One thing puzzles me about the birthers–their optimism. Conspiracy theorists in general are not at all optimistic. They see themselves as the voice in the wilderness crying, but largely unheeded. They believe they know the truth, but they also believe that the powers they confront, the level of control that the conspirators exert, are so great that it is simply not possible for them to actually win by persuading most people to agree with them. They feel an obligation to try expose the truth, but they have little hope of broad success. As historian Richard Hofstadter wrote of the paranoid style of conspiracy theorists:
the apocalypticism of the paranoid style runs dangerously near to hopeless pessimism, but usually stops short of it.
Birthers share the common conspiracy theory pattern of a powerful opponent. They believe that President Obama (or George Soros, the New World Order, the Chicago Mafia, or whoever) can essentially make anyone say anything they want, control news coverage, fabricate evidence, and generally keep everyone in the government (all three branches) looking the other way. The masses are traumatized into acquiescence by the fear of massive race riots. Yet despite the apparently insurmountable obstacles before them, birthers are (at least the more vocal ones on the Internet) very optimistic.
Birthers lose 210 cases in court (plus numerous appeals and the US Supreme Court has turned away all appealed to it), yet many are convinced that the McInnish case in Alabama will succeed. One wrote:
Undoubtedly, the walls are closing in on Obama. Reed Hayes will serve as an unimpeachable witness before Roy Moore’s Alabama Supreme Court and from there the United States Supreme Court will have no options but to declare Obama ineligible.
Despite the abject failure of the Cold Case Posse to gain media respect or traction among the general public after three press conferences, numerous radio interviews and a book, birthers believe that “the evidence that will convince even the greatest skeptic” is in the hands of the Posse awaiting the right moment to be released.
Optimism is so endemic among the birthers that the phrase “any day now” has become the mocking byword of their opponents. Birthers are as much characterized by their optimism as their theories.
So why are conspiracy theorists in general pessimistic, but birthers optimistic?
The first and simplest of the speculations is sort of a “counter conspiracy theory.” It goes… Birthers are irrationally optimistic because they are being mind controlled. Cynical manipulators who either for financial gain or political gain, convince birthers using propaganda techniques and trickery to be optimistic in order to motivate them to consume products (like advertising of generally worthless stuff at WorldNetDaily for example) and to motivate them to contribute money to political causes and to vote in elections. While denying that it was for financial motives, Joseph Farah (editor or WND) admitted that they created the birth certificate controversy:
“Well, it’s popular because of us,” said Farah. “We essentially created it, didn’t we? That wasn’t a decision made because there was a constituency out there waiting for this, [or] it was a way to make money. Those people had to be found.”1
I suppose that’s plausible, but not being a conspiracy theorist, I can’t connect the dots.
I think perhaps a better explanation is in the difference in world view between birthers and other conspiracy theorists. Other conspiracy theorists feel uneasy about the world, and seek to understand it through conspiracy theories. They reject the notion of random events in favor of the machinations of the powerful. It is the individual’s knowledge of the conspiracy that frees him from the control of the conspirators, not the overthrow of the conspirators themselves.
Birthers on the other hand are not trying to understand the world, they are trying to deny it. A sophisticated, moral, religious, attractive and smart black man cannot exist and he certainly cannot be the leader of the country. He cannot be who he appears to be. Birthers are not trying to remove Obama from the presidency; they want to unmake his image and deny that he was ever president. This has been their expressed goal since the beginning. Look at birther language on impeachment: “Obama cannot be impeached because he is not really president.”
Birthers have to be optimistic because their core understanding of who they are and their place in society depends on their being right. Being ruled by a black man simply cannot happen. Belief in their imminent vindication and the overthrow of Obama and everything he has ever done is all that sustains them. They want to wake one day and find that it has all been a bad dream. They cannot bear to think that they will never wake up.
I’d like to add one final observation. Most conventional conspiracy theorists are Gnostics; they believe that salvation comes through individual knowledge. Birthers are messianic in their outlook; they look for a savior to deliver them from the travails of the world (and the birthers have latched onto so very many over the last 5 years). There is a third group who believe they are the instruments of their own salvation and of everyone else: these are the militia types and the really scary ones of the lot.
1The word “or” in brackets appeared in the original article by David Weigel, who reported what he heard, presumably without the “or.” The added word reverses the meaning. Without it, Farah is saying that he started the birther movement to make money. I can only assume that Weigel added the word based on some context that he didn’t publish in order to make the meaning correct.