A cursory look at the birther movement might lead one to wonder why anyone would want to be a birther. The birthers’ expressed intention of keeping Barack Obama out of the White House, and later removing him and erasing his legacy, are further from realization than ever. They have lost a remarkable sting of lawsuits. They are regularly derided by the media, when they are mentioned at all. Even conservative politicians wish that they would go away.
Since the birther conspiracy theories don’t explain the larger economic forces in the world, they don’t alleviate the anxiety caused by the loss of control over their lives to faceless bureaucracies. So what’s in it for the birthers?
Racism isn’t socially acceptable anymore; the “n” word is totally taboo. Anyone who opposes Obama from a bigoted stance (whether racial, ethnic, or religious1) is able to say the nastiest things and express seething hatred toward Obama under the “usurper” label and thereby avoid the stigma and social ostracism 0f the bigot.
Fame/pride in accomplishment
In a world approaching 7 billion people, distinguishing oneself is no trivial pursuit. One of our birther commenters here said that she had made a YouTube video that will end the Obama presidency. Such an accomplishment would cement a place in history for the one who accomplished it. For some whose grandiose delusions are collective rather than individual, the the sense of hoped for notable accomplishment still beckons.
A sense of place
I have described myself is a profoundly uninteresting person. Being a liberal in the South is a little like the “lonely petunia in an onion patch.” I can understand the desire to fit in and to be accepted. The birther movement is a fraternal organization, like a church or the freemasons, or the Rotary Club. The birther who is otherwise a misfit, finds a community of like-minded people, and an Internet-based circle of friends. They have their own special events and heroes like Terry Lakin and Commander Kerchner. They have their own jargon and shared history.
But most of all, they have a place as part of what they see as an important movement in history.
As they say, “follow the money.” This is impossible to quantify because no birther organization reports their income. Many birther websites feature donation links (in contrast to anti-birther websites which do not accept donations).
Many birthers have a political agenda that the birther movement attempts to push. Conservative, anti-government types clearly benefit from smearing Barack Obama. Anti-immigrant activism also plays a role, since Barack Obama is the ultimate example of an immigrant (non-US-citizen father) who took the job that should have gone to a “real American.”
So these are a few answers to the question of “what’s in it for the birthers?” What else?
1While Barack Obama professes to be a Christian, the conspiracy theorists tried to make him Muslim.
Of the reasons you listed I find the “sense of place” most interesting. The brither community might be a pathetic, seditious, and hate-filled community, but it is a community nonetheless. As much as we might like to think of ourselves as “lone wolves” we are communal animals and we are much more comfortable as part of a group than we are on our own (and we tend to accomplish much more as well – the birthers may be an exception in this regard, however…). I think that the characteristics of the internet communities that have been formed by the birthers are the best indicators of what’s in it for the birthers and what they WANT to be in it for them (besides frogmarching the evil usurper…).
When I was in the news business many years ago I often had young reporters who were sure they uncovered the next Watergate (I was there for the first one) and I always suggested that they look first for the simplest explanation, the most mundane.
In the case of birthers I think racism is at the heart of it but after that the most probable explanation is…….they’re just plain nuts.
Simple. Easily understandable.
for many — especially paranoid extremists — birferism fits neatly within their pre-existing worldview, like a shiny new piece of a boundless puzzle. these folks would have to discard major chunks of — if not their entire — worldview before they could deny birferism. since one’s worldview looks within as well as without, changing it is more than an intellectual exercise; collateral changes in one’s lifestyle are also implied.
how many of us are ready to change their lifestyle — even when we already recognize that we should? i thought so. i would categorize this aspect under “personal philosophy”.
If President Obama were white, there’s no way folks like butterdezillion would be so
ginned up by this nonsense. Of course, it’s bigotry. Disgusting, despicable bigotry.
Today in Free Republic, butterdezillion posts another in a series of batshit insane
comments: ” And it’s also what Eric Holder said regarding the New Black Panther voter intimidation case: “Bring criminal charges against MY PEOPLE and I will zot you and end the investigation.”
Eric Holder said no such thing, but the way Nellie capitalizes MY PEOPLE, and the
way she’s referred to Muslims as “Muzzies” tells me everything I need to know about where this bigot is coming from.
Ummm, they are bad people, and can’t help but be the way they are.
I thought Doc said he was going on vacation for the first week of July.
I think racism is at the base for most individuals.
