BBC 2024-03-02 04:35:35


What video and eyewitness accounts tell us about Gazans killed at aid drop

At least 112 Palestinians were killed as crowds rushed around lorries delivering desperately needed food aid in the small hours of Thursday morning, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hundreds of people descended on the line of vehicles as it travelled in darkness northwards along the coastal road just outside Gaza City, accompanied by the Israeli military.

In addition to the dead, 760 people were injured, the ministry said.

The tragic incident has given rise to differing claims about what happened and who was responsible for the carnage.

BBC Verify has looked at key information – when it emerged and where from. We have examined social media videos, satellite imagery and IDF drone footage to piece together what we know – and don’t know – about what happened so far.

Hundreds wait for aid

This footage, posted on Instagram at 23:30 local time on 28 February, shows some of the hundreds of people huddled round fires as they await a humanitarian aid shipment.

The UN is warning of a looming famine in northern Gaza, where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water – the area has received very little aid in recent weeks.

The video shows people are camped out on al-Rashid Street, the coast road to the south-west of Gaza City. It is an area that has been used recently as an aid distribution point.

We have previously verified video at that location showing people gathering around lorries to claim sacks of grain.

Mahmoud Awadeyah, a journalist who was at the scene, told the BBC: “There was a large number of people looking for something to eat and a bag of flour.”

Convoy approaches encampment

At about 04:00 local time on Thursday 29 February, a convoy of lorries carrying the aid from Egypt passes through an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) location, making its way north along al-Rashid Street.

The IDF says there were 30 lorries in the convoy, while an eyewitness told the BBC there were 18 – even at the lower figure, it would have stretched for at least a few hundred metres.

The IDF’s chief spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, said that at about 04:45 lorries in the convoy were surrounded by crowds of people as the vehicles approached the Nabulsi roundabout, on the south-western edge of Gaza City.

People surround trucks

This is a screengrab from infra-red drone footage released by the IDF.

The video released by the IDF is not one single sequence. It has been edited into four sections.

It shows events at two locations, both of which BBC Verify has geolocated.

The first two sections of video show people surrounding two or more lorries just south of the Nabulsi roundabout.

Events further down the convoy

The second two sections of video show events about 500m further south.

They show at least four static lorries. Again, people can be seen moving around them, but this time it is also possible to see what appear to be motionless figures lying on the ground.

This annotated screenshot of the IDF video highlights these figures with red squares.

It also shows what appear to be Israeli military vehicles nearby.

BBC Verify has asked the IDF for the complete footage of the incident.

Gunfire

We have examined exclusive Al Jazeera video filmed close to that second location at the rear of the convoy, about half a kilometre south of the roundabout.

Volleys of gunfire can be heard and people are seen scrambling over lorries and ducking behind the vehicles. Red tracer rounds can be seen in the sky.

Mahmoud Awadeyah said the Israeli vehicles had started firing at people when the aid arrived.

“Israelis purposefully fired at the men… they were trying to get near the trucks that had the flour,” he said. “They were fired at directly and prevented people to come near those killed.”

Aftermath

We have verified further footage filmed where the shooting occurred, of bodies being taken away on a cart north in the direction of Nabulsi roundabout.

There have been reports of casualties being taken to several hospitals.

Dr Mohamed Salha, interim hospital manager at al-Awda hospital, where many of the dead and injured were taken, told the BBC: “Al-Awda hospital received around 176 injured people…142 of these cases are bullet injuries and the rest are from the stampede and broken limbs in the upper and lower body parts.”

Israeli response

At 13:06 local time on Thursday, an IDF statement posted on Telegram stated: “Early this morning, during the entry of humanitarian aid trucks into the northern Gaza Strip, Gazan residents surrounded the trucks, and looted the supplies being delivered.

“During the incident, dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling.”

At 15:35, a further IDF statement on X, formerly Twitter, repeated that description of the incident.

In further comments to the UK’s Channel 4 News, IDF spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said a “mob stormed the convoy bringing it at some stage to a halt.

“The tanks that were there to secure the convoy see the Gazans being trampled and cautiously tries to disperse the mob with a few warning shots.”

