Fact Check: “JFK Jr. Is Still Alive" and Other Unfounded Conspiracy Theories About the Late President’s Son
In November 2019, a Facebook post alleged a connection between Hillary Clinton and John F. Kennedy Jr., reading, "JFK Jr. was declared the frontrunner for the NY Senate seat in 1999. Days later his plane crashed, making Hillary Clinton the newly elected senator" (via PolitiFact). The insinuation? That, for political purposes, Clinton had something to do with JFK Jr.’s tragic and sudden passing. Even though this claim has been thoroughly debunked by fact-checkers at both Snopes and PolitiFact, the conspiracy theory reared its head once again thanks to a meme posted by Instagram user Conspiraceye.
Why Do Conspiracy Theorists Think That JFK Jr. Is Still Alive?
The meme in question regurgitated the statement popularized by that 2019 Facebook post. However, the Instagram post has since been blurred and tagged as "false information" after independent fact-checkers dug into the story (yet again). Nonetheless, the conspiracy took hold in the far reaches of the internet where it was posted about by "Q," the anonymous "insider" seemingly responsible for spreading the disproven and discredited far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
For those who don’t know, QAnon alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshipping sex traffickers are plotting against President Trump. Yeah, it’s a lot. So a lot that the FBI has even classified QAnon-driven extremists as a domestic terrorism threat. And believers have taken the JFK Jr. conspiracy to a new level, asserting that he’s not actually dead — in fact, QAnon believers think he’s an avid Trump supporter who has been in hiding for decades. At one point, believers thought he was making a grand return on the Fourth of July, while still others allege that "Q" is none other than JFK Jr. himself.
What Actually Happened to JFK Jr.?
Although conspiracy theorists believe that JFK Jr. died under suspicious circumstances (or, as is the case for far-right QAnon extremists, didn’t die at all), there’s absolutely no evidence to support these claims. Unlike his namesake, JFK Jr. never ran for public office. And he didn’t seem to have intentions to run, either. Historian and author Steven Gillion noted that Kennedy was critical of Hillary Clinton’s decision to run for Senate because she wasn’t from New York and hadn’t lived there in any long-term capacity.
So, what’s the timeline of the events brought up in the internet posts? Well, JFK Jr. obtained his pilot license about a year before the tragic accident. Then, on July 16, 1999, JFK Jr. flew himself, his wife and her sister in a private aircraft from New Jersey to Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately, JFK Jr. and his passengers never made it to the Massachusetts wedding because the plane crashed into the Atlantic.
On July 6, 1999, "Clinton’s campaign launched with the FEC paperwork," for "all practical purposes" (via USA Today). Months and months later, Clinton formally announced her candidacy on February 6, 2000. All of this to say, JFK Jr. was not a candidate in New York's U.S. Senate race — and never so much as indicated an interest in running. In fact, two of Kennedy’s close friends claimed that, while he expressed interest in retiring Senator Daniel Moynihan’s seat in passing, "the idea became moot once First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton signaled her interest in running" (via Snopes).
While Kennedy’s death was a tragic accident, it in no way "cleared the path" for Clinton’s campaign efforts. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) report noted that the single-engine plane crash was a result of "the pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night." USA Today perhaps sums up the false nature of the conspiracy theory best, noting, "The meme essentially asks readers to view separate series of events and conclude that one series caused the outcome of the other. But its step-by-step assertions are riddled with errors, and that undermines the already dubious implication that a sitting first lady would play a role in the death of the son of a former president for political advantage."