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COVID-19 as an “ethnically targeted” bioweapon: RFK Jr. embraces antisemitism and racism

A couple of weeks ago, RFK Jr. shared an antisemitic conspiracy theory that COVID-19 might have been an :”ethnically targeted” bioweapon that spared the Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews, showing how conspiracy theories ultimately devolve into antisemitism. Then he denied it. Same as it ever was.

By any measure one might like to use, the last couple of weeks have not been good for longtime antivax activist turned Democratic Presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with RFK Jr. just how far into the bonkers conspiracy theories he went. (At least, other than timing, it wasn’t a surprise to me, given that I’ve covered his antivaccine pseudoscience and conspiracy theories since 2005.) In brief, a funny story about a fart-filled argument at an RFK Jr. press event a couple of weeks ago quickly turned dark, with reports the weekend before last relating how RFK Jr. had echoed an antisemitic and racist conspiracy theory about how COVID-19 might have been “ethnically targeted”at Caucasians and Blacks, while sparing Ashkenazi Jews and the Chinese, in brief a bioweapon. Amazingly, the wingnuts running the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, to which RFK Jr. had been invited to testify before the kerfuffle over his racist and antisemitic conspiracy mongering hit the news, did not disinvite him, leading to quite the spectacle in which he repeatedly denied saying what he is on videotape in the New York Post as having said and once again denied being antivax.

So how did we get here, and what does this all say about RFK Jr. that we didn’t know before? First, let’s start with the farting heard all around the world, which in retrospect is a very appropriate metaphor for RFK Jr.’s campaign and talk of an “ethnically targeted” bioweapon.

A fart filled argument on climate change

It started with a Page Six report by Mara Siegler that, I must admit, made me chuckle out loud as I read it, starting with the title, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. press dinner explodes in war of words and farting. Seriously, the six-year-old in every person can’t help but laugh at the introduction:

Camelot it ain’t.

Page Six regrets to report that a press dinner to boost Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign descended into a foul bout of screaming and polemic farting Tuesday night.

I’m sorry, but that introduction is just objectively funny—”polemic farting”!—not to mention incredibly fitting for the entire misbegotten endeavor that is RFK Jr.’s campaign. Unfortunately, as you will soon see, the hilarity was soon superseded by reports of what RFK Jr. said at the Q&A held at the event, in which he trotted out a pseudoscientific conspiracy theory about COVID-19 possibly being “ethnically targeted” that is more blatantly antisemitic than I have heard from him before, in which he echoed a very old racist conspiracy theory about an “ethnobomb” or “ethnically targeted” bioweapon repurposed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Before I get to the nasty bonkers, though, forgive me if I indulge myself a bit in looking at the funny bonkers, because it encapsulates the level of ridiculousness that RFK Jr.’s conspiracy theories embrace.

The gaseous exchange apparently began when the host of the event, Doug Dechert, screamed “The climate hoax!” at the top of his lungs. This roused and enraged “octogenarian art critic” Anthony Haden-Guest, who was apparently a friend of Dechert, to start yelling at him, “calling him variously ‘f–king insane’ and ‘insignificant.’” Then things got even weirder:

Here, it seems, Dechert sensed the need for a new rhetorical tack, and let rip a loud, prolonged fart while yelling, as if to underscore his point, “I’m farting!”

The room, which included a handful of journalists as well as Kennedy’s campaign manager, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was stunned, seemingly unsure about whether Dechert was farting at Haden-Guest personally or at the very notion of global warming.

(Regrettably, we may assure readers that there was no room for doubt that the climate changed in the immediate environs of the dinner table.)

We are, however, assured that:

The candidate maintained a steady composure in the face of the crisis.

Imagine my relief.

The stock photo of the candidate chosen for this particular story was perfect, too:

RFK Jr. pondering an ethnically targeted bioweapon
RFK Jr. pondering how his life brought him to this.

Normally, a story like this would provoke a round of social media guffawing that would soon fade into the background noise. After all, almost everyone loves to make fart jokes at one time or another, and it is rare that a story like this is published that provides such an—shall we say?—irresistibly pungent opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, the pungency changed from that of farts to the foul stench of antisemitic pseudoscientific conspiracy theories.

“Ethnically targeted” COVID-19?

As the fart jokes were fading away like Dechert’s rectal emissions, unfortunately the stench changed to something far worse than just that of flatulence, no matter how prolonged or epic. By Saturday, the NY Post had published a story featuring video of the Q&A at the event, and let’s just say that it was…something:

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. dished out wild COVID-19 conspiracy theories this week during a press event at an Upper East Side restaurant, claiming the bug was a genetically engineered bioweapon that may have been “ethnically targeted” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.

Kennedy floated the idea during a question-and-answer portion of raucous booze and fart-filled dinner at Tony’s Di Napoli on East 63d Street.

“COVID-19. There is an argument that it is ethnically targeted. COVID-19 attacks certain races disproportionately,” Kennedy said. “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 whether it was deliberately targeted or not but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact,” Kennedy hedged.

Lest you miss the message:

In between bites of linguini and clam sauce, Kennedy, 69, warned of more dire biological weapons in the pipeline with a “50% infection fatality rate” that would make COVID-19 “look like a walk in the park.”

“We do know that the Chinese are spending hundreds of millions of dollars developing ethnic bioweapons and we are developing ethnic bioweapons,” he claimed. “They’re collecting Russian DNA. They’re collecting Chinese DNA so we can target people by race.”

My first reaction to this outburst, besides my usual horror at how openly racist and antisemitic it was, was a bit of confusion. After all, RFK Jr. actually seemed here to be acknowledging that COVID-19 can be deadly, by saying that there were “biological weapons” that are much worse. But if COVID-19 is just a cold that kills only the elderly and infirm, then why would RFK Jr. have used it as a comparison to the supposedly even worse bioweapons that are in the pipeline? My next thought was: Why was anyone surprised that RFK Jr. said something like this? He’s been making similar claims for quite a while now, most recently in June:

As an aside, I can’t help but mention that the NY Post, being the NY Post, couldn’t resist adding:

There has been a growing consensus among US intelligence agencies that COVID-19 was man-made and escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China — but there is no evidence it was designed to spare certain religious groups or ethnicities, and Kennedy offered no studies to support his claims.

