The Corner

Robert F. Kennedy, Junior: Greenshirt, ‘Denier.’

Here’s Greenshirt Bobby Kennedy Jr., writing in EcoWatch:

Hysterics at the right wing think tanks and their acolytes at The Washington Times, talk radio and the blogosphere, are foaming in apoplexy because I supposedly suggested that “all climate deniers should be jailed.” Last week, that canard leapt from the wingnut echo chamber into New York magazine, which reported, under Jonathan Chait’s by-line, that “Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. shares the opinion that climate denial should be criminalized.” Chait was quoting the National Review’s Kevin Williamson who made that outlandish claim at one of Heritage Foundation’s annual “Conference for Kooks.” Of course I never said that. I support the First Amendment which makes room for any citizen to, even knowingly, spew far more vile lies without legal consequence.

Over at Powerline, Steven Hayward goes to the tape. Listen to it carefully and you will hear Kennedy clearly express the wish that at least some of politicians who disagree with him on climate change should be jailed. He goes on to concede that would not be possible under the current law. Nevertheless, it is clear that in his brave new world Kennedy would like to see some of those who speak out against him in prison. The First Amendment stops that here for now, but that really doesn’t make those remarks much less sinister.

And there are ways around that pesky First Amendment. Kennedy would like to use “reckless endangerment” as a device to prosecute the Kochs for promoting their inconvenient opinions.

Wait, there’s more.

 Kennedy also argues that “corporations which deliberately, purposefully, maliciously and systematically sponsor climate lies should be given the death penalty. This can be accomplished through an existing legal proceeding known as “charter revocation.” State Attorneys General can invoke this remedy whenever corporations put their profit-making before the “public welfare.”

As a precedent, Kennedy cites this:

In 1998, New York State’s Republican Attorney General, Dennis Vacco successfully invoked the “corporate death penalty” to revoke the charters of two non-profit tax-exempt tobacco industry front groups, The Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR)… Attorney General Vacco seized their assets and distributed them to public institutions.

Hmmm, whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of that particular decision, it’s worth noting that it was directed against groups with charitable status, a status that rests on a presumption of some sort of public good. What Kennedy is contemplating is action against ‘regular’ corporations (such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries) that support a political and scientific agenda with which he disagrees, corporations that, incidentally, he believes to be “enemies of mankind”. That hysterical and demagogic description tells you everything that you need to know. Kennedy’s is the language of a tyrant-in-the-making, prowling around America’s constitutional protections and looking for a way in.  

We should, I suppose, thank Kennedy for highlighting the fact that State attorneys-general have this power, and we should take steps to ensure—by law—that it cannot be abused by those who cannot stomach the awkwardness of free speech.

And there’s something else. As Laura Helmuth noted in Slate back in July, Kennedy can become very agitated when it comes to the use of thimoserol in vaccines, something he believes can cause autism in children:

It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country has evaluated the evidence and concluded that the preservative thimerosal is safe. The question is settled scientifically. Thimerosal, out of an abundance of caution, was removed from childhood vaccines 13 years ago, although it is used in some flu vaccines. And yet Kennedy, perhaps more than any other anti-vaccine zealot, has confused parents into worrying that vaccines, which have saved more lives than almost any other public health practice in history, could harm their children….

She then quotes this from a Washington Post profile of Kennedy:

The more Kennedy talked on the subject, the more his rhetoric became hyperbolic. During one 2011 segment on his Air America radio show, he accused government scientists of being “involved in a massive fraud.” He said they skewed studies to demonstrate the safety of thimerosal. “I can see that this fraud is doing extraordinary damage to the brains of American children,” he said.

Last year, he gave the keynote speech at an anti-vaccine gathering in Chicago. There, he said of a scientist who is a vocal proponent of vaccines and already the object of much hate mail from anti-vaccine activists that this scientist and others like him, “should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”

“Should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”

There’s a pattern here. 

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