His remarks at the gathering — a dinner party attended by members of the media and Kennedy’s campaign manager at Tony’s Di Napoli on East 63rd Street — amplify racist and antisemitic tropes, including theories that blame Jews for the spread of the coronavirus to expand influence and financial gain, according to research by the Anti-Defamation League.
“The claim that covid-19 was a bioweapon created by the Chinese or Jews to attack Caucasians and Black people is deeply offensive and feeds into Sinophobic and antisemitic conspiracy theories,” Hyman said.
Jane Shim, the director of the Stop Asian Hate Project, an initiative of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, described Kennedy’s remarks as “irresponsible, hateful comments,” likening his words to the “dangerous rhetoric” of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to covid-19 as “the China virus” and previously called it the “kung flu.”
“While RFK spitballs his baseless claims, leaning into them when beneficial and distancing himself when harmful to his campaign, Asian Americans will be harmed,” Shim added.
After the New York Post published video from the dinner, Kennedy, 69, said in a lengthy tweet that he “never, ever” suggested that the coronavirus was targeted to spare Jews. He also said that the dinner was off the record, a claim disputed to the New York Post by the event organizer, columnist Doug Dechert.
Kennedy added in his tweet that he “never implied that the ethnic effect was deliberately engineered,” though at the dinner, he floated that possibility directly, according to the video.
“We don’t know that it was deliberately targeted [like] that or not, but there are papers out there that show the racial and ethnic differential,” Kennedy said at the dinner, suggesting that multiple countries, including the United States and China, are developing ethnic bioweapons to “target people by race.”
A Kennedy campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For more than three years, scientists and lawmakers from both parties have debated the origins of the virus. Many virologists and evolutionary biologists believe the virus probably spread to humans from a Wuhan, China, market where wild animals were sold and butchered. Others have argued that the virus could have accidentally made it out of a lab where researchers were studying coronaviruses. In May 2021, Biden ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to examine the virus’s origins. The agencies did not reach a consensus, though most have stated that the natural origins scenario is more likely. Intelligence agencies do agree, however, that the virus was not developed as a bioweapon.
Kennedy, the son of the late senator Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of former president John F. Kennedy, has gained attention by spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic, Anthony S. Fauci and the AIDS epidemic. He has compared mask mandates and vaccination efforts to the Holocaust.
“Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” Kennedy said during a protest last year against vaccine mandates. (He later apologized for the remark, saying he meant to “show the perils from new technologies of control.”)
Twelve weeks into his campaign to unseat President Biden in the Democratic primary, some polls show him with as much as 20 percent of support among primary voters.