October 3, 2023

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. arrived on Capitol Hill Thursday and defiantly declared that he’s neither anti-Semitic nor racist, whereas vehemently defending free speech and accusing the Biden administration and his political opponents of making an attempt to silence him.

Mr. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who has turned to anti-vaccine activism and peddled conspiracy theories, was referring to the storm that erupted after The New York Put up printed a video through which he informed a non-public viewers that Covid-19 “disproportionately assaults sure races” and should have been “ethnically focused” to harm whites and blacks greater than Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese language.

Mr. Kennedy, a member of the Democratic political cabal, appeared earlier than the Home Elected Subcommittee on Armaments of the Federal Authorities, a fee arrange by Republicans to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into federal regulation enforcement and homeland safety businesses. He mentioned he was “by no means anti-vaccination” and took all of the beneficial vaccines apart from the coronavirus vaccine.

Thursday’s listening to targeted on allegations by Mr. Kennedy and Republicans that the Biden administration is making an attempt to censor individuals with totally different views. It was based mostly on a lawsuit filed final 12 months by the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys basic often known as Missouri v. Biden, which accused the administration of colluding with social media to suppress free speech on Covid-19, elections and different points.

The subcommittee chairman, Consultant Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and affiliate of former President Donald J. Trump, opened the listening to, citing e mail that appeared within the case {that a} White Home official requested Twitter to take away a tweet through which Mr. Kennedy steered – with out proof – that baseball legend Hank Aaron might have died from a coronavirus vaccine.

The tweet, which has not been deleted, mentioned that Mr Aaron’s demise was “a part of a wave of suspicious deaths among the many aged” following the vaccination. There was no such wave of suspicious deaths. As in lots of Mr. Kennedy’s writings, his language was fastidiously crafted; he didn’t explicitly hyperlink the vaccine to the deaths, however reasonably mentioned that the deaths occurred “shortly after the introduction of #COVID #vaccines”.

Thursday’s session had all of the hallmarks of a Washington spectacle. By the point Mr. Kennedy arrived, an extended line had shaped outdoors the listening to room within the Rayburn Home workplace constructing. Kennedy supporters stood outdoors the constructing with a Kennedy 2024 poster and do-it-yourself posters. “Cancel the conflict,” mentioned one.

Regardless of the theater, the hearings raised burning questions on freedom of speech in a democratic society: Does disinformation shield the First Modification? When is it applicable for the federal authorities to attempt to cease the unfold of lies?

Democrats have accused Republicans of offering Mr. Kennedy with a discussion board for bigotry and pseudoscience. “Free speech will not be absolute,” mentioned Delegate Stacy Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, the highest Democrat on the subcommittee. “The Supreme Court docket mentioned so. And another person’s allowed freedom of speech – hateful, offensive rhetoric – shouldn’t be promoted within the halls of the Individuals’s Home.

Even by the requirements of Mr. Kennedy’s controversy, his latest feedback about Covid-19 had been stunning. Jewish Consultant Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, unsuccessfully tried Thursday to power the fee to carry an government session; she insisted that Mr. Kennedy violated the foundations of the Home of Representatives by making “disgusting anti-Semitic and anti-Asian feedback”. She additionally helped Democrats signal a letter calling on the Republican management to drag him out of the listening to.

Mr. Kennedy waved the letter throughout his opening remarks. “I do know most of the individuals who wrote this letter,” he mentioned. “I do not imagine there may be even one one who signed this letter who considers me an anti-Semite.”

Mr. Kennedy has attracted supporters from the margins of each political events. He has teamed up with Republicans and Trump supporters who accuse the federal authorities of colluding with social media firms to crack down on conservative content material.

Thursday’s listening to was billed as “inspecting the federal authorities’s position in censoring People, the Missouri v. Biden case, and Huge Tech colluding with rogue authorities businesses to silence them.” One of many attorneys concerned within the case, D. John Sauer, additionally testified, as did Emma-Jo Morris, journalist for Breitbart Information, and Maya Wylie, president and CEO of the Civil and Human Rights Management Convention.

Mr. Kennedy confirmed a flash of the outdated Kennedy fashion by referring to his uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a legislature large who usually labored throughout the aisle. He known as for kindness and respect, remembering how his uncle introduced Orrin J. Hatch, a Utah Republican with whom he collaborated on essential laws, to the Kennedy residence in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

Becoming a member of Mr. Kennedy is a former member of Congress: Dennis J. Kucinich, who served within the Home of Representatives as an Ohio Democrat and is Mr. Kennedy’s marketing campaign supervisor.

“We have to uplift the Structure of america, which was written for laborious occasions,” Mr. Kennedy mentioned at one level, “and it must be the principle compass for all our actions.”

Amid the sarcasm, members of each events did unite across the criticism of Consultant Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat from Virginia.

“I have been in Congress for 15 years and by no means thought we would descend to this degree of Orwellian dystopia,” Mr. Connolly mentioned.

Representatives Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, and Harriet M. Hageman, Republican of Wyoming, nodded their heads and smiled. “I agree with that,” they mentioned in unison.

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