When you see statements like Get Obama out of our WHITE House (with “white” emphasized), photoshopped images of Obama dressed as a witch doctor, prominent birthers doing radio interviews with known racists and being embraced by other birthers rather than shunned (SPLC Exposes Anti-Obama Propagandist’s Appearance on Racist Radio Show^, Hawaii elections clerk Tim Adams doing interviews with the same organization^ via Fogbow), etc., it really cannot be anything else.
Which is why when I see mainstream Republican politicians like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin cozy up to the birthers, I despair. They know that they’re pandering to racists, and they don’t care.
Prominent Republicans kissing up to racists should bother everyone. There is no excuse for it, it’s dangerous, and it is wrong.
It’s been the policy of the Republican Party to pander to racists for over 30 years. Southern Strategy, baby.
I think one key thing is being forgotten – what do the birthers get out of it? It gives them the ability to escape into a fantasy world where Obama isn’t the President. Where they don’t have to admit to themselves that a guy “like him” actually won the Presidency of the United States because it was all a fraud. Where regardless of the actual results of court cases, they can act confident that “any day now” he’ll be arrested for these made-up crimes.
As long as they cling to birtherism they can deny that America today is not the America they want it to be, because the “black guy” just cheated. That the “real America” is still what they envision it to be. They don’t have to start thinking about the reality that a large number of Americans actually cast their vote for him.
This stuff is addictive, and when inspiration strikes, capture it. I appreciate Doc’s “dispatches from the road”–or wherever he is!
When can we expect the corollary: “What’s in it for Anti-Birthers?” I readily admit to some less than admirable reasons for continued interest, in addition to academic, civic, and professional interests, of course. 😉
I don’t know about all of that … maybe I found an area where I have more “standing” and expertise. I mentioned in the first thread that I was a “birther” for the last 6 months, and over the last 2 days in this site, have been convinced otherwise (while still having several reservations about particular issues in the mix). I’ve seen racist involved, but not by any measure near the majority. I am not racist and am leaning towards Herman Cain as my favored candidate (I voted for Alan Keyes in previous elections but turned quite sour on him during the last election based on strategies, principles and marketing). I admitted early in the other thread that political bias is certainly a part of it, as so much of the politics doesn’t make sense to a dedicated conservative.
But still, the bottom-line for me was a headline caught and read, predisposed by my political bias, and then finding “convincing” evidence & arguments from the birther sources, whilst only seeing maligning, belittling, side-stepping issues from the other side. The anti-birther press determination to belittle rather than expose through better logic and evidence only further entrenched me in my quest for TRUTH and loyalty to the constitution and our country. Anyway … that is what it felt like at the time. And the continuous insinuations that to question constitutional eligibility was obvious racism was so insulting it only furthered my conclusions that the arrogant, ignorant threats to our society had nothing but that … made me more certain that I was right.
Please don’t reply that I am calling any of you all of those things now–I am just explaining the thinking of a birther from an insider’s look.
And I mentioned earlier–I had too much free time on my hands.
I for one very much appreciate your candid feedback and insight.
If anything, you’ve demonstrated how well-intended people can simply get caught up in trusting a source that seems to support their natural bias leanings and then double-down in defense of it reflexively, when they feel attacked. Sounds like a good cautionary tale of simple human nature for all of us to reflect upon.
It’s everyday wishful thinking ~
“I hope the Democrats have to forfeit due to a technicality because I don’t feel like doing the hard work it takes to win an election”.
and without the internet we’d never hear that one simple thought over and over and over . . .
Joy – I don’t think anyone can say it’s simple racism that drives the birthers (though a lot of them are prone to racist commentary.)
1) Some are simply upset that a Democrat won in 2008.
2) Some are upset that Obama won instead of Hillary Clinton.
3) Some don’t believe he’s not a Muslim.
But there’s streak of good of fashioned racism there as well. I’ve seen a lot of people call Obama a “14th amendment citizen”, and there’s the above mentioned racist signs at birther affairs and tea parties. And many of those who cry “I’m not racist” the most, like Dr. Kate, Sharon Rondeau, Lawrence Sellin, and others, seem to be rather happy to let the racism flow in articles, comments, and links.
It would be foolish to claim the birthers are driven only by racism. But it would be just as foolish to ignore the racist elements within the birther movement.
