Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the scion of political liberalism cum environmental activist cum anti-vaccine warrior told an AutismOne audience last Friday that living with autism is the same as life in a Nazi death camp. This is how Dan “Clinic for Special Children” Olmsted reports Kennedy’s remarks:
Each of us will have our highlights from last weekend’s extraordinary Autism One gathering in Chicago, but for me it was Bobby Kennedy Jr. saying, “To my mind this is like the Nazi death camps.”
“This” is the imprisonment of so many of our children in the grip of autism. Talk about cutting through the neurodiverse claptrap! When Bobby Kennedy says something, it gives “cover,” in a sense, for others to use the same kind of language and frame the debate in the same kind of way. (Language that reminds me of David Kirby’s phrase, “the shuttered hell” of autism, in Evidence of Harm.)
Those who can advocate for themselves should do so. Move right along, please. Those who cannot have advocates like their parents and RFK Jr. who are sick of mincing words.
Kennedy made his odious comparison during the conference’s keynote address, a spot held by Jenny McCarthy every year since 2008. McCarthy took her own star turn Saturday, rubbing elbows with with a “celebrity panel” that included neurodiversity advocate Alexis Wineman, of Buchenwald Cut Bank, Montana, the first-ever autistic Miss America contestant. For the past year, Wineman has been telling everyone she meets that she doesn’t need to be cured. “Autism is not a death sentence, but a life adventure,” she says, “and one that has been given me for a reason.”
Courageously spoken words or neurodiverse clap trap – you decide. We know where Kennedy and Olmsted stand.
Contradictory messages are nothing new at AutismOne. Vaccine rejectionism has always been a big tent movement, “a mishmash of libertarians, health nuts and quack medicine vendors, conspiracy theorists, ambulance chasers, ‘investigative’ journalists, advocates of the theory of harm du jour, and, always, a few scientists – who range from the disbarred quack to the clueless semi-mainstream specialist,” says Arthur Allen, author of Vaccines, a must-read history anti-vaccine movements. Members contradict each other, and themselves, all the time. Its followers span the political spectrum, from back-to-nature granola moms to hard-core Christianists. When your case rests on the shaky ground of unconfirmed anecdotes and magical thinking, throwing mud and yelling at shadows is all you have.
But the disconnect between RFK’s death camp slur and Wineman’s sunny optimism is still noteworthy, if only for the lengths that McCarthy has gone to cultivate the relationship.
McCarthy herself reached out to Wineman, first with a Tweet when Miss Montana was still competing for the crown in Las Vegas. Phone calls followed, and last Friday evening, the two women attended a Generation Rescue fundraiser in a swanky Chicago night club, which raised $200,000 for questionable medical treatments. From her red carpet, Wineman told assembled reporters “I want to tell (children with autism) to accept themselves. Autism can be a life adventure if they want it to be, but they have to open the door to get out of their comfort zone. Never underestimate yourself. No matter what your challenges are nothing is stopping you from trying.”
Wineman couldn’t be more out of step with McCarthy’s angry mob if she called Wakefield a fraud and a liar, or said the evidence for an autism epidemic is only anecdotal. And if she said those things the angry mob would rip the crown from Wineman’s head before hotel security frog-marched her out of the Lombard Westin. But what Wineman did say, has been saying, and will no doubt continue to say, is every bit as subversive to the anti-vaccine movement’s flagship annual event. Maybe more so.
The next day, Wineman and McCarthy “shared experiences, insights, advice, along with trials and tribulations, growth, courage and success,” at a celebrity panel dubbed “No Limits.” Afterwards the two sat at adjoining tables, shoulder to shoulder, and signed autographs. Later Wineman tweeted “Who would have thought me signing autographs with Jenny McCarthy. Too sweet Love my life.”
More subversive thinking.