The conspiracy theory I call “the birther movement” has been around 5 years now and over that time we’ve seen an Internet rumor grow to a national phenomenon, where most people know about it and at one point more than half of Republicans believed it. Books were written, web sites created, over 200 lawsuits were filed (all without success), and the President himself addressed the issue in a special press conference on national television.
Where are we now?
Clearly much of energy behind birtherism was political. Support for such beliefs was strongly skewed toward people leaning to the right politically, and if any one birther demographic were signaled out, it would be old conservative southern white guys. Today, however, political motivation is waning as the focus of presidential politics moves from Barack Obama to the 2016 election. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said that a political movement based on “angry white guys” is not sustainable.
The 9/11 truthers were largely left-leaning at the start, and focused on President George W. Bush. In 2006, as the administration of Bush wound down, activism from the left died down, and truther activists are now comprised mainly of far right groups: Constitutional Party and Libertarian supporters, folks who are prone to conspiracy belief in general. What we see among the Truthers is a shift from political motivation to classic conspiracy theory thinking, and an overall decline in activism.
With the birther movement, I think that we’ll a see similar shift this year. The racial bias that underlies much of the movement will remain and I expect that “angry white guys” will continue to be the core demographic, but general right-wing activism will decline, while general conspiracy thinking and racial bias will provide any new converts. The President is scheduled to leave office in January 2017, and that leaves hardly any opportunity for new lawsuits, although Orly Taitz continues her individual legal efforts to pry documents out of the federal government.
One interesting development is the election of a number of Tea Party affiliates to Congress. These individuals, who may be described as “fringe” in many of their beliefs, and characterized by a general non-application of critical thinking to their public positions, are ripe candidates for new birther converts, or may be “closet birthers” already. We’re waiting to see what if anything will come from Representatives Stockman and Yoho. We may see resolutions or bills introduced (but not approved) relating to birther issues. We may again see allied legislation (to require birth certificates from presidential candidates) offered in States in the run up to the 2016 election. Now that they cannot be accused of being attempts to block Obama’s candidacy, some of these “birther bills” may actually pass.
What I see today is a lack of enthusiasm among birthers. Many birther web sites have gone inactive. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Cold Case Posse is about the only news-making activity going on, and that initiative really has nowhere to go1 besides making money from Mike Zullo’s new book. On the other hand, I think that low-level birtherism is with us for the long term, settling down among all the other many conspiracy theories (Freemasons, black helicopters, New World Order, chemtrails, HAARP, alien abduction/UFO cover up, and on and on) that haunt the back alleys of the Internet.
1Maricopa County lacks jurisdiction to prosecute any alleged crimes involving President Obama, plus the County Prosecutor seems to be level-headed enough to recognize that the Posse doesn’t have any evidence.