Lab leak conspiracy theorists touted this report as slam-dunk evidence that the US intelligence community had concluded that COVID-19 was man-made and had escaped from a lab in Wuhan, but in reality it cited very low quality evidence, nothing that changes the current scientific consensus that COVID-19 most likely arose from a zoonotic overflow event or makes current lab leak claims sound any less like conspiracy theories. Even the latest version of the report cited does not support lab leak as the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Indeed, the Post misrepresented the report, which states quite clearly that almost “all IC agencies assess that SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically engineered” and most “agencies assess that SARS-CoV-2 was not laboratory-adapted.”

Unsurprisingly, as soon as news about his remarks had begun to spread, leading to widespread (and deserved) denunciations, RFK Jr. took to Twitter (I refuse to call it X) to try to deny that he had said what, in fact, he had said:

Damned Blue Checks and their much expanded character limit for Tweets. They screw up my embedding now! In any event, denying that he actually said what he is on video or audio as having in fact said—i.e., lying about his vile comments—is totally on brand for RFK Jr., dating back a long time.

Here’s the complete quote, for those of you who don’t have Twitter accounts:

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. That study is here:

I note that the above study is actually old, dating back to July 2020, and was largely speculative. We know a lot more about SARS-CoV-2 and how it interacts with the ACE-2 receptor now than we did then. In addition, sure, RFK Jr. never actually outright claimed that SARS-CoV-2 was targeted against “Caucasians and Blacks” and designed to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people. He merely insinuated it by JAQing off, a well-known technique to couch claims in a manner that allows a modicum of plausible deniability.

Even worse, though, it turns out that his insinuation about COVID-19 being a “bioweapon” designed to target “Caucasians and Blacks” is actually Russian propaganda:

Not only did this conspiracy theory have political origins, but it isn’t even correct about COVID-19 sparing Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews, as people on Twitter were quick to point out:

He also tried to walk back his speculation about “ethnically targeted bioweapons” that spare Ashkenazi Jews and the Chinese by saying that he was just warning about governments working on such bioweapons:

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop him from taking to Twitter again to invoke the old “some of my best friends are Jews” defense that all antisemites use:

RFK Jr.: "I didn't mean COVID-19 is a Jewish bioweapon!"
Let’s just say that most of us found this…unconvincing.

People have told me that Rabbi Shmuley is a go-to rabbi for anyone who says something antisemitic and wants to invoke the defense of, “Some of my best friends are Jews—a rabbi, even!”

The return of the “ethnobomb”!

As soon as I read about RFK Jr.’s insinuation, a memory came back to me. Does anyone remember the “ethnobomb”? I do, and a quick Google search reminded me a bit more of what the conspiracy theory of the “ethnobomb” claimed. For example, here’s a story from 1998 written in response to a Sunday Times story, Israel planning ‘ethnic’ bomb as Saddam caves in, entitled Debunking the “ethno-bomb”:

American biological warfare experts are reacting skeptically to a report that Israel is working on a biological weapon that could infect and kill Arabs but not Jews.

The top secret Israeli “ethno-bomb” project is the product of medical research that has identified distinctive genes carried by some Arabs, particularly Iraqis, according to a report last month in the London Sunday Times. The project’s aim is to manufacture a genetically engineered bacterium or virus that would kill certain Arab ethnic groups, the paper said.

The notion that the Jewish state is developing a bomb targeting people by “race” outraged some members of Israel’s parliament. But ethics and morality aside, American experts are skeptical that such a weapon is possible today.

Does any of this sound familiar? I will briefly mention here that I wish these COVID-19 conspiracy theorists could get their stories straight. Is it SARS-CoV-2 that’s the “ethnically targeted” bioweapon, or is it, as this conspiracy theorist claims, the COVID-19 vaccines that are the “ethnobomb” that these stories claimed that Israel was developing a quarter century ago?

Remember, though, that this report is nearly 25 years old. It was five years before the first complete human genome sequence determined by the Human Genome Project was published. One could wonder: Is such a weapon, which was likely impossible then, possible now given what we know now that we didn’t know then? Certainly, antivaxxer John Leake, who co-authors a blog with fellow antivaxxer Dr. Peter McCullough, really wants you to think so, so that you don’t think that RFK Jr. is peddling antisemitic conspiracy theories. I love how he includes the complete quote by RFK Jr. in order to try to argue that the press had quote mined it to make you think that he didn’t claim that SARS-CoV-2 was a targeted bioweapon when clearly he JAQed off in order to suggest that, yes, SARS-CoV-2 is a targeted bioweapon that spares Chinese and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent:

We need to talk about bioweapons. …. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars into ethnically targeted microbes. The Chinese have done the same thing. In fact, COVID-19, there is an argument that it is ethnically targeted. COVID-19 attacks certain races disproportionately.

How else is one to interpret what RFK Jr. said in the first part of RFK Jr.’s quote that I reproduce above, other than that RFK Jr. was strongly suggesting —at least!—that SARS-CoV-2 might be a targeted bioweapon? Leake also laments that the “presidential candidate’s allegedly outrageous remarks were captured in a video (apparently shot clandestinely) of him sitting at a dining table, talking to his companions about the frequently observed and documented fact that some ethnic groups appear to be more susceptible to severe COVID-19 illness than others,” as if it were some sort of heinous violation of a Presidential candidate’s privacy to video his remarks at a press event, only to conclude that, if “RFK, Jr. can be fairly criticized for any of his remarks, it is that some of his statements could be interpreted as jumping to conclusions.”

