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Why We Can Not Ignore the “Birthers”

I have been reticent to write about this, because I know that my take on this issue could be seen as “fear-mongering”, and I truly do not intend it to be. One of the legacies of having been a counter insurgency, counter terrorism, and counter narcotics intelligence analyst is that my mind will never stop thinking that way… and I am aware that this is the lens I bring to issues. I look so deeply at the shadows that I run the danger of not being able to see the light. That need to see the light is part of what brought me to Unitarian Universalism.

I have come to the conclusion that it would be dangerous to continue to ignore the “birthers”, the small but vocal minority who are questioning the legitimacy of the Presidency of Barack Obama because they do not believe him to be a “natural-born” citizen. Not that I give any credence to their claims… I certainly do not. Hawaii is a State (although some seem not to know that) and a “Certificate of Live Birth” is indeed a Birth Certificate. I have seen President Obama’s… it says “Hawaii” on it. It has all the proper signatures. Officials in Hawaii have verified it came directly from their records. There are announcements of the birth of Barack Obama in local Hawaiian papers. His mother’s neighbors remember him as a newborn. Anyone who looks at the evidence with anything remotely like an objective stance would agree that all of the standard requirements for native born U.S. Citizenship are met.

But this is not about objectivity, and I don’t think it is even about truth. I have come to the conclusion that it is a very tightly focused propaganda campaign under the propaganda theory known as “The Big Lie”. That theory is that if something is said often enough, loud enough, and denied enough… then a certain segment already pre-disposed by other factors will accept it as truth, and ignore any evidence to the contrary as a “conspiracy”.

So, my intelligence analyst mind begins to ask three questions. First, What is the intent of such a propaganda campaign? Second, what are the contributing factors towards its belief? Third, What other trends does this find confluence with? And when I ask myself those questions, I begin to see a deeper and more disturbing pattern.

Let’s take the intent question first. No one in their left or right mind realistically thinks that any effort through the court system to have the Obama Presidency declared illegitimate because of this birth certificate issue will work. There may be a few deluded souls out there who harbor some glimmer of a hope, but if so they are outnumbered by the number of Hope Diamonds in the world. Even those who believe in their deepest hearts that President Obama is not a natural born citizen would not believe that the “Obama” courts would ever rule their way. The main result of filing lawsuits or of the bill currently being proposed in the House of Representatives is publicity.

That publicity is not flattering to the Republican Party… it actually widens the divide between the far right that is their base and the moderates and independents that might serve as a future way back to power. That publicity is not likely to change the minds of a majority of Americans, when all they have to do is click a few buttons on the internet and they can see the Obama Birth Certificate for themselves.

So, what is the purpose? I propose it is to convince and reinforce a growing belief in the far right of the American populace that the current government is illegitimate and in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America. The audience for this “birther” movement is not the left, and it is not the middle. It’s not even the right. The audience is the far, far right.

I spent years walking among that far right. In the years leading up to my deployment to Bosnia and in the two years immediately after it, I had many contacts and acquaintances in that far, far right. A few of the people I knew in those days are probably on domestic terrorism watch lists, and if they are not they darn well should be. Those years were my own journey away from those communities. Bosnia began my path away from the anger, fear, and hatred that I found on the far right, and college introduced me to other ways of thinking. But I spent many nights in conversation about the evil commie liberals, about what needed to be done about “Clinton”, and about my knowledge of military tactics and weapons. The implication of why they were interested in me was obvious.

The one article of faith I found in those communities was not Jesus, but the constitution. In fact, that respect for the constitution was what initially brought me into contact with at least one of the groups of individuals I am speaking of. There was not a depth of understanding of the constitution, but there was an ingrained (almost indoctrinated) respect. I remember long discussions about “protecting” the constitution.

This is part of why I believe we cannot ignore the “birthers”… for what they are selling in the community of the far, far right is that the Obama Presidency is demonstrably not legitimate, and therefore at its core in violation of the constitution. Action against such an illegitimate executive administration would not only be legal, but would be patriotically and morally required.

When you add to this that many of the organizations that are most receptive to this argument are also motivated by racial, religious, or cultural imperatives that would bring them into opposing the current administration, you increase the threat level. When you add to this that, for what I believe are ratings reasons, several news outlets are feeding into this with innuendo and conspiratorial intrigue, you increase the threat level.