In a video statement posted on X at 20:35 GMT – 22:35 in Gaza and Israel – the IDF’s Daniel Hagari claimed: “Hundreds became thousands and things got out of hand.”

He said the tank commander decided to retreat to avoid harming civilians and “they were backing up securely, not shooting at the mob”.

And yet earlier, in an interview on CNN between 18:00 and 19:00 GMT, the Israeli prime minister’s special adviser, Mark Regev, said Israel had not been involved directly in any way and was not on the ground.

He said the IDF had opened fire in a separate incident not related to the lorries, but did not provide further evidence.

Mr Regev added: “In the incident of the truck being swarmed there was gunfire, that was Palestinian armed groups. We don’t know if it was Hamas or others.”

Leaders around the world have demanded an investigation into what happened.

It follows concerns raised on Tuesday by a senior UN official who warned that more than half a million people across the Gaza Strip faced catastrophic levels of food insecurity.

Additional reporting by Alex Murray, Kumar Malhotra, Merlyn Thomas and BBC Arabic reporters.

Israel-Gaza briefings: Biden treading carefully through political minefield

On Monday afternoon, while snacking on ice cream with a late-night television talk show host, US President Joe Biden hinted that a new ceasefire was within reach in the Gaza War, perhaps as early as this coming Monday.

“My national security adviser tells me that we’re close,” he said.

His words, which the White House has since walked back, landed with a thud for many in the American Palestinian community.

Then on Tuesday night in Michigan, one of the key battlegrounds in November’s presidential election, more than 100,000 people in the Democratic primary cast their ballot for “uncommitted” as part of a protest organised by pro-Palestinian groups.

“This is a warning sign,” said Lexis Zeidan, one of the organisers, on Tuesday night.

This has been a week in which Mr Biden has been reminded that the turmoil in the Middle East, and the White House’s response to it, could translate into electoral peril.

Since the start of the conflict after the 7 October attacks, the president has been caught in a vice, forced to make Middle East policy choices that anger keys parts of his coalition.

But the Biden administration is treading carefully when it comes to substantive policy shifts. And despite this week’s domestic pressure, the Biden administration has largely remained set on its current course.

At a briefing on Thursday, US State Department Press Secretary Matt Miller said the US continues to give aid to Israel to support the nation’s “legitimate right” to protect itself and prevent an attack like 7 October from happening again.

“There is a mistaken belief that the United States is able to dictate to other countries sovereign decisions,” he said. “Israel makes its sovereign decisions – we make clear where we disagree with them.”

On background, US officials have said that the Americans are considering delaying further arms shipments to Israel and other measures.

Most opinion polls suggest that the American public as a whole tends to support Israel in the conflict, even while key components of Mr Biden’s Democratic coalition – young voters and people of colour – do not.

The domestic political calculations are complicated. His administration has to balance competing constituencies within the Democratic Party that could all claim they are essential to the president’s re-election cause.

Pro-Palestinian groups in the US have called for a permanent ceasefire, support for diplomatic efforts in the United Nations and the threat of an end to American military aid to Israel if it does not change course.

“People are upset, and you’ve got to give them a reason not to be upset,” says Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

He describes the Biden administration’s efforts so far as “ham-fisted, half-measure statements about how we were sorry we didn’t express more sympathy and we’re working behind the scenes”.

The protest vote in Michigan amounted to less than the margin by which Mr Biden beat Republican Donald Trump in the state in 2020, but is much more than the 10,704 votes Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the state to him in 2016.

“There’s no doubt that there were some folks in Michigan that wanted to send the president a message,” Mitch Landrieu, the campaign’s national co-chair, said on Thursday. “Every issue is complicated, and this is one of them that needs to be worked through.”

In reality, while the pro-Palestinian groups are a vocal minority, they are still a minority, says Derry Sragow, a California-based political consultant.

“There’s a chunk of the electorate that is very much focused on Gaza, but it’s a very small,” he says.

“That’s not to say that how the president deals with Gaza is unimportant, but it is just another brushstroke on the canvas that voters are going to be looking at when they cast their vote.”

Polls show that the American public is more concerned about the economy, immigration and abortion rights.

