Ann Coulter thinks they’re "cranks." Right-wing radio kingpin Michael Medved prefers to call them "nutburgers." Their ranks include a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, a Clinton conspiracy theorist, a habitual presidential candidate, and a professional poker player. They’re convening amateur grand juries and suing the President—not to mention suing each other. Meet the birthers: people who believe, despite truly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and has illegally usurped the presidency.
Born in the former Soviet republic of Moldavia, Taitz is a peroxide-blonde SoCal dentist with a law degree from an online academy and a black belt in Taekwondo. More than anyone else, she has vaulted birthers—their preferred nomenclature is "doubters" or the "eligibility movement"—into the public eye.
In 2008, Taitz helped to bring a lawsuit on behalf of Alan Keyes, disputing the validity of Obama's birth certificate. This year, she hit the headlines again when she filed another lawsuit from an Army reserve major who charged that "Barry Soetoro" was not his lawful commander in chief. Both suits were rejected, prompting Taitz to accost Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia at public events to demand an investigation into the matter. All of this has won her generous, but not always flattering coverage from television personalities like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and David Shuster, who Taitz has described as "brownshirts."
Recently, Taitz has caused a rift among the birther ranks by circulating a document that she claimed was Obama's Kenyan birth certificate. A federal court threw it out after determining that it was a fake—later it emerged that the document may have been a prank played by an Obama supporter. This fiasco led leading birther Andy Martin to denounce Taitz as an "obvious crackpot."
Berg is a 9/11 Truther who hopped the birther train after a brief detour with the PUMA crowd—the small but noisy band of Hillary Clinton supporters who refused to accept that Obama had won the 2008 Democratic primary. A former Pennsylvania deputy attorney general, Berg is no stranger to long-shot lawsuits—he previously sued George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, alleging that they were complicit in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
After being approached by a disgruntled member of PUMA (formally: People United Means Action; informally: Party Unity My Ass), Berg brought the first lawsuit claiming that Obama is not a natural-born citizen. In fact, Berg has said that he believes that Obama is an illegal alien who was not even qualified to represent Illinois in the US Senate. He recently disseminated a press release saying that he is also suing Orly Taitz, who he said was so unprofessional and unethical that she could possibly be an Obama plant working to bring down the eligibility movement from the inside.
The perennial candidate, anti-gay crusader, and anti-abortion activist is nevertheless perhaps the birther movement's most credible member—which isn't saying a lot. A party to the Taitz lawsuit challenging Obama's eligibility to hold the presidency, Keyes, who calls Obama a "radical communist” and a "usurper," says he refuses to acknowledge Obama as president. Following the election, Keyes said: "He's going to destroy this country, and we're either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist… The man is an abomination… We're in the midst of the greatest crisis this country has ever seen and if we don't stop laughing about it and deal with it, we're going to find ourselves in the midst of chaos, confusion, and Civil War."
A Georgia-based activist, Swensson is spearheading a novel but legally meaningless tactic: convening "citizen grand juries" to file "presentments" indicting Obama for fraud and treason. So far, Swensson says juries have met in several states and pronounced Obama’s claim to office to be illegitimate. According to material posted on Swensson's website, the citizen grand juries derive their authority from the Magna Carta and can assume ominous powers: "The grand jury may distrain and oppress the government in every way in their power, namely, by taking the homes, lands, possessions, and any way else they can until amends shall have been made according to the sole judgment of the grand jury."
But don’t worry! The same document also says: "The grand jury may not imprison or execute any government personnel or their children."
Dr. Ron Polarik
Polarik (not his real name) claims to be a "document imaging" expert. He says his four-month examination of images of Obama's birth certificate offer "conclusive and irrefutable" evidence that the document is a forgery. In a lengthy treatise, dubbed "Obama's 'Born' Conspiracy" and published on the conservative web site FreeRepublic, Polarik describes his quest for the truth as his "Holy Grail." He concludes: The answer to "What's on Barack Obama's real, original birth certificate" ranks right up there with some of the great mysteries of our time—and that is really hard to swallow. That a man, with a dubious background, has been elected to the highest office of the greatest superpower in the world without ever having to prove who he says he is! That is not "nutty," that's just plain insane!"
