracy theories and offers as solutions the silencing of critical thinking and the soothing balm of fantasy. That a man with such a paranoid detachment from reality is grasping for the highest political seat in one of the most influential countries in the world should make us all worry about the future.
I will close with a lengthy quote from Bernadette Pajer, whose CHD TV show An Informed Life Radio on June 30th managed to encapsulate this mad, mongrel philosophy fueling the world’s strangest fever dream. She was interviewing a Welsh engineer with experience in how vaccines are produced who is now convinced that the extreme fragility of the cold chain for delivering mRNA vaccines means that they have morphed into a toxic brew.
“You said something that the UK wants to be the dominant voice, the leader of life sciences. Well, I got something to tell them. There is already somebody, the head of life sciences, who will never be toppled, and his name is God… or Mother Nature, or whatever your belief system—there’s a brilliant, higher power that already has thought what health and life need to thrive. It’s not brewed in a vat somewhere, doesn’t need to be kept at -70°C as it gets shipped across the world, doesn’t have to be given a liability shield so nobody sues them.
“We know how to be healthy. We know how to avoid illness. It’s about individual susceptibility and it's about utilizing what nature/God has given us in the land, how to farm properly. We know what to do… but that doesn’t make them money.”
This kind of anti-science rhetoric is a recipe for a new Dark Age.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the founder and chairman of the board of the anti-vaccine organization Children’s Health Defense, which produces multiple “television” shows that stream weekly on its website
- The shows on CHD TV fuel fear and mistrust of science, governments, academia, healthcare, and the media, while providing alternatives to these institutions
- The solutions put forth by CHD TV include “doing your own research,” relying entirely on your intuition and feelings to understand reality, and praying for change