But what evidence does Leake actually cite? First, he notes:

What are we to make of this statement? Let’s start with his assertion that the United States and China are investing in developing ethnically target bioweapons. A quick search of the literature revealed several recent reports in which American and Chinese officials accuse each other of developing racially targeted bioweapons.

The Coming Threat of a Genetically Engineered ‘Ethnic BioweaponThe National Review, April 10, 2023.

Pentagon Making Race-Specific Bioweapons to Target Citizens, China SaysNewsweek, May 11, 2023.

Could you make a genetically targeted weapon? The Guardian, 28 October 2004.

I read all three articles, and let’s just say that the evidence cited is very thin gruel indeed, mostly speculative and consisting of unsubstantiated accusations. The National Review article, for instance quotes one source

The 2017 edition of Science of Military Strategy (战略学), a textbook published by the PLA’s National Defense University that is considered to be relatively authoritative, debuted a section about biology as a domain of military struggle, similarly mentioning the potential for new kinds of biological warfare to include “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”

The second article reports that the Chinese have accused the US of working on ethnically targeted bioweapons aimed at the Chinese, with even less evidence.

While this report suggests that the Chinese could actually be working on “ethnically targeted” bioweapons, every time I consider such a claim, I also consider the extreme implausibility of it all, not so much because it is impossible to target certain genes to make a putative “bioweapon” more likely to target one ethnic group over another, but because any such bioweapon would be so incredibly “leaky” as to be too dangerous to deploy. Biologically and genetically, humans, both individually and at the population level, are far more similar than they are different, and most differences in the frequency of different alleles (variants) of a gene are between different ethnic populations are nowhere near absolute. It is rare for an allele to be present in 0% of one ethnic group compared to 100% in another. Even if such an ethnically targeted bioweapon that is designed to latch onto an allele that is more common in one ethnic group than another were developed, it would almost certainly soon start affecting the attacker as well. Once spreading in one population, there is little to stop it spreading in another, even if that population is less susceptible.

One of the articles even outright says this:

Others say the concerns are exaggerated. “Trying to find a weapon that affects quite a few of one ethnic group and none of another ethnic group is just not going to happen,” says David Goldstein, who studies population genetics at University College London. “Because all groups are quite similar you will never get something that is highly selective. The best you would probably do is something that kills 20% of one group and 28% of another.”

The groups in question are also far broader than those associated with ethnic conflict. Geneticists can only distinguish between people with ancestry traced to regions such as Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia.

Precisely. Again, it cannot be emphasized enough that human beings are more alike biologically and genetically than we are different. Different allele frequencies in different populations are almost never black and white, 0% in one population and 100% in another. Don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing that somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon or the Chinese military the possibility of ethnically targeted bioweapons has never been considered or even seriously investigated. After all, if you’ve ever read Jon Ronson’s book The Men Who Stare at Goats, you know that the Pentagon has pursued some truly bizarre ideas, and I have little doubt that the same is probably true of the fringes of the Chinese and Israeli military—likely of all major militaries. However, again, one would suspect that the fringe dwellers championing such ideas would be countered by actual biochemists, geneticists, and virologists who know that, while it might be theoretically possible to target an allele or aspect of biology that is more frequent in one ethnic group than another, unless the difference is huge and the allele actually targetable compared to other alleles of the same gene, the specificity that would be mandatory for such a bioweapon not to boomerang back on its creators, Frankenstein monster-like, is just not there. Moreover, even if there were such an allele that could be so specifically targeted, COVID-19 has taught us the power of evolution. Inevitably, the bioweapon would mutate once released into the wild, and very likely a variant that could target its creators would arise.

Indeed, let me just cite one study that conspiracy theorists are citing:

We identified three novel nonsynonymous variants predicted to alter ACE2 function, and showed that three variants (p.K26R, p. H378R, p. Y515N) alter receptor affinity for the viral Spike (S) protein. Variant p. N720D, more prevalent in the European population (p < 0.001), potentially increases viral entry by affecting the ACE2-TMPRSS2 complex. The spectrum of genetic variants in ACE2 may inform risk stratification of COVID-19 patients and could partially explain the differences in disease susceptibility and severity among different ethnic groups.

The spectrum of genetic variants of ACE-2 could “partially explain the differences in disease susceptibility and severity between different ethnic groups”? This is hardly the sort of observation that would make a SARS-CoV-2 “targeted bioweapon” based on ethnic/racial differences in the distribution of ACE2 alleles possible.

I will borrow a Yiddish term to describe RFK Jr.’s reaction to the controversy that swelled around his conspiracy mongering about COVID-19 possibly being an “ethnically targeted” Jew- and Chinese-sparing “bioweapon”: Chutzpah. Seriously, look at how he just blatantly lies to Congress and denies what he is on video having said:

That study he was quoting did not, as I described above, really say what RFK Jr. claims it said.

That’s not chutzpah enough, though. Get a load of this:

Now that’s some chutzpah!

Seriously, it’s impossible to parody this stuff. At least, it’s beyond even my considerable skills.

Antisemitism: The ur-conspiracy theory into which all conspiracy theories eventually devolve

I like to say that antisemitism is the ur-conspiracy theory of our society, thanks to over a millennium of conspiracy theories like the Blood Libel, which claims that Jews murdered Christian children for their blood, which they were then said to use to bake their matzos for Passover rituals (note the similarity to Qanon conspiracy theories about pedophiles and adenochrome); poisoning the well, a conspiracy theory that rose during the Black Death in which it was claimed that Jews had literally poisoned the wells, resulting in the plague; and the various conspiracy theories in which Jews are powerful malevolent players who own all the banks and control all the finances behind the scenes. It should therefore come as no surprise that nearly all—if not all—conspiracy theories sooner or later ultimately devolve into antisemitism. (Similarly, given the longstanding history of anti-Asian bigotry in this country, it shouldn’t be surprising that a racist anti-Chinese conspiracy theory tags along for the ride with the antisemitism.) Antivaccine conspiracy theories are no differentJust look at a lot of the imagery and language used by antivaxxers to invoke George Soros, characterize big pharma, and to portray the medical profession (which, of course, has large number of Jews in it). Remember the idea of “purebloods” embraced by some antivaxxers, which echoes outright Nazi ideas of “purity.”