Thanks for that, Joy. I fell down this rabbit hole quite unexpectedly myself. Trump entered the background noise in early spring, and I thought he was cracked. Obama released his LFBC, and I thought it odd he had bothered to respond. That night I flipped past FOX news and saw some amateurish comments on the PDF, rolled my eyes, certain it would be gone in a week. 3 weeks later, I came across Corsi’s book by chance while killing time in B&N while waiting on car repair. All sort of crap gets published in the “current events” genre, but that seemed especially weird, so I looked it up on Amazon when I got home, to see where it came from. That lead to links to Vogt, and I as I read that, shocked at the blatant use of misinformation to confuse, I started to expect Rod Serling to pop out of the closet and explain how I found my way into the Twilight Zone.
And that was only the tip of the iceberg. I had no idea this had been going on for 3-4 years. Looking into birtherism has led me to do what I should have done anyway, dig deeper into the structure of PDF files in general, and examining my own values and political beliefs. I’m trying not to allow contact with the birthers to move me farther left, but they certainly are trying LOL.
BTW, if anyone feels so inclined, Mark Gillar, he of the Tea Party Power Hour, is looking for an “Anti-Birther Expert” to go on his BlogTalk Radio show, to discuss the White House’s PDF. Anyone interested? On non-birther subjects he seems OK, but on this topic, he quickly loses it. He is convinced O will be impeached in the next 18 months. Or, at least, he insists he believes this. I’m STILL not convinced these guys actually believe this stuff.
You’ll have to excuse any suspicion and hostile intial reactions you get. It seems every day, there’s someone new who comes along with a “concern” and then just goes through a long string of birther talking points, and after ignoring all the responses, goes on a tirade of “Obama is evil and destroying our contry” and then goes back to the top of the list of birther talking points that have been debunked numerous times. So if you are indeed searching for the truth, please be patient with the occasional knee jerk outbursts.
And my personal take is that there is actually very little racism that is the source of birtherism. The racist label gets thrown around because there just happen to be a good number of birthers who just happen to be racists (i.e. Tim Adams). I think that on the extremes, there are just people who refuse to accept as president, someone who does not fit their ideological bent. I think there are more of them on the right then left, in part because the right has adopted the propaganda of the left being out to destroy what they define the country as representing, but the left does not have clean hands here either (the whole “Bush is not my president” b.s.). The extreme right was trying to get Clinton impeached before he was even sworn in, and just how much money was spent investigating him? Goes back to trying to delegitimze the President. If you honestly believe he is trying to destroy the country, how can he possibly be a legitimate President?
I would also point out that there is a very good reason why the press has belitted the birthers. It’s because there isn’t anything there (however, I would point out that just before the release of the long form CNN did a rather expansive report on the birther myths). They have absolutely no facts or law on their side. On top of it all, the utter absurdity of the logistics of the President being born in Kenya is pretty much insurmountable on it’s own. Before even going into the facts we have, think about why this 18 year-old white girl from Kansas would travel to a third world nation while heavily pregnant, alone, to a country where her husbands first, non-divorced wife lives, and then travel to the opposite side of that country to give birth. And when you examine some of the silly things they come up with, you have to wonder why they don’t get even more ridicule. Donald Trump questioned why and how the Dunhams would have paid for the announcements of Obama’s birth, citing their limited finances. Beyond the fact that he didn’t even bother to look up the fact that the announcements were put there by the state, and not individuals, it doesn’t even occur to him that he is suspcious that they would spend money to place a birth announcement, but somehow the idea of spending thousands of dollars to travel to Africa to give birth is perfectly plausible? Birthers want people to be suspicious of things like layering in pdfs and parse the statements of both republican and democratic government officials of Hawaii to the point where they mean the exact opposite of what the plain words mean, but what evidence exists for him being born anywhere but Hawaii? What evidence is there for a Kenyan birth? The burden is placed on the President to constantly “re-prove” his evidence. Evidence that would be admitted in every court in this coutry. Prima facie evidence that is sufficient to legally establish those facts. And yet they have no requirement to provide even the slightest bit of evidence as to him being born anywhere else?
And while I genuinely don’t believe the MSM is pocket of the left, I can understand that the drum beat of the “liberal media” might cause you some suspicion. However, you dismiss the likes of fact check and snopes, and then accept WND? You’re not even saying Fox news, which even then I might share my head a touch…but Fox doesn’t even want to get in bed with the birthers. I think you have to admit, you can’t exactly consider that seriously looking for an honest answer if you rely on WND for facts. But beyond that, kudos to you for actually being someone who may be open to discussion. I hope that I at least provided some perspective from this side of the argument.
