Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Targets a Generation of Politically Disaffected, Extremely Online Men

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Targets a Generation of Politically Disaffected, Extremely Online Men

In his continued quest to become either the president of the United States or else a very interesting footnote to someone else’s reelection, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has enlisted a number of celebrities and influencers. On Tuesday, he expanded those ranks, confirming to The New York Times that he is “considering” NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura for his vice presidential pick; Politico reported that he’ has also “approached” Senator Rand Paul, former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

But it was Rodgers and Ventura who drew the most attention from the press, and it’s their roles in the information ecosystem who most signal what Kennedy is doing. Outside of their careers in the NFL and WWE, Rodgers and Ventura are known for, respectively, promoting anti-vaccine views in conversations with sports podcasters and Joe Rogan, and promoting politically contrarian, occasionally conspiratorial views on cable TV and Substack. By publicizing his interest in them, Kennedy is making overtures to a very specific potential voter: the highly online and politically disaffected young man.

Kennedy, an environmental activist turned anti-vaccine superstar, is already running an extremely online campaign; as WIRED noted recently, the candidate is omnipresent on Instagram, podcasts, and Substack and has used influencers as proxies who will deliver his message to his niche bases. Over the past few months, Kennedy has been seen hanging out with snowboarder Travis Rice, naming a young and persistently bleached-blonde TikToker and aspiring musician named Link Lauren as a “senior adviser” on his campaign, and appearing at a Bitcoin conference.

Online is a comfortable environment for Kennedy, a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist who has promoted anti-vaccine views since 2005. Beyond his many and virulent anti-vaccine campaigns, he’s been especially willing to engage in conspiracy theories that are likely to go viral, most notably suggesting that the CIA may have assassinated his uncle, John F. Kennedy, and promoted long-debunked and extremely dangerous junk science about AIDS not being caused by HIV. He has also tried awkwardly to engage with the conspiracy theories about dead pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein, on whose private plane he rode at least twice. In December he said that Epstein’s flight logs should be released, and tweeted, “I’m not hiding anything, but they are!”

His efforts to appeal to both a conspiratorial base and a more mainstream voting bloc have been occasionally clumsy, but persistent—and by shoring up his base among young men, who will be increasingly important this election year, he appears to be figuring out how to bridge that gap. One enormous help was, of course, his own appearance on Rogan’s podcast, where the two engaged in three hours of long-winded conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G technology, and ivermectin, among Kennedy’s other greatest-hits talking points.

Kennedy’s interest in speaking to very online, purportedly “anti-establishment” spaces also means, necessarily, that the people he’s speaking to have a demonstrable overlap with the so-called manosphere, the broad group of bloggers, podcasters, influencers, and grievance-peddlers speaking to young men. Choosing to align himself with figures like Aaron Rodgers—a mainstream football star who has promoted increasingly fringe beliefs, and declared himself to be very brave for doing so—is an excellent way to appeal to the Venn diagram of young men and the conspiracy-curious, says Derek Beres. “It completely makes sense for what he’s doing.”


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