Here are a few examples:

Why does it matter that all of these people are Jewish? It doesn’t, except to antisemitic antivaxxers.

And some more:

I could go on and on and on, as I’ve accumulated quite the collection of antisemitic antivax imagery, but I’ll stop here.

Also, don’t get me started on how eagerly antivaxxers coopted a symbol of Jewish “othering” and suffering during the Holocaust, the Yellow Star of David, which the Nazis used forced Jews in Germany and their occupied territories to wear in order to be easily identifiable as Jews. They do it to falsely portray themselves as “oppressed,” and it’s not for nothing that I’ve argued that the misuse of such symbols is a form of Holocaust denial.

It therefore should not be a surprise at all that RFK Jr. has “gone there” and repeated an antisemitic conspiracy theory. Indeed, Yair Rosenberg just published a rather accurate article on The Most Shocking Aspect of RFK Jr.’s Antisemitism: “What’s surprising isn’t that Kennedy voiced an anti-Jewish conspiracy, but that it took this long.”

Rosenberg notes:

Here is just a small sampling of what Kennedy believes: that radiation from wireless internet causes cancer; that chemicals in the water supply are producing gender dysphoria; that the CIA killed both his father and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy; that antidepressants cause today’s mass shootings; that George W. Bush stole the 2004 presidential election; and that your phone’s 5G connection is part of a plot “to harvest our data and control our behavior.”

Seen in the context of Kennedy’s career, what’s surprising is not his foray into anti-Semitism but that it took him this long to arrive here.

Again, as I said above, antisemitism is the ur-conspiracy theory of our civilization, at least in much of what is called “Western Civilization.” Rosenberg notes elsewhere:

Anti-Semitism is arguably the world’s oldest and most durable conspiracy theory. It presents Jews as the string-pulling puppet masters behind the world’s political, economic, and social problems. For those seeking simple solutions to life’s complexities, this outlook offers a ready-made explanation—and enemy. Anyone seeking a single source for society’s travails may start with run-of-the-mill conspiracy theories but will soon end up parroting anti-Jewish ideas.

I’m known for saying on Twitter, scratch an antivaxxer, and quite often you’ll find an antisemite, and Rosenberg explains why this is true:

That Kennedy would ultimately echo the anti-Semitic assumptions of his conspiratorial cohort was inevitable. Indeed, he is far from the first traveler on the well-trodden path from conspiracism to outright anti-Semitism. In recent years, individuals as diverse as Marjorie Taylor GreeneKyrie Irving, and Elon Musk have graduated from garden-variety conspiracy theories to anti-Jewish arguments. Even the content of Kennedy’s COVID-19 conjecture isn’t original: Jews have been blamed for spreading plagues for centuries, most famously during Europe’s Black Death.

Or, as he puts it, RFK Jr.’s “conspiratorial compass ensured that he would eventually arrive at this destination, because it points in only one direction.” Nor is this the first time that RFK Jr. has winked and nodded at antisemites. For example, eight years ago he was cozying up with Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam:

Over the last several years, I’ve described how in 2015 RFK Jr. was seen a number of times at antivax demonstrations and rallies with prominent Nation of Islam figures. At one rally, the Fruit of Islam (the Nation of Islam’s security detail) provided security for him. It gets even weirder. If you’re not up-to-date in your knowledge of the Nation of Islam, you might not be aware that it is now tightly associated with the Church of Scientologyto the point where the two have almost merged. Instrumental to this was Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad, who was also a fixture at all the antivax rallies supported and attended by the Nation of Islam in 2015. Unfortunately, the Nation of Islam is known for its antisemitism. For example, the Minister Farrakhan has called Jews “satanic” and “blood suckers,” engaged in Holocaust denial, and at various has accused them of controlling the economy, basically the usual antisemitic tropes.

I’ve expressed my concern that RFK Jr.’s run for the Presidency is normalizing antivax misinformation and conspiracy theories, to the point that the more “reasonable”-seeming wing of the COVID-19 misinformation machine has been attracted to many of his pre pandemic antivax conspiracy theories because they sound, if not reasonable, at least not totally bonkers if you don’t know the background and how strongly and how many times they’ve been debunked over the years. Personally, I keep hoping that his “Chinese-Jewish bioweapon” conspiracy theory is an inflection point, a point where the political and medical class members who find his defensible concerns about regulatory capture, for example, attractive realize that RFK Jr,. is nothing more than an all-purpose conspiracy theorist, little different from Alex Jones or Mike Adams, except that he’s a Kennedy. On the other hand, if his HIV/AIDS denial didn’t accomplish that, I’m not sure that his semi-plausibly deniable proclamations about COVID-19 being an “ethnically targeted” bioweapon designed to spare Chinese and Ashkenazi Jewish people will chase them away.

And the Overton window for antivax conspiracy theories continues to shift more and more into conspiracy-land.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

83 replies on “COVID-19 as an “ethnically targeted” bioweapon: RFK Jr. embraces antisemitism and racism”

I have no idea how pointing out that a disease has outsized impacts on people depending on their race is ‘racist’, anymore than is recognizing the difference in ability to synthesize vitamin D based on melanin. Seems like it’s just recognizing a fact and not demonstrating hatred towards any particular race. Are you talking about accusations against the Chinese? In that case I’m also not sure that it’s racist but sounds a bit xenophobic.

Xenophobia against a country that is made up of a different race is racist.🤦🏻‍♂️

As is “just asking questions” about COVID-19 being an “ethnically targeted bioweapon.”

It is, of course, unsurprising that our resident antivax trolls would jump all over defending RFK Jr.

How is just asking questions about it being a targeted bioweapon racist? If we just asked questions about the horror of the holocaust; like for instance how did they determine people were jewish? Or what motivated the hatred? Asking those questions by itself is racist? I mean how does anyone discover racial atrocities if they can’t ask whether and how they happened?