Thanks for the travelogue of your visit to birtherstan, it was very interesting. We don’t often hear from the people who become interested in the birthers and investigate the issue enough to discover the truth (I assume that many people look into it and see that there’s no there there and just forget about it). I think you did a good job of showing how your actions were reasonable at every stage (and illustrates why a rational person wont succumb to birtherism – the more deeply you look into it, the greater the chance that you’ll figure out that it just doesn’t make any sense…). I hope you’ll keep commenting here – you have a unique perspective.
This suggests the question also, “What’s in it if they’re NOT birthers?”
In my locale, you’d be ridiculed if you supported Obama.
Just about everyone in my town (pop: 3000) is older, right-wing and Obama-hating.
So it’s not just the internet, but also small towns and communities.
Everyone here talks and gossips about everyone else, so it just takes one or two birther / paranoid types to infect many others.
Here it’s just like in Blazing Saddles: “These are simple people…salt of the Earth people.” “You mean morons?”
These are generally not educated, well-traveled, cultured individuals. Not a lot of intellectual curiosity either.
They were born here and will die here.
Everyone they’re friends with lives within 6 miles of each other.
Just one of many thousands of little microcosms like it in the US.
Whether on the web or in their own small community, I think some people become birthers simply by limited social contacts (and ignorance.)
As I mentioned before in the discussion about demographic indicators for birtherism, rural definitely seems to be one from what I’ve observed as well.
Highlighting very good points, US! In small towns, communal storytelling “creates” Truth. Once repeated often enough, memes become commonly accepted because “everybody knows that”. The internet compunds this in two ways: 1) by creating insular communities online (virtual small towns!), and by 2) connecting real small towns, allowing communal stories to become viral across the country. Thus the “communal truth” on a given subject in Pocola, OK will be the same communal truth in Sunshine, FL and Pocatello, ID. Before you know it, coast to coast, everyone knows that. This isn’t a new phenomenon, the technology of the day has always been used to spread storylines. The internet is just the fastest ever …
. . . AND WHEN ONE OF THEM NOOBS GETS ON THE INTARWEBS THEY FREEK OVER SPAM CHAIN E-MAILS, LOL AT REALLY OLD LOLZ & STORM THREADS THEY FOUND ON THE GOOGLE WITH FRIGHT WING BIRTHER SQUAWKING POINTS FROM THE TALK RADIO LIKE ITS GOSPEL AND THEN REALLY FREAK WHEN SUM SCARY COMMIE SAYS ITS WRONG
it could also be pathological simplification taken to an extreme.
When faced with complex issues, many of us tend to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator so we can explain our stance on it to others.
You can’t get simpler than “he’s wrong because he’s an impostor and shouldn’t be president in the first place.”
It would explain why so many of their theories fall apart when you pull one little thread, but they just can’t or won’t admit it. That one little thread is all they have.
Because that’s all they have left, all sane republicans now claim they are Independent.
As the young minister of a conservative Church in the UK, I come across birthers occasionally (though usually repeating someone else’s ideas). Part of it is the desire to find a simple way to get rid of Obama without an election (but that would just mean President Biden, something the Birthers usually forget). Ill at ease with Obama’s policies, the attempt is made to find a ‘silver bullet’ that will get rid of him.
I have been following 9/11 Conspiracy theories since Seminary, when one of my fellow-students was influenced by them (I hasten to add that in the UK conservative theology is not closely connected to politics, and many of the students were politically left-wing), and often they were joined with a dislike of Bush. Find that he was somehow responsible for 9/11, and this would be the ‘silver bullet’ to get rid of him. It was interesting how the closeness of the vote for Bush was so often brought up!
The fact is that in a democracy we have to accept the results of the ballot, even when we disagree with them. Trutherism and Birtherism are both attempts to by-pass the ballot.
Of course there are things that Obama has said about Islam that could be used in isolation to say that he’s a Muslim. But then I once heard a Presbyterian minister say that Christians should reverence Mohammed! And Bush has said practically the same things about Islam – but of course Bush didn’t have a Muslim father, and isn’t black.
Thank you for sharing your insights. You’ve made some very good points about a simplistic emotional desire to merely bypass a ballot when faced with a candidate that someone does not like. I will encorporate your “silver bullet” theory into my list of explanations for these movements and mindsets from now on.