And even in Michigan, Mr Sragow notes, there are as many Jewish voters who are passionate about supporting Israel as there are pro-Palestinian voters. And Jewish voters continue to overwhelmingly support Democrats, with more than 70% backing him in 2020 and polls showing that majorities approve of his handling of the Gaza War.

With eight months until the election, Biden campaign officials are hoping that the prospect of a binary choice between Mr Biden and Donald Trump will encourage dissenting voices in the Democrat political coalition to ultimately fall into line.

Campaign officials are already pointing to a number of controversial policies Mr Trump implemented during his presidential term, such as moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and support for Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

But with new headlines of civilian bloodshed in Gaza virtually every day, emotions are raw. This week the death toll in Gaza surpassed 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. And on Thursday at least 117 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were injured during an aid delivery in Gaza.

“We’re supposed to be in the position where you hurt us, you ignore us, you pay no attention to our feelings, but we’ll have to vote Democrat?” says Mr Zogby. “Why can’t you apply that same logic on the side of the Jewish community?”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has being going to lengths to dash any White House hopes that a change in rhetoric will put more pressure on Israel to conclude the war.

“From the beginning of the war, I have been leading a diplomatic campaign whose goal is to deflect the pressure to end the war prematurely,” he said this week.

Mr Netanyahu seems finally attuned to the US domestic political situation, as well, and says the American public overwhelmingly supports his cause.

All of this suggests Mr Biden has few easy means to extricate himself from his current political predicament.

“He’s been dealt a very, very limited, difficult hand to play,” says Sragow. “If I was a member of the senior staff advising Biden, I don’t know what I would say other than just do what you think in your heart is the right thing to do.”

The pro-Palestinian groups in the US would probably echo this sentiment, except they firmly believe the president’s heart is in the wrong place – and that he is poised to pay a high political price for it come November.

  • Gaza desperately needs more aid but agencies can’t cope
  • Israel-Gaza war: Death and Israel’s search for ‘total victory’
  • What are routes out of this ‘dangerous moment’ in Middle East?
  • Huge push for Gaza aid – but little hope for those suffering
  • Iran’s sudden strikes show just how perilous region has become
  • Tough choices for Israel in US’s Middle East vision
  • Huge challenges for Israel on its vague ‘day after’ Gaza plan
  • Stakes are immense as Biden presses Israel to change course
  • Hamas support soars in West Bank – but full uprising can still be avoided
  • The status quo is smashed. The future is messy and dangerous
  • Bowen: US sets clearer red lines for Israel as ceasefire ends
  • When this truce ends, the decisive next phase of war begins

Bad blood over Singapore Taylor Swift tour subsidies

In the glitzy Asian city-state of Singapore, the sequins are out, limousines polished and hotel pillows plumped.

The city’s hosting Taylor Swift’s Eras tour this week – an honour, but one that has come at a cost.

That price was initially reported to be as high as S$24 million (£14m; $18m) for the six shows to be exclusive to the South East Asian country.

Culture minister Edwin Tong has since told Singapore’s CNA the figure was “nowhere as high” – although he still refused to be drawn on the exact figure. The broadcaster, however, suggested it may have been just S$2m for all six.

But the fact any money had been spent only came to light after an outburst from the prime minister of Thailand, who accused Singapore of paying concert organisers US$2-3m per night.

That triggered criticism across the region. In the Philippines, a lawmaker criticised the move, saying “this isn’t what good neighbours do” – and called for a formal protest against the grant.

But while governments are seeing red – it’s the fans who are paying the price, literally.

Swift is heard everywhere across South East Asia, home to roughly 700 million people – from alleyways in Ho Chi Minh to taxi cabs in Bangkok.

So for many it was a punch in the guts to learn all six shows would be held in the region’s most expensive city.

Singapore’s currency – one of the strongest in Asia – has long been a deterrent for visitors. But for a chance to see their idol, many of her fans are willing to grin and bear it.

Look what you made me do

Flight-loads of fans have been touching down at Singapore’s Changi Airport all week, many coming from China and its territories.

Swift isn’t playing in China so Singapore is the next best thing for many.