Re Xenophobia – it may or may not be racist. Racism is hatred because of a race not a nationality. By contrast many view China as a significant adversary which could be a source of xenophobia, but not racism by itself without more proof.

And again based on a working assumption that the virus was developed in the lab and has disparate effects on race, how is it racism to ask whether the developers of the virus (again assuming it was developed in the lab for the sake of argument) were targeting certain races? I don’t understand how asking whether someone else was targeting folks based on race makes the questioner a racist. How specifically does that work?

He spoke about a bioweapon targeted to exclude Ashkenazi Jews. Who would create such a weapon (and plot with Chinese)?

“Xenophobia against a country that is made up of a different race is racist”

That is ridiculous. Are you saying that criticizing anything about the Chinese government would be racist?

Blaming your target for diseases has a long history in racist imagery and myths.

It’s been used to justify racism again and again.

and I suspect our anti-vaccine commenters know it well, and are not defending it innocently.

Blaming your target for diseases has a long history in racist imagery and myths.

As does failing to see why XYZ is racist. If I had a dime for the times when someone asked when one or the other or both of our sons, adopted from Korea, was really from after asking once and being told Portage, Michigan, I could afford a new camera.

Calling everyone yo disagree with a ‘racist’ or other derogatory term is cheap and has a reasonable stretch among leftists. It’s also reasonably ignored. Bring your best evidence that the guy hates a race of people or stop slinging the term. Questioning whether a ‘likely’ man made virus shows that a race can be targeted with a bio weapon isn’t great evidence. That’s the problem.

Being a fan of capitalism isn’t racist, thinking public health got over their skis during Covid isn’t racist, skepticism of Big Pharma and/ or government isn’t racist.

Racism has a specific definition and leftists don’t get to change it to be a euphemism or dog whistle to throw mud at anyone that dislikes their misguided ideas.

Calling people making racist comments racists is justified.

Trying to defend the racist comments isn’t helping you.

You could, by the way, support your anti-vaccine beliefs without accepting racist comments. It’s okay to disagree with your leaders sometimes. Not doing that is… telling.

It’s been used to justify racism again and again.

and I suspect our anti-vaccine commenters know it well, and are not defending it innocently.

Nor, quite frankly, are they defending it anywhere near well.

“they’re not defending it well”

THEY DON’T NEED TO. sweet jesus, when will you guys get it through your thick skulls? it is signal boosting, nothing more, and you are falling for it, and have been, hook, line, and sinker.

F@#k me, those are some serious Joo Janta 200s you’re wearing there John.

“how pointing out that a disease has outsized impacts on people depending on their race is ‘racist’”

For a start, by getting it in reverse. That shows prejudices, which, precisely, are not anchored in reality.
As pointed in a graph in the article, in New York at least, the most impacted were Jews and Asians communities. Quite the opposite of what was said by the people RFKjr was parroting.
But keep digging that hole.

What prejudices? About the people being targeted or not being targeted? If he has colorable science to support it I still don’t see how it’s racist.

That someone is wrong on science doesn’t automatically make them racist though. Surely you’re not asserting such.

I was merely commenting on the level of scientific understanding that he repeatedly shows in his statements. From my point of view that is independent of whether he is racist. His statements in that regard speak for themselves.

But I doubt the scientific understanding of anyone who asserts that elemental mercury, methyl mercury and ethyl mercury are the same with the same effects on the body. Especially if he claims that anyone trying to explain the difference is denying the validity of the periodic table.

And I strongly doubt the intellectual integrity of someone who refuses to acknowledge 18 years after the fact that thimerosol does not cause autism.

I’ve learned a HUGE amount in the last 18 years about autism and vaccines and a lot of other medical matters. Kennedy shows no signs of having learned anything.

And that is willful ignorance, which is inexcusable in someone wanting to be considered to lead this country.


If he has colorable science to support it…

He hasn’t. In fact, as was pointed out above, the opposite is true. The ethnic groups that COVID was supposedly designed not to target were the worst hit. If COVID was bioengineered not to target those of Jewish and Asian ethnicity, it failed dismally.

That’s a refutation of his argument, which is fine, but not a demonstration that his argument is frivolous. Non-frivolous arguments can be wrong.

No. I think at best it’s a shaky hypothesis. But I don’t think it makes him racist.

I’ll admit my ignorance: does colorable science mean something?

Well, I am still a practising scientist after nearly 40 years and 200 peer-reviewed papers and I have never heard of the term.

Google is with me on this.

Wow John…how does one say they are racist without saying they are racist? Your comment is incredibly offensive.

Race is not genetic. Consider this. If race were genes, or a combination of genes, a mixed race couple could have black, white, and mixed children. It gets even more ridiculous if you bring in grandchildren with the “white” child marrying a black person and such.

Race is a complicated combination of family history and social factors.

A mixed race couple can, in fact, have children who appear white, black, and mixed race. Even a “black” couple can have a child who appears white – skin color is really impossible to fully predict just based on how the parents look. It is related to the genetic makeup, but so many genes that are already in so many mixed up combinations in the population, that you just never know what you will get!

Indeed a layman may argue that mixed race children are superior genetically. At least some may say that mixed race people often tend to be more attractive. But none of this stands for the proposition that if you have a good faith belief that 1) a virus was created/modified in a lab and 2) it affects some races definitively, that you’re racist for bringing up the potential that it targeted those races. A half baked allegation? Sure. But nothing so far indicates that the person so pointing out is racist.

This may be a reasonable attack on his argument, but it doesn’t demonstrate his hatred for any race.

“What prejudices?”

Obviously, that [non-targeted groups] are lead by evil people bend into genocidal plots.
RFKjr said no other thing. “A virus designed to spare some races”.

“About the people being targeted or not being targeted?”

Obviously, the group supposedly benefiting form a designed virus.
Try to keep up.