I can say I’ve lived in towns like that … but not been “stuck” in one. I am defnitely a “city-boy”, and lived for 9 years in three different countries (East and West), big cities of America to small town USA. I have a bachelors in a highly esteemed institution with a technical masters. I don’t think birthers can be so easily pigeon-holed demographically … other than political bias. As I shared earlier, my trip down that road was not from “limited social contact (and ignorance)” … although ignorance of the true facts did take me some time to discover (I maintain based on political bias). Not that there isn’t any merit to “higher concentrations” of predisposed folks along demographic lines … but like Pastor Charmley mentions, the same demographic doesn’t align itself to “truthers” like political bias does.
Remember, when we say something is a demographic indicator, it doesn’t mean that it holds true for all, just a sufficient amount of a population to indicate increased liklihood.
Same as polls that consistently showed a significantly higher MARGIN of those reporting birther beliefs in the South. That by no means says that if one lives in the South that they are a Birther, just that you are more likely to encounter a Birther in that region, as it seems to have greater appeal there. Same as the aspect of racism, rural, etc. we’ve discussed on these boards.
There is no fixed mold of what motivates a birther or what that Birther’s profile is. What we do have are several models of motivation and behavior that are simply MORE LIKELY to be indicators of Birtherism.
Nor is a statement about the very real differences between small rural communities, suburbs and urban settings a condemnation nor attack an any of those geographic communal distinctions. It simply is what it is and certain trends and mindsets are more likely to occur in one vs. the other due to very basic realities and reasons.
In terms of actual “Truthers”, that seems to most closely align with simply a paranoid anti-government conspiracy mindset. There are a number of Birthers who are also Truthers, but being one does not mean that someone is also the other. If you are not familiar with Venn Diagrams, I suggest you look that up as it will explain better how all these sorts of overlaps work.
Interesting, that certified documents and public verification by the Hawaiian government suddenly counts as “belittlement.” Curiouser and curiouser.
I don’t think that’s what she was saying. She was saying that the way Birthers are treated is belittlement. I can understand though. Birthers are capable of blowing so much smoke that sounds vaguely credible if not properly rebutted. If you get confused or fooled by this, it’s an honest mistake. If you seek rebuttal but only get mockery, it could convince you that the other side has no rebuttal and must resort to ad hominem. That I can see getting you more entrenched in your opinion. I doubt that the verification by Hawaiin officials ever really entered into the equation.
As I’ve said before: getting tricked by Birther lies and uncritically spreading those lies = honest mistake. Seeking rebuttal, getting it, and still doing so = outright dishonesty.
I’d be tempted to, except that the discussion already seems to be framed as being about “the White House’s PDF.” That’s like Phil Plait going on the air as an “Anti-Moon Hoax Expert,” and ending up doing nothing but fielding questions about JPEG files from the NASA website (“How do you explain the pixelation below the lunar lander in *this* photo?”)
Even the most committed and well-versed anti-denialist will quickly tire of rebutting an endless list of supposed technical ‘anomalies.’ My failure to explain any given anomaly will then be spun as a Birther victory on the whole. Plus, even if I *was* sufficiently versed to counter every anomaly they’d throw at me, that would simply result in attacks on my technical qualifications, of which I admittedly have none, and then they’d dismiss everything I said anyway.
I think the “FAME” explanation is poorly named, and ought to be something closer to the description’s “Accomplishment” or perhaps “Pride.”
A few major Birthers are arguably in it for reasons of fame. Berg, Orly, maybe Donofrio, Apuzzo, and Kerchner. But outside of the Birthers who have been directly involved in litigation (and thus are required to put their real names in the public record), most Birthers treasure their anonymity. They actively DON’T want fame; they want to stay as unknown as possible. They often recoil at the notion of publishing their real identities.
They still want that personal sense of accomplishment, though. They want to feel as if they themselves played a role in history. But they aren’t terribly interested in ensuring that *others* know who they are. And that, I think, is a central feature of ‘fame’ that they’re lacking.
Good point. I’ll update the article.
Actually, I also think that present-day technology not only alleviates the sense of abandonment these people would have felt before, not being able to talk to people who share their own views, but actually reinforces their belief that they are right and everybody else is wrong and … stupid.
Whatever orly (WBUH) may think about Google, Google (but not only Google) has some inherent characteristics, where it tries to guess what you – the guy or gal at the computer – are looking for.
I am pretty sure that when Mike from Ozzieland googles “Coke Obama” the pages he sees are not those that I see when I enter the same search string. Particularly before I had a good look at Fuller.