One woman flying in from Shenzhen told the BBC she and her friend had spent S$1,200 each on tickets alone. They’ve resorted to camping at a friend’s house after hotel rates across the city surged.

On the luxe end of things, the city’s landmark hotel Marina Bay Sands has sold out of its S$50,000 Swift packages which included four VIP tickets and a three-night stay in a suite.

Then there’s 22-year-old Allen Dungca in the Philippines, who scraped together his wages to take him and his mother to Singapore.

This Thursday, they’ll take a four-hour bus ride to Manila, stay at an airport motel for the night, then grab their dawn flight the next day.

The enterprising student snapped up the travel package back in July. He eventually tracked down the tickets on a resale night, after weeks of desperate hunting.

“I am very lucky,” he says of the S$400 outlay for seats in the nosebleed section. “The seller was kind and not a scalper.”

Resales now are going for thousands. And he had almost fallen for a scam, a shady character named Pat Steve, later exposed online.

He estimates the whole endeavour is costing him S$2,000 – the monthly income of an upper-middle class family in the Philippines, a country where a fifth of the population lives under the poverty line.

“Right now, I’m a student with a part-time job and I can afford my wants and needs. But it’s sad, other Swifties don’t have any means or budget to watch her overseas and I know most Filipino Swifties love her so much.”

The Philippines arguably has the most ardent Swift fan base – Spotify data showed Quezon City in Manila had played the most streams of the singer last year.

  • The Filipino Swiftie drag queen dazzling Asia

The pop star has toured in the Philippines before – but the bag of money from Singapore undoubtedly sweetened the deal, say analysts.

Clean, modern Singapore has long been seen as a base in the region for big events. It has the infrastructure, the transport links and a high-earning, expat-heavy population.

It’s also seen as reliably stable in a region which has experienced political chaos. A decade ago Swift cancelled her shows in Thailand because of the military coup and resulting protests.

Still, while it’s common for governments around the world to give out subsidies and tax breaks to bring in events, the reported spend goes beyond anything else publicly known in Singapore.

Samer Hajjar, a marketing lecturer at the National University of Singapore, says it’s “above average” even for the city-state.

And fans are quite blunt. “It’s kinda greedy,” says Mr Dunga. “But it’s wise… because their economic response will be way more than that.”

But will it be though?

Show me the money

In Australia, the leg of the tour preceding Singapore, officials suggested the tour had provided a A$145m “uplift” in consumer spending. More than 570,000 tickets were sold across seven nights in Sydney and Melbourne, nearly double the number sold for Singapore’s six shows.

But not all of that money counts, says economists.

More than 90% of show-goers were probably local, estimates KPMG’s chief economist Dr Brendan Rynne, so their dollars would be “just a transfer from one category of spending (or saving) to another”.

Only foreign visitors would have been adding to the books – and they accounted for just 2% of visitors, he estimated. After doing the maths he projected Swift had added only A$10m (£5.1m; $6.5m) to GDP.

Still, Australia didn’t use public funds to have Swift play in the country, state government officials confirmed to the BBC. Neither did Japan, the only other Asian stop on the tour.

  • What does Taylor mania mean for the globe?

Singapore has said Swift’s tour will bring certain economic benefits to the country.

But just how much net gain will be generated is unclear. The BBC has reached out to Singapore’s tourism board but they have refused to reveal foreign visitor estimates or other modelling.

A local bank, Maybank, has suggested that consumer spending may top S$350m – but that’s based on the very optimistic prediction of 70% of attendees being from out of town.

Even Singapore’s Formula One Grand Prix only saw 49% of spectators from overseas in 2022, with a record 300,000 crowd.

When pressed on the numbers, Maybank’s economist Erica Tay could not provide specifics, saying the 70% rate was based on Singapore’s “potential catchment” and the bank was not interested in estimating net profit.

“Six concerts may not move a nation’s economic growth materially, but the strategic value of Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Singapore as a tourism destination outweighs that one-off boost,” she said.

But business professor Julien Cayla from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University points out that public spend should be scrutinised – especially when it’s only revealed to citizens by another country’s government.

And in a country where welfare benefits are relatively limited – it could be seen as a fraught spend.