“If he has colorable science to support it”

Then you will have no trouble providing that “colorable science”.
No, I don’t mean the part where a group can in theory be targeted.

I mean the part where the Jews are on it.
The Chinese, I can see the connection. Virus came from China. That doesn’t make such assertion of a designed virus non-racist (OK, non-xenophobic – keep digging that hole, dude, it’s fun to watch), but at least I see the “logic”.
Now, tell me about the Jews. Why does RFKjr think they are into this designed bioweapon project?
It’s coming from nowhere. Or rather, it’s coming from all-too-well-known somewhere.

“how pointing out that a disease has outsized impacts on people depending on their race is ‘racist’”

For a start, by getting it in reverse. That shows prejudices, which, precisely, are not anchored in reality.

True, but also remember that the “doesn’t target Asian” part of it has roots in the conspiratorial notion that covid was developed in a lab in China.

This latest ad hominem-laced opinion piece serves to support the hypothesis that it is impossible to have a rational conversation with people whose knee-jerk reaction to anything they don’t like—independently of truth value—is to employ slurs like “antivax” and “antisemite”. If the virus was engineered in a lab, who is to say what the goals were? The truth is, we do not know. It is certainly at least possible by definition to target any genetic feature with a genetically engineered product. It is also possible, if not highly probable, for a synthetic genetically engineered product to have unintended consequences, which is of course the main point your so-called “antivax” adversaries are trying to make.

Orac, the surest way to bring the racists and bigots [and habitually uninformed] out of the woodwork is to correctly note that something they believe to be true is racist and bigoted.

Two perfectly good examples above.

I shouldn’t be surprised that people like JR deny they said something they clearly did say on video: it’s a common trait of people who say things like that. I just don’t understand who they think will believe their denials.

Were I to undertake making a targeted bioweapon, I think the last thing I’d work on would be an RNA virus. The mutation rate of even the “best” RNA viruses is far, far higher than that of DNA viruses. RNA-dependent RNA polymerases make lots of mistakes. Some RNA viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, code a proofreading mechanism that can fix some errors make by the polymerase, but the performance isn’t great. DNA replication is very much less error prone.
Virologists literally (that’s literally literally, not figurative literally) laugh at the notion that virology knows enough to predict what an engineered virus would do, even in a relativly short time frame, once released into a susceptible population wherein it can replicate. No doubt at least two or three of the usual suspects, profoundly ignorant of basic biology much less basic virology, will appear hearabouts to put forward their addled beliefs.

I’d agree that even if (probable in my estimation) the virus leaked from the lab, that it’s a stretch to say that it targeted specific races. To me, that it has a differing effects on a racially/genetically diverse population is insufficient to claim that it was designed to target specific races. But asking about it, or pointing out its differing effects – I don’t follow how that is racist. Presumably the questioner had nothing to do with the development or (alleged) targeting of the virus. So I’m not sure how we claim pointing out the disparate effects and asking about them is by itself racist.

You forget it was supposed to be a bioweapon that excudes Ashkenazi Jews.

To add to that best protection against a bioweapon woul be a vaccine. Just vaccinate your troops (as in he case of anthrax). This excludes RNA viruses

Like that’s your opinion man, and anyway I’m enjoying my lack of myocarditis combined with superior immunity.

It was about targeting, did you notice ? Do not design a virus that target enemy, vaccinate instead.
I do not have myocarditis either. I have read a paper about that “superior mmunity”. A nice statistical trick. Cite the paper, and we can argue

” I’m enjoying my lack of myocarditis combined with superior immunity.”

what you’re really doing is enjoying signal boosting insanity.

and it shocks me, still, that after 40 years of this shit, there are still people dumb enough to let it continue.

I’ve got news for you-you probably had mild myocarditis when you had the virus. Like we all did.

But you see, it was never recorded, so therefore it didn’t happen.

Like a child hiding their eyes, confident in the logic that if they cannot see you then you cannot see them.

It’s not even some of his “best friends”–he wants us to be impressed about a claim about his deceased father friends, more than half a century ago.

Some of the media coverage of this “meshugaas” has pointed out that the death toll in China from Covid is probably well over a million people. We’ll probably never know the correct figure (just like the Bhopal and Chernobyl disasters were undercounted due to political embarrassment). The Economist’s survey of excess deaths suggests half a million to almost four million might be a correct count for China.

I also remember the Project for a New Century report “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” from September 2000, signed by Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and some of their allies.

“… advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”

Perhaps just Doctor Strangelove type fantasy, but they did say this. Their report got more attention for suggesting “a new Pearl Harbor” might be a “catastrophic and catalyzing event” that would bring about the desired military transformation, including a “substantial American force presence in the Gulf.”

I hope Junior is able to get some psychotherapy after his Presidential campaign fizzles.

“I also remember the Project for a New Century report “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” from September 2000, signed by Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and some of their allies.”

finally. somebody remembers. That was the last real thing anybody can recall in this century, apparently.

Rabbi Shmuley as the ” go to rabbi”!

Hilariously, he served as the republican congressional candidate/ sacrifice when two famously liberal districts with very popular representatives merged in 2012: the eastern part of the new district has Dr Oz as a constituent and the western portion’s homeboys include Prof Racaniello. The latter’s guy won both the Democratic primary and November elections: the rabbi got 25% of the vote. I have a feeling that anti-semitism had nothing to do with his loss- the original eastern rep was Jewish. I’ve heard the rabbi on alt med broadcasts discussing vaccines. Enough said.

There was a news story yesterday where the Rabbi said he’s had four Covid vaccines but was otherwise defending Junior. Still meshuga, but maybe not 100%.

