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Are birthers right wing authoritarians?

I’m reading this neat book called “The Authoritarians” by Prof. Bob Altemeyer. Thanks to bgansel9 for suggesting the book. Altemeyer has developed a test for authoritarians, and he found that most of them are right-wing politically.

In the book, we find studies that correlate high RWA’s with other characteristics, and some of these seem to fit Internet birthers (birthers who comment on the Internet).

Chapter 3 of the book has a list of characteristics for these authoritarians. What follows each topic is a brief excerpt from the book in italics, selected to most closely sound like birthers.

How Authoritarian Followers Think

Illogical Thinking

Intrigued, I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large samples of students at my university. In both studies high RWAs went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.

The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right.

When I read that, I could not help but think of the birther reading of the Supreme Court case of Minor v. Happersett.

Highly Compartmentalized Minds

As I said earlier, authoritarians’ ideas are poorly integrated with one another. It’s as if each idea is stored in a file that can be called up and used when the authoritarian wishes, even though another of his ideas–stored in a different file– basically contradicts it. We all have some inconsistencies in our thinking, but authoritarians can stupify you with the inconsistency of their ideas.

…they don’t seem to scan for self-consistency as much as most people do.

Here I would point to the birther assertions that President Obama’s father is both Barack Obama, Sr. and Frank Marshall Davis.

Double Standards

I have found many other instances in which authoritarian followers show a double standard in their judgments of people’s behavior or the rightness of various causes.

I see this all the time, such as the demand for a double blind study to evaluate the Xerox 7655 experiments, while accepting extremely unscientific results claiming that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery.


For example, the leaders of authoritarian movements sometimes accuse their opponents of being anti-democratic and anti-free speech when the latter protest against various books, movies, speakers, teachers and so on.

We see this in the censorship that appears widely on birther web sites.

Blindness To Themselves

… they have no idea how much they differ from others in that way. And most of the time they get it quite wrong, thinking they are not different from others, and even that they are different in the opposite way from how they actually are.

Birthers seem fairly unaware that most people who are well informed and intelligent disagree with them.

A Profound Ethnocentrism

Well, aren’t most people likely to trust someone who seems to agree with them? Probably, but people differ enormously in gullibility. Low RWAs are downright suspicious of someone who agrees with them when they can see ulterior motives might be at work. They pay attention to the circumstances in which the other fellow is operating. But authoritarians do not, when they like the message.

…the authoritarian follower makes himself vulnerable to malevolent manipulation by chucking out critical thinking and prudence 92 as the price for maintaining his beliefs. He’s an “easy mark,” custom-built to be snookered….

The birthers have a willingness to continue to believe Mike Zullo even though he is obviously stringing them along.

Dogmatism: The Authoritarian’s Last Ditch Defense

It’s easy to see why authoritarian followers would be dogmatic, isn’t it? When you haven’t figured out your beliefs, but instead absorbed them from other people, you’re really in no position to defend them from attack. Simply put, you don’t know why the things you believe are true. Somebody else decided they were, and you’re taking their word for it. So what do you do when challenged?

Well first of all you avoid challenges by sticking with your own kind as much as possible, because they’re hardly likely to ask pointed questions about your beliefs. But if you meet someone who does, you’ll probably defend your ideas as best you can, parrying thrusts with whatever answers your authorities have pre-loaded into your head. If these defenses crumble, you may go back to the trusted sources. They probably don’t have to give you a convincing refutation of the anxiety-producing argument that breached your defenses, just the assurance that you nonetheless are right. But if the arguments against you become overwhelming and persistent, you either concede the point–which may put the whole lot at risk–or you simply insist you are right and walk away, clutching your beliefs more tightly than ever.

I found debating on Birther Report that many birthers don’t have a clue what they believe, and when confronted with iron-clad evidence that they are wrong, then retreat to a more general position, like Obama is the worst president ever.


The Chapter 3 characteristics are not the only things I found that might link birthers to high RWA’s. One other is:

Authoritarian followers score highly on the Dangerous World scale…. High RWAs are, in general, more afraid than most people are.