“To justify spending [reportedly] S$24 million on something that on the surface might not seem that critical to the economic health of the country over spending on people and public services… there’s a tension there,” Prof Cayla said.

Nonetheless he and others say that when it comes to planning tourism, governments have mandate to throw around money and Singapore isn’t an exception.

“They don’t necessarily like to advertise it. But the minute the government sees something that fits into a long-term strategy, it will sink government money in to support that,” he says.

In a way, Singapore has just brought in Swift the same way it currently attracts huge multinational corporations.

“What’s different here is that Taylor Swift as a business, is a very emotional business,” he said.

“It’s dealing with the emotions of 10-18 year olds, who are very sad to not see the concert happening in Bangkok or Jakarta.”

And in the words of the songstress herself, that’s caused a lot of bad blood.

Coleman beats Lyles to world indoor 60m gold

World Athletics Indoor Championships 2024

Dates: 1-3 March Venue: Emirates Arena, Glasgow

Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer and online; Listen to commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra & BBC Sounds; Live text and video highlights on the BBC Sport website and app.

American Christian Coleman says he is “stepping into his prime” after beating Noah Lyles to 60m gold in their showdown at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow.

Coleman, the world record holder in the event, clocked a world-leading 6.41 seconds to take an impressive victory.

World 100m and 200m champion Lyles, unable to add to his expanding list of global sprint titles, ran 6.44.

Jamaican Ackeem Blake beat Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala to bronze in 6.46.

“These opportunities don’t come around often when you are feeling good and healthy,” said 2019 world 100m champion Coleman, who won his last world indoor title on British soil in Birmingham six years ago.

“I am excited. It is 2024 and I am stepping into my prime mentally, physically and spiritually. I am going to have to be on my A-game and I feel confident I will be there [at the Olympics].”

Elsewhere, Great Britain’s Morgan Lake finished sixth in the women’s high jump final.

The 26-year-old came into the championships with medal ambitions but was unable to improve on her final-round clearance at 1.92 metres, as Australia’s Nicola Olyslagers beat Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh to gold.

British team captain Laviai Nielsen qualified for Saturday’s 400m final and Jemma Reekie secured her place in Sunday’s 800m medal race.

GB will also have two representatives in the women’s 1500m final – the final event of the weekend on Sunday – in Georgia Bell and Revee Walcott-Nolan, while Adam Fogg progressed in the men’s event despite tripping.

Also among the five gold medal winners on the opening day of competition at Emirates Arena, American Ryan Crouser and Canada’s Sarah Mitton were crowned shot put champions, while the Netherlands’ Sofie Doktor won the women’s pentathlon.

Coleman upstages Lyles in Friday’s big finale

Showman Lyles announced himself as athletics’ long-awaited successor to Usain Bolt by winning a remarkable treble gold at last year’s World Championships in Budapest, which also included success in the 4x100m relay.

And the 26-year-old has stated his intent to aim even higher this year, hinting he could even look to add the 4x400m relay to his targets as part of a golden quadruple in Paris.

But, on the opening night of action inside Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, it was Coleman who stole the spotlight.

Lyles, predominantly a 200m runner, set a 60m personal best 6.43 in Boston in February – a time which brought him within 0.1 seconds of Coleman’s 2018 world record.

Coleman, who missed the Tokyo Olympics while serving an 18-month ban for missing three drugs tests, matched that world lead in his semi-final, before going even faster when it mattered most in the final.

It was a rare setback for Lyles as he seeks to further assert himself as the athlete to beat at the Paris Olympic Games, but his progress over the shorter distance will leave him full of confidence at the start of a potentially historic year.

Lyles said: “What a great indoor season, I have never been to an indoor World Championships – so it’s great. It makes me so much more excited as this is the worst part of my race.

“I am ready to go outdoor and take this new-found 60m ability and put it to the 100m.”

Lake’s medal wait goes on

Since winning her sole major medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Lake has endured her fair share of near-misses at major championships.

After an injury picked up in qualification denied her a shot at the Olympic final in Tokyo, she finished fourth at the 2022 Commonwealths before going as close at last summer’s World Championships in Budapest.