A small piece of good news about Junior’s campaign. He had some sort of national zoom event this afternoon and the local anti-vaxxers had an event at a local restaurant to watch it together. Maybe 15 people showed up (in a hall that can hold maybe 150?) including the organizers. Didn’t go in, just leafletted people as they entered, along with a small sign calling attention to Junior’s HIV AIDS denial and that he is in cahoots with January 6 organizers (Stone, Flynn, Bannon). This is in a community that is politically liberal, mostly, but has a lot of new age virus deniers (the left side of the horseshoe). I was expecting a lot more attendees and relieved that very few showed up. The attendee I know the best is vaccinated and has told me about anti-vaxxers we know who ended up in the hospital, but is very against Biden (and also very against Trump / Republicans). I’m no fan of Biden, Trump, etc. but it’s a crappy non-choice and at least Biden’s team did a decent job getting everyone vaccinated who wanted to be. Maybe not perfectly but better than the other team. Another person (who said she’s unsure if viruses really cause diseases!) did admit that if Junior is working with January 6 conspirators that would be bad.

Bottom line: a community with a lot of new agers had minimal turnout for a Junior campaign event.

Don’t forget, today is MAGA Jr.’s “I Love Jews” event in New York. Possibly to include hugging of random embarrassed strangers on the street and a big donation to Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Against Vaccination.

He was named ” Anti-semite of the Week” by the Jewish Watchdog.
The Ethical Culture Society cancelled his event at their venue so he’s looking for another space.
Good luck with that in NYC!
Larry David regrets introducing him to Cheryl Hines.

I’m sure that ‘Watchdog’ has nothing to do with the Democrat (are we still calling them that?) establishment.

Interesting article. I will note that the site seems to lead toward the “anyone not 100% Pro Israel is an Anti-Semite.
I want peace in the Middle East and that requires a solution that works for both the Jews and the Palestinians.

But neither Junior nor Farrakhan nor Kushner are helping with that.

The WTF of Jr’s schtick goes way beyond just claiming he’s not antivax. His appearance before the Weaponization committee was ostensibly about censorship. So how did Jr. say he’s been “censored”? By a scurrilous propaganda campaign falsely portraying him as an antivaxer!

Since Leo Rosten cites Groucho Marx as a paradigm of chutzpa, I’m going to go with meshuga, unless we can come up with a Yiddish portmanteau of the two: “meshutzpa”???

BTW: The interwebs says Xavier Beccera is Catholic.

So how did Jr. say he’s been “censored”? By a scurrilous propaganda campaign falsely portraying him as an antivaxer!

He’s also so “silenced” that he got to testify in front of Congress and has a voice on every major conservative media outlet, as well as Joe Rogan’s podcast and any number of other podcast with large followings.😂

@ John La Barge

First, there is NO such thing as race. It would take too long to explain; but here are two excellent books that I know you won’t read:

William H Tucker. The Science and Politics of Racial Research.

Stephen Jay Gould. The Mismeasure of Man

Melanin does NOT define race. If you removed the skin, underneath you would not be able to distinguish. I lived in Sweden for almost 10 years, some Swedes were blond, blue-eyed, others brown hair, brown eyed, so what? As a poor analogy, back in late 1940s my grandparents and parents both owned same model Buick, one black, one blue, but same car.

And please explain why South Koreans and Japanese had absolute lowest COVID deaths per capita? Aren’t they Asians?

As for the Holocaust, the Nazi definition of Jewish race was based on external physical traits not anything internal and, for the most part was quite easy as those in Eastern Europe lived in villages, ghettos, etc. because they practiced same religion. And it was actually discovered that a couple of German battalions were composed of Jews who were lighter skinned. I’m Jewish; but when teenager had Greek friends, hung out with them and people thought I was Greek.

As for targeting a virus against a race, since no such thing as race exists, not possible; but could a virus be targeted against something else? Not likely. Look at COVID deaths in US. Florida among highest, both whites and blacks, California among lowest, both whites and blacks. Why, even before vaccine? Because Florida didn’t mandate mitigation measures such as masks, etc. and California did. And, yep, extremely high among New Yorkers, etc. because hit first at beginning of pandemic and, of course, poorer areas hit hardest.

And you continue to ignore the overwhelming data that the virus came from nature where 10s of thousands of variants of the Corona virus exist, some with only a few nucleotides different from current COVID. As opposed to you, as I wrote earlier, I don’t completely rule out leak from lab; but highly unlikely, where you, based on your ignorance of science, etc. believe most likely.

So, I repeat, NOPE, no indication designed to attack any specific group and world-wide statistics back that. Don’t you think, given every nation has its health authority, medical schools, public health departments, that they would notice???


And given your comments have been torn to shreds over and over, only two possibilities: One that you are too stupid to even realize how stupid your are, Dunning-Kruger Effect and/or two that you post just to provoke/irritate people; but given this website is meant to promote science to the benefit of people, why would you do this, except that you are an ASSHOLE.

To be clear I’m not agreeing that there is any targeting by the virus, racially, genetically or otherwise. But if someone has a good faith belief that there is and asks questions about that I do not believe the mere fact of asking questions (without more) stands for the proposition that the questioner is racist.

@ johnlabarge

I suggest you read Orac’s articles carefully and also go to Robert F Kennedy Jrs website and read several of his articles carefully and listen to his presentations at conferences. If you even remotely have an open mind you will have to agree that what Kennedy wrote and said at conferences clearly indicates racism and anti-semitism. However, you have NEVER indicated you have an open mind.

How do you determine that someone’s beliefs are ‘good faith’? And why should that matter?

As for asking questions, that can be understandable – ignoring answers is unacceptable.

Technically the question involves excluding certain groups from the virus’ strike zone. Seems much more difficult, to me, to specify ‘ignore this and this’ as opposed to ‘target this ‘. Maybe someone with familiarity in the field can answer this?

Given that Ashkenazi are Jews who settled in Germany and France in the middle ages (according to Wikipedia), it also strikes me that they are likely much closer, genetically, to your average European than Jewish people who stayed in the Middle East. Therefore, far harder to exclude from any viral targeting. I’d be wondering why ‘Ashkenazi’ was specified. Is RFK channelling some bigotry aimed at Jews living outside of Israel?