Who is Polarik, really? Blogger Loren Collins claims his real name is Ron Polland, and he's not the expert he says he is. "He has no degrees relating to computers or technology. He is not a computer expert; he has used computers. He is not a scanner expert; he has used scanners. At best, he is an amateur photography buff." If Polarik and Polland are indeed one and the same, then he also fancies himself an expert in another area—Internet dating. He once ran a web site, MyLoveNeeds.com, devoted to showing "you how to find safe and satisfying relationships using the Internet by avoiding potential problems." Sorry, folks, it's since been taken offline.
Who started the rumor that Obama was a secret Muslim? Martin, whose real name is Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, usually gets the credit. He's run for public office during almost every election cycle since 1978, twice for the presidency. Thankfully, voters have never seen fit to elect him—certainly his 1986 campaign vow to "exterminate Jew power in America" didn't endear him to the electorate. Despite his own history of anti-Semitism, during the campaign Martin slammed Obama’s “long associations with anti-Semites and anti-Americans."
Martin, who considers himself the "godfather" of the birther movement (he also refers to himself as an "internet powerhouse"), sued the state of Hawaii in October 2008, seeking access to Obama's original birth certificate. In addition to questioning Obama's origins, he has also suggested that Barack Obama Sr. is not the president's real father. After Orly Taitz came forward with the fake document that she claimed was Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate, Martin held a press conference casting doubts on its validity. Instead, he offered the novel theory that Obama himself had forged the certificate "as part of his 'affirmative action' application to Occidental."
Oh, and during the early days of the Iraq War, Martin also claimed to know where Saddam Hussein was hiding.
Farah made his name in the conservative movement pushing conspiracy theories about the death of Clinton associate and former White House counsel Vincent Foster. Now his right-wing website, WorldNetDaily, has become a clearinghouse for all things birther, interspersing shocking new "evidence" with special offers for colon cleansers and emergency survival kits. In addition to its wall-to-wall coverage, WorldNetDaily also sponsored “Where’s the birth certificate?” billboards that have sprung up in California, Louisiana, and elsewhere, and launched a line of 'eligibility' products for purchase on its website.
You may remember Corsi, co-author of Unfit for Command, for his leading role in swiftboating Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 election. During the 2008 election cycle, he released The Obama Nation (get it?), an attack on Obama's candidacy so riddled with errors and falsehoods that FactCheck.org said "a comprehensive review of all the false claims in Corsi's book would itself be a book." Given his past exploits, it's hardly surprising to find him at the center of the birther debate. Writing for WorldNetDaily, he's published a series of stories advancing the phony birth certificate meme. In an interview with Fox News, he claimed the Obama campaign had posted "a false, fake birth certificate." His proof? A "good analysis of it on the Internet, and it's been shown to have watermarks from Photoshop." The source: another anonymous "forensics specialist" who goes by the handle TechDude.
Lt. Col. Donald Sullivan
Sullivan, an Air Force veteran, unsuccessfully sued North Carolina's secretary of state and board of elections in an attempt to block the state's electoral college votes, on the grounds that Obama was ineligible to hold office due to questions over his birthplace. This was not Sullivan's first time going up against the government. In 2003, he sued the Bush administration, claiming the Iraq War was illegal. Prior to that, he was enmeshed in a lengthy dispute with federal and state agencies after "carving drainage ditches through a wetland-laced portion of the property in 1999," according to the Wilmington, North Carolina Sunday Star-News. In 2001, the paper reported:
Upon discovering last month that the N.C. Division of Water Quality had taken to the air for inspections, he warned the agency's regional chief, Rick Shiver, to get written permission in the future or fly over his property "AT YOUR OWN RISK!"