But the British record holder was unable to earn the breakthrough first global medal she has been working towards with coach Robbie Grabarz, winner of Olympic silver for GB at London 2012.

Lake produced gutsy clearances with her final attempts at 1.88m and 1.92m to stay in contention, but she could not build momentum despite the best efforts of the home crowd.

“Sadly, I didn’t execute and I am not going to shy away that I was hoping to get a medal at these championships,” Lake said.

“After this competition I want to go again, I still have that fight in me. I am so excited for the summer.”

Australia’s Olyslagers emerged victorious after she cleared 1.99m with her final attempt to deny defending champion Mahuchikh, who jumped 1.97m for silver.

Captain Nielsen leads the way as Reekie also progresses

British team captain Nielsen ensured she will be in medal contention on Saturday evening after she held on to the third and final qualification place in her 400m semi-final.

The 27-year-old, who is also targeting a 4x400m relay medal alongside twin sister Lina, ran 51.44 as she came up against Dutch world record holder Femke Bol, who qualified fastest for the final in 50.66.

In the morning session, home favourite Reekie comfortably progressed to Saturday’s 800m semi-finals by posting the fastest time across the five heats.

The 25-year-old, aiming to win her first major medal in front of her home crowd in Glasgow, led from the start to clock one minute 59.45 seconds, but team-mate Isabelle Boffey missed out after placing fourth in her heat in 2:02.81.

British champion Bell and Walcott-Nolan both booked their places in the women’s 1500m final.

Bell, 30, qualified by finishing second in her heat – and second fastest overall – in 4:04.39 behind American Nikki Hiltz, with Walcott-Nolan finishing behind Ethiopian Freweyni Hailu in 4:13.06 in her heat.

“I am happy with how this season is going but I’m disappointed that I lost that race as I have lost my winning streak,” said Bell, who had had won all six races she had contested this year.

In the men’s heats, Fogg was belatedly awarded a final place after he was tripped, picking himself up off the track to place sixth, but team-mate Callum Elson’s race ended prematurely after he pulled up with injury.

Great Britain’s Amelia Campbell threw 17.21m to place 13th in the women’s shot put final, won by Mitton with a best throw of 20.22m, while Scott Lincoln was 10th in the men’s event as Crouser continued his domination by throwing a championship record 22.77m.

And, on her major championship debut, Abigail Pawlett finished ninth in the women’s pentathlon with a haul of 4287 points.

Saturday’s action sees Scots Josh Kerr and Laura Muir race for 3,000m golds, while Molly Caudery will aim to medal in the women’s pole vault and Nielsen competes in the 400m final.

Related Internet Links

  • British Athletics
  • World Athletics
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RFK Jr: How anti-vaccine misinformation has shaped his ‘truth-teller’ candidacy

America faces an election rematch in November that few voters are motivated by. As a result, independent candidates could have a bigger impact on this year’s result than they have in decades, and none is making bigger waves than Robert F Kennedy Jr.

His supporters see him as a courageous truth-teller, battling nefarious corporate powers. Yet the vaccine sceptic has a history of straying from the truth and spreading health information scientists say is false. Rachel Schraer investigates these two very different images.

About 20 years ago, Professor Paul Offit received a phone call.

“Robert F Kennedy Junior called me and he said that he needed my help,” says the scientist, whose vaccine against rotavirus is estimated to save some two thousand lives a day in the developing world.

Mr Kennedy, a member of the famous political dynasty and nephew of former president John F Kennedy, told Prof Offit he was looking for information. He wanted to reassure parents who were worried about the effects of a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, found in some vaccines.

Prof Offit confesses he was excited to be able to talk a Kennedy through the studies, which showed children exposed to thimerosal (not found in most US vaccines anyway since 2001) were no worse off than those who hadn’t had exposure.

But a year or so later, Mr Kennedy wrote an article published in Rolling Stone magazine which repeated baseless claims that thimerosal was causing health problems. It also wrongly claimed the vaccine that Prof Offit was working on at the time contained this preservative, suggesting this had driven him to misrepresent the risks. The article was later retracted due to a large number of inaccuracies.

