Natural-born conspiracy theorists
The ‘birthers’ are at it again. With Barack Obama undergoing a rare dip in popularity, maverick voices are once more questioning his right to be president – or to call himself an American, writes DENIS STAUNTON in Washington.
MAJOR Stefan Frederick Cook, an army reservist from Georgia, was due to deploy on active service to Afghanistan last week, but he is refusing to go because he believes Barack Obama is not entitled to be president of the United States and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Cook is a “birther”, part of an ever louder movement which claims that Obama is not a “natural-born citizen” of the US and, consequently, is barred by the constitution from serving as president.
In a 20-page document filed in court this month, Cook argued that he would be acting in violation of international law by engaging in military actions outside the US under this president’s command. He claimed he risked subjecting himself to possible prosecution as a war criminal by the faithful execution of these duties.
“Plaintiff seeks to avoid not only court martial in this country, but also treatment as a war criminal or terrorist, not eligible even for protection under the Geneva Convention if he were found to be a merely mercenary soldier in a private army of slaves ‘owned’ or controlled by an unconstitutional and therefore illegal commander, if he does not ask the question, ‘is this order legal?’,” Cook’s complaint stated.
The US army has now revoked Cook’s deployment orders, and the major has become a hero among “birthers”, many of whom believe that Obama was born not in Hawaii but in Kenya, the birthplace of his father.
At a town hall meeting in Delaware last month, moderate Republican congressman Mike Castle was confronted by an angry woman demanding that Obama publish his birth certificate.
“I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America, saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it. Signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, the date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20th and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate?” the woman said, to loud applause and cheers. “He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya!”
When Castle insisted that Obama was indeed a US citizen, the audience booed him and started chanting the pledge of allegiance.
BIRTHERS HAVE BEEN active on right-wing websites and as callers to conservative talk radio since Obama started running for the presidency. Last week, however, the movement moved from the fringes into the mainstream when CNN host Lou Dobbs, best-known for his strident campaigns against immigration, featured the conspiracy theory on his radio show.
“Wouldn’t it be helpful if the president would simply set this aside?” he said. “Because there’s a number of callers have said on this broadcast, you know, here is John McCain, 72 years old, running for president of the United States. He knows he was born in Panama, because his father was in the navy and his mother was with his father in Panama, and he was born there. He sought out a ruling by the solicitor-general to determine that he met the standard of natural-born citizen.
“Absolutely, you know, no effort to do so on the part of Barack H Obama. Nor, as also our callers have pointed out, would this president release his medical records. And the national media seemed to be fine with that, whereas they probably would have eviscerated John McCain for failing to do so.”
Ten Republican congressmen have co- sponsored a bill that would require future presidents to publish their birth certificates. This week, Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice-president, declined to say whether she believes that Obama is a natural-born citizen.
“One of the reasons you see people so concerned about this . . . people are uncomfortable with having, for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas,” she said on Larry King Live.
State officials in Hawaii have confirmed that the president was born there, releasing a Certification of Live Birth stating that Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu on August 8th, 1961, and listing his parents as Barack Hussein Obama and Stanley Ann Dunham.
Birthers insist that this document proves nothing because Hawaiian law allows children of legal residents born outside the state to receive such a certification. They are demanding the full, long form of Obama’s birth certificate, which Hawaii officials are not allowed to release because of privacy rules.
Former diplomat and conservative activist Alan Keyes, who ran against Obama in the 2004 Illinois senate election, filed a lawsuit in a California court to try to stop the state from giving its electoral votes to Obama until he produced a birth certificate. The case was thrown out and the US supreme court refused to hear an appeal.
Keyes has described the president as, among other things, a “radical communist” who will “destroy this country, and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist”.
He was joined in the lawsuit by conservative pastor Wiley Drake, who said last month that he was praying for the death of “the usurper that is in the White House”.
EVEN WITHOUT THE birth certificate, there is plenty of evidence that Obama was born in Hawaii, including a classified newspaper ad announcing his birth.
Even if he had not been born within the US, Obama would still qualify as a natural-born citizen because his mother was an American citizen. Even the most suspicious of birthers don’t deny that Ann Dunham, who was white, was born in Kansas. Some claim, however, that she adopted Indonesian citizenship when she lived in that country when Obama was a child.
Since his Kenyan father was a British subject at the time of Obama’s birth, that theory would leave the president ineligible to hold his office.
Some theorists have introduced a new twist to the conspiracy, alleging that Obama secured a scholarship for foreign students at California’s Occidental College, claiming to be an Indonesian citizen called Barry Soetero. The college has dismissed the claims as a hoax and a news service report about it, which appeared on the internet earlier this year, later proved to be an April Fool’s joke.
Most mainstream Republicans have steered clear of the claims about Obama’s birth, but conservative talk-radio hosts are cheerfully encouraging the doubters. Rush Limbaugh, who said this week that Obama “has yet to prove that he’s a citizen”, has suggested that the president and God have something in common: “Neither of them has a birth certificate.”
Popular conservative commentators, such as Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, have long portrayed Obama as exotic and unpatriotic, an elite figure who is out of touch with mainstream America and who is bent on depriving US citizens of their freedoms.
The White House has sought to ignore the birthers and most political commentators dismiss the doubts about Obama’s origins as a phoney controversy worked up by a group of cranks. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart had the best take on the alleged conspiracy this week, describing how Obama’s father pulled it off.
“First you gotta find yourself a good old American willing to reproduce with you. Then you have that child on foreign soil while simultaneously placing the birth announcement in one of our fringe states’ local newspapers,” he said. “Then you sit back and let that child go out and win the election for president of the United States. It’s almost too easy!”
OUT OF IRELAND? AN OLDER CONTROVERSY
BARACK OBAMA is not the first American president to be accused of concealing the facts about his birth to qualify as a “natural born citizen”. Chester Arthur, who became president in 1881 following the assassination of James Garfield, faced claims that he was born in Canada or Ireland, from where his Baptist preacher father had emigrated.
During the 1880 election campaign, when Arthur ran as Garfield’s vice-presidential running mate, Democrats hired a man called AP Hinman to explore Arthur’s origins. Hinman claimed that Arthur was born in Ireland and did not move to the US until he was 14. Arthur denied the charge, defending himself in an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle on August 13th, 1880: “My father, the late Rev William Arthur DD, was of Scotch blood and was a native of the north of Ireland. He came to this country when he was 18 years of age, and resided here several years before his marriage,” he said.
Known as “the Gentleman Boss”, Arthur was widely viewed as an uninspiring, machine politician before he became president. He surprised his critics, however, by introducing bold civil service reforms and helping to heal the enduring divisions left by the civil war.