WASHINGTON — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. worked to defend himself Thursday against accusations that he traffics in racist and hateful online conspiracy theories, testifying at a House hearing on government censorship despite requests from outside groups to disinvite the Democratic presidential candidate after his recent antisemitic remarks.
The Republican-led Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government is amplifying GOP claims that conservatives and others are being unfairly targeted by technology companies that routinely work with the government to try to stem the spread of disinformation online. Democrats argued that free speech comes with responsibilities not to spread misinformation, particularly when it fans violence.
Kennedy’s Open Remarks
In opening remarks, Kennedy invoked his famous family’s legacy in decrying the complaints of racism and antisemitism against him.
“This is an attempt to censor a censorship hearing,” said Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
Growing animated at times, Kennedy defended his social media posts, which have delved into race, vaccine safety and other issues, as neither “racist or antisemitic.” He said his family has long believed in the First Amendment right to free speech.
“The First Amendment was not written for easy speech,” Kennedy said. “It was written for the speech that nobody likes you for.”
Republicans’ Support for Kennedy
Republicans are eager to elevate Kennedy after he announced in April he was mounting a long-shot Democratic primary challenge to President Joe Biden. Kennedy’s presidential campaign chairman, Dennis Kucinich, the former congressman and past presidential contender, sat in the front row behind him during the more-than-three-hours hearing.
The Big Tech companies have adamantly denied the GOP assertions and say they enforce their rules impartially for everyone regardless of ideology or political affiliation. And researchers have not found widespread evidence that social media companies are biased against conservative news, posts or materials.
Top Democrat Criticize Republican Majority
The top Democrat on the House panel, Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, said the Republican majority was giving a platform to Kennedy and others to promote conspiracy theories and a rallying cry for “bigotry and hate.”
“This is not the kind of free speech I know,” Plaskett said.
Plaskett warned against misinformation from Russia and other U.S. adversaries who have interfered in American elections and are expected to meddle again in the 2024 election.
Jim Jordan’s Claims of Censorship
Often emotional and heated, Thursday’s hearing came as subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, portrayed what he claimed were examples of censorship, including a White House request to Twitter to remove a race-based post from Kennedy about COVID-19 vaccines.
“It’s why Mr. Kennedy is running for president — to help us expose and stop what’s going on,” Jordan said.
A watchdog group asked Jordan to drop the invitation to Kennedy after he suggested COVID-19 could have been “ethnically targeted” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.
Controversy Over Kennedy’s Remarks on COVID-19
In those filmed remarks first published by The New York Post, Kennedy said “there is an argument” that COVID-19 “is ethnically targeted” and that it “attacks certain races disproportionately.”
After the video was made public, Kennedy posted on Twitter that his words were twisted and denied ever suggesting that COVID-19 was deliberately engineered to spare Jewish people. He called for the Post’s article to be retracted.
A clip from the video was aired at the hearing.