Despite these wrong claims, Mr Kennedy – now a presidential candidate – appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast last summer repeating his version of the story.

We contacted Mr Kennedy’s team but they did not comment on this specific allegation.

“I think he’s remarkably dishonest,” Prof Offit says.

You can listen to Trending: “The anti-vax candidate?” on BBC Sounds.

And yet, honesty is one of the main reasons RFK Jr’s supporters from across the political spectrum have told the BBC they want him to be the next US president.

A January Gallup poll suggested he was the only candidate with a more than 50% favourability rating among the public. That may not mean anything for how people will actually vote, though, with the two major party candidates still expected to draw the vast majority of votes.

The worry for both Democrats and Republicans, however, is that RFK Jr might siphon off votes in November that might have otherwise gone to their candidates – set to be Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Jay Scott, one supporter, described him as a “courageous truth-teller”.

Another, Michigan-based independent voter Bryce Lipscombe told me: “I just trust the man who has sued a bunch of these government agencies and won, who has actually proven that corruption exists.”

Many supporters from across the political spectrum said they liked the fact Mr Kennedy was promising to tackle the influence of big business on government, including pharmaceutical companies and the oil and gas industry,

They said they found his policies on immigration and drug legalisation to be sensible. And they pointed to his record as an environmental lawyer of suing companies that pollute, with some notable successes including cleaning up the Hudson River in New York.

Mr Kennedy appeared to speak especially to people who were unhappy with – or suspicious of – the US government and the rest of the world’s response to the Covid pandemic.

  • Covid vaccine safety – What we know
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Mr Kennedy’s supporters point to genuine failings by public institutions on issues from the opioid crisis to the Iraq war as reasons they’ve lost trust in the two main parties.

But this doesn’t change the fact there are also countless examples of Mr Kennedy spreading conspiracy theories, making false or misleading statements, and sticking by his positions regardless of the evidence presented to the contrary.

“Whenever presented with copious evidence and scientific studies that vaccines do not cause autism… or whatever health condition he attributes to them, it is never enough,” said Dr David Gorski, professor of surgery at Wayne State University and managing editor of the site Science Based Medicine. “He always moves the goalposts, demanding still more evidence.”

When contacted for comment, Mr Kennedy’s team maintained that: “Proper safety studies have never been conducted on vaccines: long-term, all-cause mortality studies comparing fully-vaccinated children to never-vaccinated children.

Many Kennedy supporters echo this argument but Dr Gorski says it “just plain not true”.

He explains that for decades countless groups of independent scientists have looked at the effect of vaccines on a huge range of specific health outcomes and found the benefits far outweigh any risks.

For Prof Offit, this tactic represents what he sees as the impossibility of debating him.

“What do you do with people like Robert Kennedy Junior?” he asks. “When he raises the question: ‘Could this vaccine do harm?’, and then excellent studies are done showing that it doesn’t. And he just refuses to believe them, because he just claims conspiracy at every turn.”

But the lack of people willing to debate Mr Kennedy has been held up as just another example – including the past removal of some of his social media accounts – of him being silenced and censored.

This “censorship” is part of the reason Mr Kennedy says he is running for president in the first place.

He was also part of a legal case against the BBC and other news media organisations claiming they and social media platforms colluded to censor him and others so they couldn’t compete with them.

For New York magazine correspondent, Olivia Nuzzi, who has interviewed Mr Kennedy and followed his campaign, some of his supporters’ deep mistrust of mainstream institutions, from scientists to the media, presents an “impossible” problem for those seeking to fact-check his claims. “It’s like two different universes of facts,” she says.

Those who distrust powerful institutions are “willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt who they perceive to be righteously challenging that power,” she says, and are, “not interested in arguments from people that they perceive to be doing the bidding of those institutions”.

Many of RFK Jr’s supporters are impatient with discussion of his stance on vaccines. Some think it’s an attempt by the media to smear him. For others it is simply less important than other issues like the border, surveillance and the economy, including tackling the influence of powerful corporations.

But it seems crucial in the question of his relationship to the truth.

“If you’re going to speak truth to power,” Prof Offit says, “You should at least tell the truth.”