RFK Jr. Embraces California Ballot Nomination from Party with History of Far-Right Ties

Joshua Lott
Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a campaign rally on Feb. 10 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said this week that he has qualified to be on the ballot in California and will accept the nomination of the American Independent Party, which has a history of associating itself with far-right figures and individuals who have expressed racist views.

Kennedy’s alliance with the American Independent Party, which has previously supported segregationist and former Alabama governor George Wallace as well as Donald Trump in 2016, is part of his campaign’s attempt to get access on states’ ballots through gathering signatures or receiving the nominations of minor parties.

The American Independent Party’s recent former chairman, Robert J. Walters, wrote a book in 2015 that claimed genetic differences rather than discrimination led to Black students performing worse in schools compared with White students. The party promoted his book to their Facebook followers in 2022.

Three states – Utah, Michigan and Hawaii – confirmed that Kennedy is on the ballot, and he hinted at a recent event that more announcements were imminent. The California secretary of state’s office confirmed that it received the paperwork from the party, which now only exists in California, but the state will not certify candidates until Aug. 29, after its deadline to receive requests for ballot access.

In a five-minute video posted Monday on X, Kennedy explained his relationship with the American Independent Party and said the party’s new leadership contacted him.

“It’s had its own rebirth, even before I came along,” he said, adding that the group had drafted a new charter recently and had been evolving before he launched his effort to get on the ballot. “It’s been reborn as a party that represents not bigotry and hatred, but rather compassion and unity and idealism and common sense.”

It is unclear what policy beliefs the party now holds. A “statement of purpose” on the party’s website says that “the new American Independent Party connects positive, visionary and independent candidates with California voters.” The party’s chairman, Victor Marani, wrote in a text message that politics “has changed dramatically in the past half century.”

“Right now, today, America thirsts for real Independent candidates who will represent the voters instead of Party interests,” Marani said, declining to offer any more specifics about the party’s associations with far-right figures. The official website does not provide policy details about the party’s platforms. The Kennedy campaign did not respond to questions about the group’s history. The Washington Post was unable to reach Walters for comment.

An archived version of the website from 2021 indicates the group included that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, fetuses should have the same legal protections as people and undocumented immigrants should “be punished for their crime in a way that will deter them from future offenses.”

The American Independent party was established in the 1960s to get Wallace, who ran on a segregationist platform and stoked fears of insurgency, on the ballot in California.

It has nominated several controversial figures since then, including segregationist Lester Maddox in 1976; John G. Schmitz, a former official with the ultraconservative John Birch Society, in 1972; and Michael Peroutka, a former board member of the League of the South, an Alabama-based organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group, in 2004. The party nominated Trump in 2016 and, in 2020, long-shot presidential candidate and businessman Rocky De La Fuente for president and rapper Kanye West for vice president. West, now known as Ye, made antisemitic comments in 2022.

The party’s former leadership, former chair Markham Robinson, and several other politicians aligned with the group were also part of the “birther” movement, falsely questioning the eligibility of former president Barack Obama in 2009 and Republican nominee Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) in 2012.

Records on the California’s secretary of state website indicate the group’s leadership changed this year. Marani was previously a longtime Republican operative who had donated to GOP candidates, chaired the Santa Cruz county Republicans and worked for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The American Independent Party is California’s third-largest political party, already has ballot access and, with 835,000 registered voters in the state, provided Kennedy an easier path forward than running with his own party. In 2016, a Los Angeles Times investigation found that members have registered with the party in error because they thought they were registering as political independents.

Republicans have increasingly attacked Kennedy amid concerns he could attract conservative voters, including Trump, who claimed without evidence on Truth Social last week that Kennedy is a “Democrat ‘Plant’” who is in the race to help Biden.

Meanwhile, Democrats have attacked Kennedy’s alliances with right-leaning groups and people, frequently taking aim at Kennedy over donations the campaign and the super PAC supporting him have accepted from major GOP donors. Democrats closely aligned with Biden fear Kennedy’s name recognition and previous support of Democratic causes might drive voters to him who might otherwise pick Biden, advantaging Trump in states where there are close contests.

“He’s a right-wing extremist, plain and simple,” said Pete Kavanaugh, founder of Clear Choice, a Democratic-aligned super PAC aimed at defeating third-party efforts, after the news of the California nomination. “He’s accepting the mantle of George Wallace and there’s no hiding from it. He’s making Trump blush.”