2009 was an amazing year for conspiracy theories and fringe views about Barack Obama. If any one thing about the year was remarkable, it was the persistence of those who support these views. What started up as a few Internet blogs turned by year’s end into a new word, “birther” entering the vocabulary as a runner up for “word of the year.” Certainly much of the credit goes to the WorldNetDaily web site, a site with considerable readership that has been willing to publish just about any theory that was presented if it made Obama look suspicious.
“Birther” views (theories that Barack Obama’s mother slipped away to Africa to give birth to our President and slipped back to plant a false birth registration in Hawaii) persisted through the year, and 2009 was presented with not one, but two fake Kenyan birth certificates for Barack Obama. While the two fake certificates were quickly debunked by Internet investigators, still the very appearance of fakes tended to cheapen on-line copies of birth certificates in general, and President Obama’s in particular. They brought home the valid point that images on the Internet are easily faked.
By midyear most folks had realized that the “African genesis” was really too implausible to be taken seriously and Obama eligibility denialism shifted to legal theories defining the constitutional requirement that a US president be a “natural born citizen.”Led by sometime lawyer and semi-professional poker player, Leo C. Donofrio, a set of arguments based on the writing of a now-obscure 18th century Swiss jurist, Emerich de Vattel, were crafted to overturn the conventional wisdom that US presidents just had to be born US citizens. Indeed the arguments were so successful that many individuals developed false memories that they were taught this in their high school civics class (even though no textbook with this idea has ever been found). When it was discovered that Chester A. Arthur, a 19th century president, also had a non-citizen parent, a campaign was launched to smear Arthur.
The idea that loyalty is transmitted through the blood played well with those holding racist sentiments, and those who feel threatened by immigrants and the changing ethnic demographics of the country. Eligibility denialists reached back to racist court decisions, such as the infamous Dred Scott case, to find support for parentage-based citizenship.
More than anything else, 2009 was the year of the lawsuit, with 63 cases to date being filed. With the lawsuits came a stream of lawyers, including the manic Orly Taitz, DDS, Esq, the aforementioned Donofrio, the personable Gary Kreep, the sharp-tongued Mario Apuzzo, the all-around conspiracy theorist Phillip J. Berg, the elderly John D. Hemenway, Stephen Pidgeon and the always prolific pro se. None of the cases went anywhere, being dismissed for lack of standing, redressability and jurisdiction. Some judges took the trouble to label the cases “frivolous” and sanctions were issued against Taitz and Hemenway. One state appeals court in Indiana went so far as to rule on and reject the parentage requirement, much to the chagrin of the denialists.
2009 became somewhat of a soap opera for the denialists, first with claims of hacking and misappropriation of donations leading to a lawsuit between several of the denialist personalities: Berg, Taitz, Ostella, Liberi and Hale. Next there were claims that Taitz had suborned perjury followed by tawdry descriptions of the extra-marital sexual relations of Taitz (something not covered by this web site). Two convicted felons got involved with the Taitz lawsuits. Taitz herself was plagued by malicious software being distributed by her web site.
While traffic here at Obama Conspiracy Theories peaked in August of 2009, it remained strong throughout the year. News coverage of “birthers” has been steadily increasing. In news articles today we find that “birther” has entered the mainstream vocabulary and it is used in contexts where the reader is expected to already know what it means. This is the great shift: Obama denialism has turned from a crank idea that hardly anyone had heard about to a crank idea that everybody has heard about. I offer a special thanks to the Columbus, GA Ledger-Enquirer for its in depth hometown coverage of the lawsuits in federal court there.
Here are some of the highlights from this web site.
- January: Many birthers fooled by satirical story of Obama requiring military recruits to swear allegiance to him. Kerchner v. Obama lawsuit filed. A vigil was held at the Supreme Court. Orly attacked Obama in court using an obscure and inapplicable executive order from George Bush, the case that became Barnett v. Obama. Kapi’olani Hospital celebrates anniversary with letter from Obama stating he was born there. Oh, and Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States.
- February: Obama Conspiracy Theories blog declares John McCain birth certificate a fake. Tensions between the Taitz and Berg camps heat up. TN Representative Swafford joins Taitz list of plaintiffs.
- March: Taitz publishes do-it-yourself grand jury manual. Hollister v. Soetoro case dismissed, attorney Hemenway reprimanded. Taitz called for an investigation of cyber fraud at the Supreme Court. Andy Martin’s National Conference on Obama’s missing birth certificate and college records.
- April: Anonymous complaint filed against Orly Taitz with the California Bar. Orly launches Dr. Orly Taitz, Esq blog (her 4th). Attorney Apuzzo makes claim that President Obama is currently a British subject. Andy Martin boycotts Hawaii.
- May: First “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” billboard appears in Ball, LA. Liberi v. Taitz lawsuit filed.
- June: President Obama swatted a fly during a taped interview. This blog cited in a federal lawsuit (Hamblin v. Obama). Berg v. Obama lawsuit unsealed and dismissed. White supremacist birther kills museum guard. Department of Health declares the COLB the “official” birth certificate of Hawaii.
- July: Daily KOS poll shows striking regional divide in Obama Conspiracy beliefs. Ronald Polland identified as the man behind the Ron Polarick, PhD character. Orly Taitz appears on a special birther edition of The Colbert Report on the Comedy Channel. Hawaii official declares Obama a “natural born citizen” born in Hawaii. Cook v Good lawsuit dismissed in Georgia. Taitz files First Amended Complaint in Keyes v. Obama. Super American Grand Jury booted out of court. Al Franken wins Minnesota Senate seat.
- August: Rhodes v. Gates lawsuit filed (and dismissed). Address on Obama birth announcement confirmed. Fake Kenyan birth certificates abound! Taitz blog infested with malware. More fake birth certificates. Taitz accuses Judge Lazzara of conspiracy. Craig v US appeal denied.
- September: Barnett v. Obama dismissed.
- October: Lucas Smith declares Orly asked him to lie under oath. Kerchner v. Obama dismissed. Hearing in Barnett v. Obama before Judge Carter. Leo Omolo interview at the Post and Email blog. Orly sanctioned by Judge Land in Georgia. Obama wins Nobel Prize.
- November: Cook v Good appeal dismissed. Orly Taitz protest against Fox News. Wiley Drake and Pastor Manning stop praying for Obama to Die.“Birther” is finalist for “word of the year.” Homeland Security visits Pastor Manning - Manning video scrubbed from YouTube. Indiana appeals court declares citizen parents not required to be a “natural born citizen.” Berg v. Obama appeal denied.
- December: One year anniversary for Obama Conspiracy Theories web site. Donofrio and Pidgeon file lawsuit on behalf of former Chrysler dealers. Sarah Palin makes birther comment (and takes it back). Donofrio closes his blog.
That was just a small sample of the over 600 articles on this site.
It’s hard to see into the future. The few remaining lawsuits on appeal will almost certainly be denied. Certainly denialists will attempt to make their theories an issue in the 2010 elections, and this may have some effect particularly in the South where denialism among white conservatives is a mainstream (if not even a majority) view. It’s a scary time with the US economy recovering slowly with persistent unemployment. There is always the fear that someone will do something stupid and someone will get hurt. I think this unlikely, but it remains a possibility.
Stay tuned. This blog is in it for another year.