Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has apologized for using the word "holocaust" to describe the health effects of vaccine programs in the United States at a time when rhetoric in California has boiled over on the issue.
Kennedy was recently in Sacramento to oppose legislation that would restrict parents' ability to opt out of immunization requirements for their children. In public appearances, he likened the large number of children with autism, which he alleges is linked to unsafe vaccines, to a holocaust.
"I want to apologize to all whom I offended by my use of the word 'holocaust' to describe the autism epidemic," said Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
"I employed the term during an impromptu speech as I struggled to find an expression to convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism, which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families.
"I am acutely aware of the profound power attached to that word, and I will find other terms to describe the autism crisis in the future."
Medical experts and scientific studies dispute that vaccines are causing autism, but the legislation has sparked an emotional debate on the issue.
Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) has been bombarded with personal attacks for pushing the bill. One Internet posting imposed a Hitler mustache on Pan's face and put that on an image of someone in a Nazi uniform with the caption: "Act like a Nazi, Get depicted as a Nazi."
A Facebook post by another opponent of the proposed restrictions asks: "Can we hang Pan with a noose instead?"
The postings "are clearly meant to intimidate and silence proponents of SB 277," said Shannan Martinez, a spokeswoman for Pan.