In mid-March, wellness influencers and brand founders flocked to the American Wellness Summit outside Austin, Texas. It had the trappings of a Goop-style event: a tea ceremony, a sound healing meditation, regenerative organic food, a cold plunge and, with tickets costing $1,500 to $3,300, a high price of admission.

But its main purpose wasn’t to sell serums or supplements. Rather, it was to drum up support for the campaign of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent presidential candidate known for making long-debunked claims about vaccines and autism, and who has at times embraced fringe theories around 9/11, SSRI medications and Covid-19.

While his views are often well outside the mainstream, and offensive to many, his support is very real: he’s polling at 13 percent of surveyed voters for the presidential election, according to a Quinnipiac poll taken in late March. And wellness industry elites are among his earliest and most enthusiastic backers.

“What’s really interesting about RFK is that he brings people from both sides together, because there are people from the left that care about the environment, about the chronic disease epidemic, and people from the right that care about securing our borders,” said Nikki Bostwick, founder of wellness brand The Fullest, which makes products such as saffron lattes and bath salts found at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue.

An attendee at the wellness summit, Bostwick first met Kennedy in 2018 and is holding a fundraiser for him in Orange County later this month. She regularly posts in support of him both from her personal Instagram and brand page, as well as her other viewpoints such as her belief in chemtrails.

Other wellness stars in Kennedy’s orbit include Aubrey Marcus, who co-founded supplement brand Onnit with podcaster Joe Rogan. Marcus, a co-host at Kennedy’s wellness summit, sold Onnit to Unilever in 2021 and stepped down as its CEO that same year. Presenting at the Austin event was Shiva Rose Afshar, a wellness influencer and founder of Shiva Rose Beauty, which has been stocked at upscale retailers and boutiques including Goop, Mohawk General Store and Shen Beauty. Nitsa Citrine, a former creative director of supplement brand Sun Potion which is sold at Erewhon, also served as a co-host.

Kennedy’s campaign has included plenty of statements that are right-leaning, left-leaning, or unclassifiable. But it’s his rejection of the medical establishment, and a libertarian “live and let live” philosophy that’s proven irresistible to many in the wellness and alternative health communities. It’s also why, though Kennedy appears to be drawing votes away from both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, he’s been so effective at peeling away the sort of wealthy, West Coast, crunch types who – on paper at least – would be firmly in the Biden camp.

“His primary message to his constituency is that we have lost access to our innate capacity to heal ourselves,” said Matthew Remski, co-host of the podcast Conspirituality, which covers conspiracy theories in wellness, yoga and New Age spirituality communities. “[RFK Jr.’s rhetoric] touches some very deep traditionalist nerves within what many people can consider to be a nominally liberal or even progressive culture.”

That same rhetoric has made Kennedy’s campaign radioactive to many others. As a leading opponent of vaccines, he’s been blamed by experts for contributing to falling vaccination rates, which have led to outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases. He’s at times appeared to support anti-Semitic, racist and otherwise offensive conspiracy theories, such as that Jews and Chinese people are “most immune” to Covid-19, and that SSRI medications were linked to mass shootings.

“You have to look at the facts and decide whether you want to trust in the National Academy of Medicine, or whether you want to trust Bobby Kennedy,” said Stephen Kennedy Smith, a cousin of the candidate and founder of the longevity skincare and supplement brand Aramore. He is one of a number of Kennedy’s extended family members who have spoken out against his campaign.

Charles Eisenstein, Kennedy campaign’s director of messaging, told BoF that reports on the candidate’s most inflammatory statements “take things out of context and blow them up to make him look like a crazy person.”

Smith’s argument is echoed by many Biden supporters but is unlikely to sway the wellness influencers who gathered in Austin, or many of their fans on Instagram. As with any other culture war battlefront, the two sides are mostly speaking to their own camps.

Kennedy spends the bulk of his campaign projecting a message of “healthism,” Remski said, such as a video from the Austin event featuring the candidate, 70, demonstrating pull-ups to a cheering crowd. Kennedy frequently shows off his muscles in shirtless photos and said he is on testosterone replacement therapy. Though he isn’t much younger than Trump or Biden, those images stand out in a campaign where the conversation has often been dominated by questions about the age and vigour of the candidates.

“There are always aspects of personal health performance that he draws upon in his political campaigning that will be very resonant to influencers who build their brands upon the personal example of, ‘This is how I organise my day; this is how I optimise my immune system,’” Remski said.

In the months ahead, the question is whether Kennedy’s appeal will remain on the wellness fringe, like using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, or if it can cross over into the mainstream on the level of kombucha.

Like any wellness founder with a new product to hawk, Kennedy’s campaign is leveraging its connections to the entertainment world. There’s the candidate’s wife, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Cheryl Hines (who started a beauty line last year) and Alicia Silverstone, who founded supplement brand MyKind Organics in a collaboration with vitamin label Garden of Life. Citrine, who left Sun Potion in 2019, is engaged to Brent Bolthouse, a veteran LA event promoter who is the longtime planner of the annual Levi’s-sponsored Coachella afterparty Neon Carnival that is being held next week. Carson Meyer, the founder of Kardashian-loved body care brand C & The Moon, has posted in support of Kennedy’s campaign, including at a hiking event with the candidate in Malibu. A doula to celebrities such as Gigi Hadid, she is the daughter of Ron Meyer, the former vice chairman of NBCUniversal and a founding talent agent at Creative Artists Agency.

Even wellness queen Gwyneth Paltrow told The New York Times that she found Kennedy’s point of view “interesting,” having listened to an interview with him on the “All-In” podcast co-hosted by four tech founders and investors, David Sacks, Chamath Palihapitiya, Jason Calacanis and David Friedberg.

She added that his positions “are tricky, let’s put it that way.”

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