Why is RFK Jr. gaining popularity? Everyone is afraid, and everyone is traumatized.

It was a bit of a shambles inside the dim, noisy pavilion. I was at the annual Free State Project-sponsored camping festival, PorcFest, to see presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and had snagged a seat, but it was a close call. The steamy, garage-like structure was filling up, and the line to get in still snaked through the campgrounds in the foothills of the White Mountains. (The speech was in late June, before the latest accusations that Mr. Kennedy shared racist and antisemitic claims about Covid-19.) 

I have a peculiar relationship with libertarians and, in particular, with Free Staters, a loose affiliation of libertarians who have moved to New Hampshire to establish a stronghold for their ideology. I strongly share some of their values: their emphasis on liberty, civil rights, small government and the freedom to teach one’s own children and to worship without restriction. But I loathe others: bodily autonomy and self-reliance that extends to the point of callous disregard for the poor, the unborn, the disabled and the underage—and their obsession with guns, guns and more guns.

Still, there is a tiny part of me that understands libertarians and sympathizes with their cause. Who isn’t sick to death of the government? I think it was P. J. O’Rourke who once said that, when you’re poor, the government seems to simultaneously control every aspect of your life and care nothing for you at all. You could apply that idea to most citizens today and get a pretty good picture of the lumbering, blindly malicious, wasteful yet horribly necessary behemoth we are all languishing under. No wonder libertarians look at our country, look at the solutions both Democrats and Republicans offer, and say, “No thanks.”

Libertarians are usually right about what is not working. The trouble is, they generally think the answer is to hunker down in whatever self-made kingdom you can cobble together, and to hell with everyone else. This attitude alone makes libertarianism incompatible with Catholicism, because we are obligated to care for one another. That’s where I land.

But these are strange times. Every election in recent memory has been difficult for me as a Catholic. I cannot remember the last time I voted for someone. It has simply been a matter of voting to do the least damage, or to stop someone else from doing more damage.

So there I was, waiting to hear what R.F.K., a Democrat, had to say to a crowd of Free Staters, many of whom are so extreme that even the Libertarian Party disowned them. I was ready to hear anything and curious about his appeal. A Newsweek poll showed that 31 percent of those who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 support Mr. Kennedy’s presidential bid. That is extraordinary, considering how thoroughly Mr. Kennedy has earned his reputation as a conspiracy theorist.

I wanted to know what my fellow Catholics, in particular, thought about R.F.K. Jr., and I had spotted a few by the miraculous medals around their necks. We made plans to meet up after the speech.

We waited. Half an hour later, an organizer stood up and began to shout, “Some of you don’t belong in here!” I froze, thinking she was on to me. I had voted for President Biden (albeit gloomily), and I think the Second Amendment is O.K. (at best). But it turns out 20 to 30 people had mistakenly jumped the line and were sitting in a section that rightly belonged to the folks who had been waiting in the hot sun for hours. She acknowledged that it is a “voluntary society” and no one can force them, but she hotly pleaded with the line-cutters to do the honest thing and leave.

Two people left.

Maybe half an hour later, the last seat was filled and the speech began….Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine. 

Below: Some more photos from PorcFest XX

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6 thoughts on “Why is RFK Jr. gaining popularity? Everyone is afraid, and everyone is traumatized.”

  1. This is spot on. I feel traumatized by pretty much every presidential nominee for the past 15 years, and obviously the upcoming election will be no better. RFK fits right in with Biden and Trump (meaning that I will have to hold my nose when I vote next year, the way I did in 2020). I wish Pence had a shot at the Republican nomination, but that’s not looking very likely.

  2. Before anyone takes anyone else’s opinion I always hope they go directly to the source for themselves, and listen to the whole context of what is being said not just the headlines. The Joe Rogan podcast w RFK jr was great, as was the Russel Brand podcast w him. Also RFK jr’s speech testifying in Congress re censorship is spot on. As an American that alone ought to make everyone stop and think. Without dialogue, differing opinions, open discussions and free speech (for all) hence the 1st Amendment l, there is no longer an America for all.

    I write this as a Catholic, conservative leaning feeling politically adrift (I’d be a libertarian if the social contract that held us all together was still in place), wife and mother of 7 who is not a fan of gas bag Trump nor idiotic Biden.

  3. I was giving RFK a chance in my mind. But that stopped when he said (as I understand it) that COVID looks like it was designed to spare Jewish and Chinese people. You have there someone playing the racist card. It is disgusting.

    1. He’s not playing the racist card (as someone who is part Jewish I was not offended). Do your research re why he made the comments. There is bonafide data backing what he is saying. He’s not as nutso as he’s being made out to be. Seriously watch is speech testifying in front of Congress.

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