Mr. Sullivan's multipage screeds against a "government out of control" have struck some regulators as possible threats. Army Corps of Engineers officials consulted the FBI about him last year. And last month, Water Quality referred his warnings about fly-overs to the State Bureau of Investigation…
Last June, Mr. Sullivan wrote to members of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission as they considered adding some reporting requirements for forestry operations in wetlands. He said he wanted to attend a Wilmington hearing on the matter, "but it has become so personal for me I was afraid I would lose my temper and hurt someone."
"If anyone comes on my private property violating my Constitution, you can be assured he will be required to pay a very high personal price," Mr. Sullivan wrote to the 17 EMC members. "Should he survive, he will be vulnerable" to laws mandating fines and jail time for any public official who abuses his authority.
More recently Sullivan has run afoul of local authorities for engaging in his own brand of anti-government activism—refusing to put license plates on his car. "I can govern myself," he told a local TV station.
Walter Francis Fitzpatrick III
Fitzpatrick was once a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, but departed after being court-martialed in 1990 for improper use of Navy funds. (He claimed he was the victim of a vendetta.) Today, he is one of a small group of figures with military ties who have challenged Obama’s authority as commander in chief. (There's also Army reservist Major Stefan Frederick Cook, who, with assistance from Orly Taitz, sought conscientious objector status because he believed that Obama could not legally order his deployment to Afghanistan.)
But Fitzpatrick has attacked the president with more extreme language than most. In March, he wrote to Obama, saying "you have broken in and entered the White House by force of contrivance, concealment, conceit, dissembling, and deceit." He continued: "We come now to this reckoning. I accuse you and your military-political criminal assistants of TREASON. I name you and your military criminal associates as traitors. Your criminal ascension manifests a clear and present danger… Confident holding your silent agreement and admission, I identify you as a foreign born domestic enemy."
Donofrio is a retired lawyer and professional poker player who, according to Bluff magazine, competes under the moniker "Jet Schizo." A bipartisan birther, he tried to get both Obama and McCain removed from the New Jersey ballot last year. Donofrio is perhaps the closest thing the birther commuity has resembling a cool head. For instance, he denounced the citizen juries on his web site for claiming that they have the ability to enforce their "presentments" by seizing land and property, calling this argument "criminal insanity."
Chuck Norris: He penned an open letter to Obama saying that while he considered "it a bit of a groundless stretch not to believe" the president was born in Hawaii, he still wanted to see Obama's original birth certificate just to be sure.
Lou Dobbs: The CNN host and professional nativist has been the most prominent MSM figure to bestow a sliver of credbility on the birthers, inviting both Taitz and Keyes onto his show and announcing that Obama should "produce a birth certificate." Even a rap on the knuckles from network chief Jon Klein didn't dampen his enthusiasm. A cynical ploy for ratings? Maybe, but if so, it's not working very well: Since Dobbs started flogging the story, his ratings have actually taken a dive.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.): A local Alabama paper reported that, during a meeting with constituents in February, the Republican said: "Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be president."
Via a spokesman, Shelby later backtracked on this comment, saying, "while he hasn't personally seen the President's birth certificate, he is confident that the matter has been thoroughly examined."
Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.): The freshman congressman sponsored a bill that would require presidential candidates to submit their birth certificates for verification that they're US citizens. Yet, in late July he was one of 378 lawmakers who voted unanimously to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood, and, yes, recognize it as Obama's place of birth.
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.): In late July, Blunt told blogger and Democratic activist Mike Stark: "What I don't know is why the president can't produce a birth certificate. I don't know anybody else that can't produce one. And I think that that's a legitimate question." Just the same, a spokesman for the minority whip told a reporter that Blunt believes Obama is indeed a natural born citizen.
Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.): At an August meeting of the Tulsa Republican Club, Sullivan remarked: “It’s a very frightening time. I see Barack Obama is creating an enemies list of people who oppose this miserable health care plan. I think that’s frightening. That’s from a guy that can’t even show a long-form birth certificate. I think we all ought to be prepared to fight that.”
Daniel Schulman is Mother Jones' deputy Washington, DC, bureau chief. Reach him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com. Dan is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita, a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback.
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