I asked myself that question last night. Supposedly the birther movement started as a comment at the Free Republic web site, a rumor with no hint of why one should believe it. Some people believed it because they wanted to. Early birthers were some Hillary Clinton supporters, the so-called PUMAs. They got a big boost when Phil Berg filed his lawsuit and made it somehow “official.” Birtherism also got a boost from pro-Israel individuals and web sites, like Ron Polland and the Israel Insider, joined with some participation form white supremacists.
Initially birtherism seemed to be a genuine grassroots movement, primarily a creature of the blogosphere. Who benefited? I’d say that in 2008 no one did. Barack Obama won the election handily and became President, and Phil Berg got entangled in a messy lawsuit.
After the election birther bloggers continued to promote various rumors, but I think that it was the full-scale entry of WorldNetDaily in 2009 that was the tipping point that that turned birtherism mainstream, from a basement operation to an industrial polluter. The other major boost to birtherism was the entry of celebrity Donald Trump into the fray. However, President Obama effectively dealt with Trump, and made him a national laughingstock when Obama released his the long-form birth certificate, and birther numbers were decimated. Clearly Donald Trump didn’t benefit from the birther movement.
The story didn’t end with Trump’s national disgrace. Birtherism came back. It was, again, bloggers, or more precisely YouTubers who who went ape-dip over proving the long form was a fraud, but YouTube is not really a broadcast medium. It was WorldNetDaily again who made birthers front page news with birther coverage 24-7. They developed their on stable of crackpot experts to analyze the layers of the PDF (in the 60’s there was a TV commercial that posed the question: “Is three enough? Is six too many? You never know with prunes.”). Today if you ask a birther for justification, they will point to Sheriff Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse which is largely a WorldNetDaily/Jerome Corsi production, with WND as writer, director and producer. Also WorldNetDaily’s own attorney Larry Klayman is big news at WND in the Florida Obama ballot challenge case. (I would not be a bit surprised to learn that WND is paying Klayman to represent Voeltz.)
Joseph Farah once said that he created the birther movement. Why do that? The obvious reason is that WND is creating demand for its products. It’s just like commercials that stigmatize dandruff or greasy hair in order to sell products to combat it. I believe the books, the billboards, the streaming videos and the daily run of articles are all not for the purposes of removing President Obama from office, or forestalling his reelection, but rather for the purpose of getting the hoard of conspiracy theorists and Obama-haters to visit WorldNetDaily’s web site and look at their ads.
You can see the WND emphasis in their coverage. Joe Arpaio, with close ties to WND, is featured frequently. Klayman gets prominent mention. Orly Taitz, on the other hand, is mentioned sparsely (and mostly in 2009) and when she is, she’s not the subject of the article, but merely the attorney listed for the case who isn’t quoted. Taitz is competition for those mouse clicks.
Birtherism only exists among people who wouldn’t vote for Obama anyway. The grassroots birther gets no benefit in terms of electoral outcome. It’s toxic to mainstream politicians. Joseph Farah and WorldNetDaily are the ones who really benefit from the birther movement.