@ Chaos Infusion

You write: “It is certainly at least possible by definition to target any genetic feature with a genetically engineered product”

“By definition”????? Give some references to this????

“By definition”????? Give some references to this????

Chaos can define anything desired. Ask for evidence that there is technology that provides results meeting that definition: that’s the real hurdle, especially since the set of technologies that would do it is empty.

MAGA Jr. has announced that after today’s scheduled Friend of Jews event in NYC was canceled by the Ethical Culture Society (in an effort to “censor and silence” him), he found a new location. He’s scheduled to appear at the Glasshouse on 12th Avenue at 8 pm. They do weddings, birthdays, corporate events and bar mitzvahs. It sounds like his best bud Rabbi Schmuley will be there to provide cover. Unknown if he lined up any other stooges, but this guy would be a natural.

Haven’t seen much in the news about RFK Jr.’s attempt in N.Y. yesterday at rehabilitating himself among Jews.* On Twitter, he boasted of visiting the grave of a prominent orthodox figure, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

What he didn’t mention was that Schneerson frequently spoke out in favor of vaccination.

*at this point, MAGA Jr. could bathe in a tub of gefilte fish at the Wailing Wall, and few would be fooled.

The Guardian Ed Pilkington:
RFKjr told the audience he should have spoken more carefully. You think!
He voiced his great support for Israel and Jewish people in general.
The rabbi claimed he isn’t anti-vaccine because he had got 4 Covid vaccines himself. -btw- He lives in Englewood which was part of the pandemic’s early hot spot in 2020.
Good photo shows ( possible) face palm by an audience member.

Notwithstanding that what really matters is what you say, in terms of what’s in his heart or what’s left of his mind, I don’t think Jr.’s an antisemite, or a fascist, or white supremecist, yadda yadda yadda any more than I think he’s a radical Zionist for hanging with Ultra-Orthodox rabbis. To evoke The Big Lebowski, say what you will about those things, but at least they have an ethos. By which (natch) I mean Jr. narcissistic campaign for “vaccine safety” is so all-consuming a monomania that it’s functionally a form of nihilism. In a way, that’s more frightening than those other familiar evils.

He may not have personal animosity against Jews or others, but he is clearly willing to amplify racist conspiracy theories, including anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

That puts him in the racist camp, and his own feelings don’t really matter. Being willing to advance a racist agenda is enough.

Exactly. Say racist things and engaging in racist JAQing off about an “ethnically targeted bioweapon,” and you’re a racist. You might not be a white sheet wearing, Swastika sporting, cross burning racist, but you’re still a racist, just a more genteel racist.

but he is clearly willing to amplify racist conspiracy theories, including anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

If there are four racists sitting at a table and another person sits down to have a friendly chat with them there are five racists at the table.

Oh, I don’t know. I think RFK Jr.’s resurrection of the ethnobomb conspiracy theory repurposed for COVID-19 is simply one more indication of how all conspiracy theories eventually lead back to antisemitism, the ur-conspiracy theory of our society. The best that can be said about him is that, regardless of whether he consciously dislikes Jews and Chinese, he’s more than happy to amplify a conspiracy theory that insinuates horrible things about them. To me that alone is enough to indicate that, deep down, yes, he harbors at least some racism and antisemitism, at least enough that he didn’t reject the conspiracy theory out of hand as racist and antisemitic.

Sure, consciously he thinks of himself as not racist or antisemitic, which is why he has to deny so vociferously that his utterances were racist and antisemitic, just as he things of himself as “not antivax” while saying recently that there are no vaccines that are safe and effective.

Thinking about “..all conspiracy theories eventually lead back to antisemitism..”
leads me to re-evaluate how I comprehend common themes expounded by alties regularly:

they long for a simpler society, as in the 1950s-60s when traditional family values/ roles prevailed; people lived in the countryside/ small towns, worked on farms or at crafts and trades, they didn’t go to university or live in cities; mothers stayed at home, kids were taught character, morals, ethics and were guided by elders; they were hard working and religious- you saw everyone at church, even the town’s leaders; your boss didn’t run a giant corporation but lived down the street; schools didn’t teach wokeness or gender only the basics; they ate home cooked meals together at a set time. Kids were athletic and not ruled by devices/ social media/ pop culture. You knew local families going back generations; grandparents/ parents/ kids had the same teachers. There were no major crimes, debt, addiction, mental illness or autism.

Perhaps the resounding anti-city/ anti-university themes they promote carefully hints at antisemitism. Lily white, conservative rural / small towns where everyone is one big happy family. Of course, I hear racist/ anti-immigrant hatred as well. And misogyny. And anti-queer hate.

One of my unit clerks was an Ashkenazi Jew and refugee from the USSR. He died at a tertiary center after we had him on a vent at one of our facilities for weeks. Guess that weapon wasn’t very well designed…

I suspect some of the RI regulars will recognize the nazi dogwhistles in RFK Jr’s recent misleading tweet about secret service protection.

Since the assassination of my father in 1968, candidates for president are provided Secret Service protection. But not me.

Typical turnaround time for pro forma protection requests from presidential candidates is 14-days. After 88-days of no response and after several follow-ups by our campaign, the Biden Administration just denied our request. Secretary Mayorkas: “I have determined that Secret Service protection for Robert F Kennedy Jr is not warranted at this time.”
Our campaign’s request included a 67-page report from the world’s leading protection firm, detailing unique and well established security and safety risks aside from commonplace death threats.

which, well. that’s a very specific pair of numbers of days…

It’s also a lie in several ways.

“Protection under these guidelines should only be granted within one year prior to the general election. Protection more than one year prior to the general election should only be granted in extraordinary, case by case circumstances in consultation with the committee, based on threat assessment and other factors.”

CNN did a fact check.

In case anyone’s wondering why the low blog output over the last couple of weeks, let’s just say that real life got in the way, specifically a grant deadline. Such is life. Things should pick up again in a couple days or by next week. Unfortunately, my real life job takes precedence over the blog.

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