There is another factor I want to bring forward, and that is the number of people for whom John McCain losing the last election came as a deep and frightening shock. Many thought that the election was assured by divine power, and its loss was a victory of Satan. For many it was the first deep realization of the changing demographic and racial makup of the United States. For many, it was the first real sign that the “culture” they know and think of as America is not all or even the majority of what America is. This shock is steadily turning into fear, and even a little desperation.

Frightened, desperate people can do dangerous things.

There are more factors… there is an upsurge in single actor politically motivated violence. Times of economic recession have often seen an upsurge in the fear and dissatisfaction that can lead to violent acts. And I will not dismiss the concerns of the Homeland Security report that young, impressionable men and women returning home from military service could be targeted and radicalized by some of these far right groups. I will not dismiss it because that is a pretty good description of those two years after Bosnia for me… I found my way out of it, but if I had not had some caring college professors I don’t know that I would have.

Among all of these, the danger of a radicalized right that believes without a doubt that the current executive administration is fraudulent and in violation of the constitution is the one that worries me the most. It allows them to frame violence on the basis of “Defending the Constitution”.

What we do about it is another issue, but the last thing we can afford to do is not take it seriously. It is easy to intellectually dismiss those who are promoting this propaganda, but as I said before, the moderate right, the middle, and the left are not the targets of this campaign, so what we think of it is immaterial. We have to address it… over and over if necessary. We have to call it out for what it is: A deliberate propaganda campaign designed to de-legitimize the American Government and justify actions to remove it.

Yours in Faith,

12 Thoughts on “Why We Can Not Ignore the “Birthers”

  1. I have been considering blogging on some of this and am glad you have done it. Since I don’t know your background, I have to intuit it from your words, but clearly you have walked among the people I fear greatly — and I agree, UUs and our friends should be paying more attention. Thanks for opening the door.

  2. As a regular reader of WorldNetDaily (http://www.wnd.com) I, too, have been following along on Joseph Farah and Corsci and others’ articles concerning the questionability of Obama’s legitimate claim of being a natural born citizen, and therefore the Presidency. I’ve also followed a number of right-sided conservatives like on Townhall.com (http://www.townhall.com) who feel the legitamacy question has been settled. And so, it’s not a consensus that all of us on the right feel we need to continued to pursue this line of questioning.

    Still, Farah makes some very good points, mostly being that Americans need to be consciencious of who we’re electing into office. Can we be so enamored by a politician that we are willing to let them break the law to be our leaders? Does the rule of law mean anything anymore to us? And if not, what will be the future of this country when laws are arbitrary? Farah and others are patriots first and foremost and love their country.

    Pursuing the birth certificate question is not about fear-mongering or the hopes of a legal loophole will end the current “reign” (which all know won’t happen). Those who pursue the birth certificate question are just looking for the transparancy promised by the new administration.

    Having the governor of Hawaii and Pres. Bush validate Obama’s birth certificate was enough for me.

  3. Nathan,

    I tried to imply that even you are not the target audience of this particular propaganda campaign… and certainly not every republican or conservative is. I spent many years in conservative circles, and I know that many of them are intelligent, patriotic individuals who choose to fight for their values, beliefs, and vision of America within the framework of a system that, though flawed, has served us well these past 200 years.

    Most of the people we see purporting the “birther” viewpoint publically are also not the targets of this campaign of propaganda… they are the proponents of it, wittingly or unwittingly. By choosing to voice their opinions at townhall meetings, in protests, and in public formats “such as the internet” they are also operating within the system.

    No, I believe the target of this particular campaign are individuals outside the system, who feel completely disenfranchised, and whose tenuous connection has been with a simplified understanding of the Constitution. If that tenuous connection were not only to be broken, but were believed to be actively subverted… then there would be an active justification for violent action.

    The left has its disenfranchised as well… we saw many of them at protest lines and in meetings during the Bush years. The most radical ends of the peace movement are the same kind of disenfranchised radicals. The big difference is, however, that the radical left has a strong abhorrence to weapons… something that does not apply to the radical right.

    That disenfranchised left is beginning to give the Obama administration grief as well… because they are still disenfranchised. They thought that his election would mean they would regain power, and are only now beginning to realize they elected a centrist hawk that is not even all that liberal on domestic social issues.

    There is an interesting side note here, Nathan… and I hope you will let me point it out without seeming to single you out. There is a tendency on both the right and the left for us to assume that anyone who criticizes a segment of the right (or a segment of the left) is being critical of the entire right, (or left.) This is a manifestation of the prevalence of the Manichean viewpoint that there are only two sides (Good vs. Evil) and that gradations do not exist (a sin is a sin is a sin). And so, I write an article about a small fraction of the right end of American politics, and many on the right assume I am speaking about the entire right.

