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17 May 2024

The unlikely alliance of Robert F Kennedy Jr and Russell Brand

Any ambition RFK had to be taken seriously has been undermined by his adoption of Brand as a quasi-sidekick.

By Finn McRedmond

Robert F Kennedy Junior wants to bring America back to its glory days. His argument is simple: the vitality, optimism and national pride that his uncle, John F Kennedy, so successfully cultivated died with him in 1963. (RFK blames the CIA.) Since then, RFK describes a United States subsumed by darkness: a nation overrun by kleptocrats, where business profits from pollution, and where the big-pharma industrial complex conspires to make Americans sick. If there were an event that captured the country’s twisted soul and poorly wired priorities, RFK would probably name the pandemic.

In his quest to trade on his family’s name and heal the fault lines of a divided nation, RFK is making a third-candidate bid for the White House with running mate Nicole Shanahan (a formerly under-the-radar Silicon Valley investor, and ex-wife of Google founder Sergey Brin). RFK is a crank: he suggested George W Bush stole the 2004 election, has long claimed that vaccines cause autism, and argued that Covid-19 was “ethnically targeted” (though he is unsure whether deliberately so). At the same time, some of his other positions are surprisingly sane: he is a former environmental lawyer and fights for green policies, he is anxious about wealth inequality, and has called for a higher minimum wage; he is tough on the border and pro labour unions. These inconsistencies almost make him seem sympathetic.

Given his lofty ambitions – befitting of a Kennedy – RFK has sought ideological allies in strange places. But any demands to be taken seriously – already weakened by his conspiratorial instincts – have been undermined by his adoption of Russell Brand as a quasi-sidekick. First, Brand interviewed RFK on a characteristically rambling podcast last year. And then, last night, Brand appeared on stage at a Kennedy-Shanahan campaign event in Nashville, receiving somewhat of a hero’s welcome.

Brand was a questionable figure even before the sexual assault allegations made against him by a joint Channel 4 and Sunday Times investigation last year. Four women accused Brand of rape, assault and emotional abuse. He has been questioned by the police but strongly denies all allegations.

Brand has come to represent a strange nexus: where the old British left – replete with its cynicism and a tendency for self-destruction – meets the new American right – with all its insularity and earnestness. The once-venerated populist used to be a regular on Newsnight and attend anti-austerity marches on Whitehall. In 2015 he endorsed Ed Miliband. Now he launches into angry sermons about the mainstream media, the ghoulish pharmaceutical industry, alludes to vague establishment plots, and grins alongside Donald Trump Jr. The confidence with which Brand glides between America First-isms and worshipping Bernie Sanders makes him living proof of horseshoe theory.

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And now with his endorsement of RFK, Brand’s evolution from British TV comedian to American culture warrior is all but complete. Perhaps it was inevitable: there is no obvious political home for someone of Brand’s ilk in Britain. The Tories are too priggish and staid (they might have forced him to wear a tie), and have none of the conspiratorial zeal of the new American right. And to someone of Brand’s disposition, the liberal normies are just as bad: another wing of the establishment pulling the strings of the country to line their pockets. Maybe Brand and the endlessly contradictory RFK Jr are not such unusual allies.

Kennedy’s choice to associate with Brand – a kind of force of cosmic darkness – reveals poor political judgement. But the pairing captures something true about the soul of America: confused, sincere, unhappy, on a quest for a stable sense of self but far from realising it. And his motivations – to restore the national vitality he saw under his uncle’s reign – might well be pure. But whoever it is that will lead America back to this imagined halcyon past, it will certainly not be Russell Brand.

[See also: The rise and fall of Russell Brand]

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