I can’t say how afraid birthers are in general. Conspiracy theorists in general seem to think that the world is dangerous and that it is being manipulated by sinister forces. At least some of the denizens of Birther Report have adopted the idea that various government plots are directed at them, and their guns. Jade Helm 15 conspiracies bear that out.

What is really needed to decide the question is to administer the RWA test to a number of birthers and see how they score.


A new species?

No, I’m not proposing homo birtherus, even though sapiens does sound like a counterintuitive label for this bunch. I think that just as chimps and humans share most of the same DNA, birthers are not all that different from the rest of us, varying only in the orientation of their biases, and in the degree that they exhibit some errors in thinking common to us all.

Street scene showing Lymanfest vendorsThe local village festival, Lymanfest, was held yesterday and for the first time I was in town and able to attend. At such events various groups set up tents and distribute literature. We stopped by one that looked civic minded, but I soon found myself confronted with a climate change denialist. This is not a topic I know a lot about (invoking the Dunning-Kruger effect, I probably know more than I think) and I’m not prepared to go head to head on the street against a practiced partisan without my friend Google to back me up. I said I had seen retreating glaciers in the Andes, and he said the amount of ice in the world was increasing (it isn’t). I moved on.

Previously I mentioned the idea that if someone believes that the government always lies to them, then they will believe anything. Reflecting on my Lymanfest experience, I thought about another excuse to abandon reason: technical complexity. I’m not a climatologist, and neither are most of us. I cannot get deeply into the weeds of the climate change debate. I’m afraid that when some people confront technical complexity that is beyond their training and ability, they take that as a license to believe whatever they want.

This error in thinking is something that I’m not immune to. As for climate change, I have watched the Cosmos documentary episode, “The World Set Free” and was able to follow its argument in favor of climate change. I’ve read NOAA web pages on the topic. I think I’ve been a reasonably responsible thinker on the topic. Still PBS documentaries are part of my automatic comfort zone and my bias. (As I wrote that last bit I was reminded of an article I wrote way back in 1997, “A FAQ about Facts.” I’ve worried about my own bias for along time.) I believe, although I can’t provide any evidence in support, that at least being aware of the errors in thinking we make leads us to make fewer errors.

Readers might, as a diversion, come up with their own proposals for a genus and species for birthers.


Birther provokes ISIS-linked shooting in US

On April 27, 2011, Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate and that same day blogger Pam Geller declared on Fox Business that it “is actually not a birth certificate.”

She appears to know nothing about birth certificates, but she would have to have been off planet not to know that depictions of the prophet Muhammad have provoked violent responses from Muslim extremists. So in recognition of that fact, she held a contest and an exhibit for drawings of the, wait for it……, prophet Muhammad, and what happened? There was a violent response from Muslim extremists leaving two dead and one injured.

Geller is president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group. Rather than a very large “oops” from Geller, the AP reported that “she said that the shooting showed how ‘needed our event really was,’”

There is an ongoing debate debate in America over freedom of speech and respect for religion. I personally don’t think a public “stick it to the Muslims” event is a good idea.

Read more:

Leaking the birthers

I offer this article as a curiosity.

I first came across the name “Stratfor” at a web site called Dazzlepod on one of its pages talking about security breaches at web sites, including Stratfor, Forbes Magazine, YouPorn and  I came across it again today at Wikileaks who say:

On Monday February 27th, 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing The Global Intelligence Files, over five million e-mails from the Texas headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. The e-mails date between July 2004 and late December 2011. They reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defence Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods.

imageThe hacking group Anonymous claims to have provided the emails to Wikileaks. That would seem to be something a good conspiracy theorist or investigative journalist could sink their teeth into; however, what got me to the Wikileaks site was not “Stratfor,” but rather a birther’s email address that happened to be among published Stratfor emails.  Today is not the first time a birther has taken me to Stratfor’s breached data .