    I get the same criticism when I critique the most radical ends of the left (particularly the peace movement).

    The manifestations of the Manichean viewpoint in our society fascinate me…

    Yours in Faith,


  4. “Those who pursue the birth certificate question are just looking for the transparancy promised by the new administration.”

    I find that disingenuous.

    The certificate of live birth’s been presented. The State of Hawai`i confirms that it’s valid.

    You can’t get more transparent than that.

    The flailing of the birthers is the last (for now) frantic act of that group that insists that Obama can’t be president because he… is, uh… Muslim. Wait, a radical Black. Radical Black Christian. Secret Jew. Wait, an Asian mole.

    The “issue” of McCain’s having been born *outside* the borders of the USA was raised in a previous election–and it got precisely no attention. He was born to American citizens in the Panama Canal Zone (not US territory). It’s not about “where” Obama was born–which has been established.

    It’s not about some “need” to determine that for the purposes of ensuring the legitimacy of the US electoral process.

    The entire far-fetched, far-right frenzy is simply an effort to “establish” the notion that the government isn’t legitimate. Because IF it’s not, then all those folks who are on the right, who are so convinced, can be persuaded that it’s their duty to fight against the usurpation of the Republic.

    David’s dead on the money. This is explicitly about creating one of those chasms of belief over which a significant number can be persuaded to resort to violence. Flirting with it should be viewed as giving aid and comfort…

  5. David—

    Thanks for your insightful—an spot on analysis. I have come to similar conclusions and having grown up in Wyoming am personally familiar with at least some sub-types of the target audience.

    When this started before the election it was easy to dismiss harmless lunacy—and most Democrats and progressives surely did so. But no matter how often—and how authoritatively—refuted, not only has the myth persisted, it has flourished and its circle of true believers has widened beyond the usual suspect list of shadow militias and home grown Nazis. It was taken up—and spread—by the “tea bag” and associated “patriot” movements. Videos of crowds cheering references to the President’s legitimacy by birth at dozens of rallies have been widely circulated. And in the last three weeks the accusations have been kept alive—often with more than just a wink and a nod—by “respectable” media and political figures like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Liz Cheney, and a gaggle of GOP Congresspersons. In other words the audience is shifting from the sliver of the already insurrectionist right to the right wing of that dwindling and isolated rump of a party, the Republicans. That ups the ante from a few hundred or a few thousand guys and gals with guns and nervous twitches to maybe a few hundred thousand folks who live right down the street.

    As the farthest nether reaches of the Conservative movement become more convinced that they have permanently lost power and that the unworthy “American Sheeple” have gone along with the “betrayal of the nation,” the more they are willing to turn to restoring their dream America by violence and revolution. Spreading the “birther” rumors gives them a peg to hang trying to overthrow a legitimately elected government.

    This is still on the edges of society. But it is spreading, not contracting. It is not paranoid to say that progressives must be vigilant about the real threat of civil war if they want to avoid one.

  6. Given that the mainstream media (through right-wing demagogues like Lou Dobbs on CNN) has embraced the “birther” theories, I’m guessing that the right-wing fringe just isn’t going to let this go.

    “Lou Dobbs and the canard over President Obama’s birth”

    What are your thoughts on the Army Reserves Major who tried to claim in court that his deployment orders were not valid because President Obama isn’t a legally valid commander-in-chief:

    Judge dismisses reservist’s suit questioning Obama’s presidency

    The “birther” rants and the “tea-baggers” who were complaining about “taxation without representation” both remind me of the ideas promoted by “militia movement” domestic terrorists in the 1990s.

  7. Thanks, Ogre, for using the word disingenuous I was thinking dishonest but in fact your word fits better.

    Because some birthers don’t understand that they are being used. To them, dark-skinned people are so profoundly “the other” that they literally do not seem able to conceive of their humanity. Or their decency. Or their intelligence. Or their honesty.

    If we have any doubts on that score, just look at what happened recently in the shadow of Harvard. A grey-headed older man who gets around with a cane had a policeman knock on the door of his house and ask for his ID in the middle of the day. He showed two photo IDs, both of which had his full name and said that he lived in the house in question. (One was a Massachusetts drivers license and the other was a Harvard faculty ID.)

