By Joseph Lord
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. responded to attacks from Democrats during a July 20 hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
The hearing on federal government censorship of certain stories and viewpoints featured Mr. Kennedy—an advocate for enhanced vaccine safety screening and research into the effects of pharmaceutical drugs—as the star witness. Democrats sought to deplatform Mr. Kennedy both before and during the hearing.
It comes after some groups called on the majority to cancel the hearing due to remarks Mr. Kennedy made claiming that the COVID-19 virus disproportionately affected Caucasian and black people, while doing less harm to Ashkenazi Jews and the Chinese. The comments were called “antisemitic” and “anti-Asian” by critics, and prompted several Democrats to call on Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a letter to disinvite Mr. Kennedy (pdf).
These calls were rejected both by Mr. Jordan and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who said, “The hearing that we have this week is about censorship. I don’t think censoring somebody is actually the answer here.”
Still, Democrats on the panel continued their attacks on the witness from the start of the hearing, attempting several procedural motions to limit his time to speak or end the hearing altogether.
Setting the tone for the hearing, Ranking Member Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) opened her remarks with attacks on Mr. Kennedy, accusing him of “hateful, evidence-free rhetoric.”
Ms. Plaskett accused the Republican majority of giving a platform to conspiracy theories, and said that free speech “is not an absolute.”
She said that the hearing diverted attention from economic issues that matter, like inflation.
As Mr. Kennedy went to begin his opening remarks, Ms. Plaskett made a point of order in an effort to limit Mr. Kennedy’s time from 10 minutes to 5 minutes. After a heated exchange between Ms. Plaskett and Mr. Jordan, Mr. Kennedy’s time was reduced to the standard five minutes.
“If you want to cut him off and censor him some more, you’re welcome to do it,” Mr. Jordan said, yielding to standard procedure.
In his opening remarks following the exchange, Mr. Kennedy agreed with Ms. Plaskett that it was an “important point” to mention that “this body ought to be concerning itself with issues that impact directly the American people: the rising price of groceries, … the war in Ukraine, inflation issues, border issues, many, many other issues that affect us as a nation.
However, he said, “We can’t do that without the First Amendment, without debate.”
To illustrate the point, he cited his removal from YouTube after his speech announcing his run for president, where he discussed all those issues, and was “deplatformed” five minutes into the speech.
“I didn’t talk about vaccines in that speech, I didn’t talk about anything that was a verboten subject,” he said, but emphasized that he was removed nonetheless.
“Debate—congenial, respectful debate—is the fertilizer, it’s the water, it’s the sunlight for our democracy,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Kennedy then referenced a copy of the letter signed by fellow Democrats calling for his appearance before Congress to be canceled.
“This itself is evidence of the problem this hearing was meant to address,” Mr. Kennedy said. “This is an attempt to censor a censorship hearing.”
Mr. Kennedy also referenced his father, the late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, saying that censorship was likewise “appalling to my father,” as well as to his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and other prominent Democrats like Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
“We need to be able to talk, and the First Amendment was not written for easy speech,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It was written for the speech that nobody likes you for.”
‘Malinformation,’ ‘Targeted Propaganda’
Mr. Kennedy decried the proliferation of a relatively new term, “malinformation,” which he said was “invented to censor people like me.”
Malinformation, according to a definition from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, “is based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.”
Mr. Kennedy gave an alternative rendering of the term as “information that is true but is inconvenient to the government.”
Since announcing his campaign, Mr. Kennedy said, he has been the subject of a new kind of censorship, which he described as “targeted propaganda,” the selective use of pejorative terms like “anti-vax,” “anti-Semitism,” and “racism” to discredit him.
These “appalling, disgusting pejoratives,” Mr. Kennedy said, “are applied to me to silence me because people don’t want me to have that conversation about the war, about inflation, about groceries.”
Finally, Mr. Kennedy addressed charges of racism and anti-Semitism.
“In my entire life, I have never uttered a phrase that was racist or anti-Semitic,” Mr. Kennedy said, citing his strong record of support for Israel.
“I have fought more ferociously for Israel than anybody, but I am being censored here through this target, through smears, through misinterpretations of what I’ve said, through lies, through association, which is a tactic that we thought had all been dispensed with since … the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s,” he said.
He added that he doubts that any Democrat who signed the letter calling for his disinvitation genuinely believes he’s anti-Semitic.
Later in the hearing, he decried the “defamations and malignancy used to censor me.”
Following his opening remarks, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) put forward a motion to end the hearing and move to executive session, citing Mr. Kennedy’s remarks about COVID-19.
The motion was rejected in a party-line vote.
In voting against the rejection, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) suggested that allowing Mr. Kennedy to speak was reminiscent of the Soviet Union Politburo. Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.) voted no on the basis of not giving a platform to “hate.”