The particular leaked email I hit has no content shown, but only a subject heading “[Analytical & Intelligence Comments] 911 COVER-UP ???” on the email from our birther who once posted here as “END the FED” and under another name at Fellowship of the Minds.

There’s nothing really sinister about anyone appearing in the Stratfor disclosure because they sell email reports and Stratfor claims that all that got hacked was a list of their news subscribers. The data breach at Stratfor is covered at the Wikipedia, which describes the breach as consisting of an alleged 200 gigabytes of data including plain text credit card numbers.

Berg Book

imageFinally Phil Berg’s Obama book is out. It’s called ObamaScare, and available both in paperback and Kindle formats. The book has 32 chapters plus an appendix and index for 266 pages.

I have a moral objection to giving money to bad guys, specifically buying their books, so I look for used copies. In this case Amazon lets me read the book for free through their Kindle Unlimited program. One immediately notes that there is a big difference between the paperback edition and the Kindle edition (as seen by previews on the Amazon web site)—the Kindle edition has no table of contents.

What I wanted to look at was the chapter titled “Malaysia MH17 – Obama could have Avoided the Destruction.” Berg blames the conflict in the Ukraine, and the air disaster, on Obama’s foreign policy. He doesn’t develop the idea or present specifics, but it happened, and it must be Obama’s fault, and this at a hasty glance, appears to be most of what the book is about. Oh, and Benghazi.

Berg both denies Obama is a US citizen, and asserts that he is guilty of treason. He also makes a case for impeachment. He says that ObamaCare and Benghazi will “bring him down.”

Yes, there are standard birther talking points in the book such as:

And Obama has spent over Three Million [$3] Dollars to keep his records sealed.

You’d think someone like Berg would know better. And Berg says following a paragraph on the “grandmother tape”:

When New York Times bestseller author Jerome Corsi traveled to Kenya to investigate the claims, he was almost immediately kicked out of the country by Kenyan officials.

Only Corsi was detained in Kenya on October 7, 2008, and subsequently deported. The “grandmother tape” was recorded October 16, 2008. Corsi could have hardly gone to Kenya to investigate the grandmother tape, as the interview had not occurred.

Berg seems to be stuck in time, including very little discussion about Obama’s long-form birth certificate in 2011, and what there is appears amidst a chapter on Berg’s 2009 lawsuit.

He also talks quite a lot about Orly Taitz, concluding:

There are so many other appearances by Orly Taitz that has (sic) undermined the efforts of others and yes, my efforts to expose the real fraud of Soetoro/Obama.

The book is a mess.


The birther movement is quite a phenomenon in its size and longevity. Since the very beginning I have tried to understand it under various models. What has come to mind of late is the concept of slander and this is how I would put it:

People prejudiced against Barack Obama justify their prejudice by slandering him, and in turn they justify their prejudice against anyone connected with Obama by slandering them too.

The original source of prejudice, I believe, is either racism or bias against anyone not on the right politically. Racism still remains stigmatized in the minds of most Americans, so racists have to come up with some other justification, such as calling Obama other things (noting that there’s noting “wrong” with some of these):

  • Ineligible (foreign born)
  • Ineligible (not a natural born citizen because of his father)
  • A forger
  • A liar
  • A Muslim
  • A Communist
  • Gay
  • A foreigner

And by extension, Obama’s parents, grandparents and wife come in for their own slander. The State of Hawaii, it’s constitutional officers, and the Department of Health have been demeaned. Members of Congress are called traitors for not doing anything. Even bloggers and others who criticize birthers have come in for their share. I got this mild example through the Contact Form a few days back:

[B]efore I read this I thought Obama was the biggest liar in the world but now I see I was wrong. He’s tied with you. If you have kids you’re helping to insure they have no future in America.

When I replied asking what I had lied about, the writer evaded the question. I replied:

You have sent me several emails, but you have yet to identify any falsehood or immoral act on my part. It seems to me that your perception of “terrible” is based on prejudice rather than fact.

Slander is deeply offensive to me in all of its manifestations. Combatting it is one of the things that keeps me blogging.