    The policeman nonetheless challenged the elderly man’s veracity and after an interchange asked him to leave his (own) house and go outside. Once he was outside and in a “public place” (that is, his own front yard) the elderly man was slapped in handcuffs, dumped in a police car, and arrested. The elderly man is an internationally known Harvard professor. He had just returned from a trip to China where he was helping film a documentary, I believe. The front door of his house was warped and his cab driver had had to push it open.

    Did I mention that both the cab driver and the elderly man with the cane are African American? They were reported to the police by a neighbor, who (although a Harvard employee) didn’t seem to know who that old man with a cane is. Maybe she thinks “they” all look alike anyway. It proves, to me at least, what the answer is to the question, What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.?

    You may think that I am getting away from the point. No. My point is that no matter where we think we are, there is a huge population in the United States whose appraisal of a dark-skinned man is primarily that he must be up to no good. While people all around the world feel more a part of President Obama and even of America because of him, these frightened Americans see only that he looks different, his name is strange, his middle name is Hussein, he spent part of his youth in a foreign land. Make that two foreign lands and include Hawaii!

    America’s melting pot has grown and grown and grown to include peoples who a century ago were still considered alien. Catholics and Jews. The Irish, Italians, people from various central European countries. If Catholics and Jews and Italians and Irish and Slovaks are all white people now, who are you going to look down on?

    Over and over, it’s been found that if you present the Bill of Rights to people on the street, most Americans think it’s seditious. I find it quite fascinating that the ultra-right considers itself passionate defenders of the Constitution. I guess the Constitution they want to defend is the one that passed before the B of R was added to it!

  8. Laird Wilcox on Thursday July 23, 2009 at 1:52 +0000 said:

    I agree that the claim that Barack Obama is not a bona fide U. S. citizens is certainly unfounded. There is, however, a problem with the birth certificate that is being circulated. Unlike an original birth certificate (I have mine), this birth certificate is basically a printout from data records and lacks any signatures. It simply is not the original document. Wouldn’t it be far wiser to just produce the original birth certificate, complete with signatures, etc., and shoot the argument down that way? It is the stubborn refusal to do this that is fueling the myth and not exclusively the pathology of its advocates. I realize there are some people that even this would not satisfy, but it would certainly whittle the numbers down and it certainly beats calling them names.

  9. Laird,

    I did not address this earlier, because your comment was stuck in my “Junk Comment” box for some reason.

    There is not a “problem” with Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate… there is a problem with people forgetting that unless a Federal Law says otherwise, each state gets to decide its own procedures on things such as record keeping and the like. My birth certificate from the State of Arizona is a print-out from records, and it is just as valid as yours with signatures on it.

    Each state gets to determine what its procedures are on the issuance of Birth Certificates. If the State of Hawaii says that its procedure is to issue Certificates that are Print Outs from Records, that is their right. If another State does it another way, that is their right. Just because they are different does not mean that one is more valid than the other. It only means we live in a country with a Federal Republic political system.

    I find it interesting that so many people are worked up over “His Birth Certificate does not look like mine” are often the same people fighting to defend a State’s right to issue Marriage Licenses how they wish and to whom they wish.

    Yours in faith,


  10. Steve,

    I did not deal with Major Cook, because I wanted to give a fellow officer the benefit of the doubt… However, it seems he has, to use a phrase of my father, “out-dumbed himself”.

    You see, he had volunteered to re-deploy. As a reservist / national guardsman, we are only required to deploy onces every 3-5 years. Major Cook had just returned from a deployment when he requested to re-deploy… which is why the orders were cut.

    All he had to do, if he did not want to deploy would have been to send the message up his chain of command that he had changed his mind. Instead, he made national news by claiming he was going to file a lawsuit through a rather nutty lawyer (she has done alot of nutty things over the years).

    So, he created a media blitz, he gave the Army a black eye, and he made it seem that the military might not be supportive of the Commander in Chief. I hope he has a good civilian job, because his military career is over.

    Oh, wait… he worked for a Defense Contractor, and last I heard his clearance has been pulled… so unless I’m mistaken he is out of a civilian job as well… all for something that was completely a media ploy.

    As my father would have said… out-dumbed himself.

    Yours in faith,


  11. I have to say that I believe the current disruptions of town hall meetings falls into the same set of concerns for me. It is a progression into direct and somewhat threatening confrontations with politicians.

    Now, I know that leftist extreemists have been doing similiar things… but what is happening now is not what concerns me. As I said before, leftist leaning extreemist groups are unlikely to turn to weapons as their radicalism progresses… and I can not say the same thing about right wing groups.

    Yours in faith,


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