Sunday, December 22, 2013

After Birthers

I launched this blog five years ago, in December 2008, as part of what was then an independent effort to debunk Birtherism before it had a chance to gain a foothold, like 9/11 Trutherism.  And in January 2009, I thought that job was mostly done, and I moved on.  Then five months later, in June 2009, I came back, prompted in large part by statements made by Shepard Smith about rumors and lies that were still cluttering his inbox.

Now here I am, looking back on five YEARS of blogging about Birthers, and realizing that it's time to move on.

I gave a podcast interview last year, just before the 2012 election, where I talked about what the future of Birtherism might be during a second Obama term.  I predicted that it wouldn't die, and indeed it hasn't.  But Birtherism has proven to be far more impotent in this past year than I'd anticipated.  WorldNetDaily gave up regular Birther coverage even before the election.  Orly Taitz is the last litigant still fighting and failing in the courtroom.  The Cold Case Posse continues to occasionally hype itself on a couple of fringe podcasts, but even it hasn't done anything original in ages.  As I've never been engrossed in simply rehashing old arguments, the lack of new material leaves little to investigate and address, and I have no interest in feeding the egos of the few remaining Birthers who keep trying to attract a spotlight.  It's no accident that this blog has been so quiet for the past year.  Patrick McKinnon brought his Birther blogging to a close back in August for similar reasons.

In short, Birtherism, in its current state, is boring.  And in many ways, that's a good thing.  A stagnant conspiracy theory is not a growing conspiracy theory, after all.

This doesn't mean I'm giving up on Birtherism specifically, or on skepticism generally.  I still plan to write a book about the Birthers, though the nature of the project has evolved considerably (and, I believe, for the better).  If I have a story worth writing online, I might just ask to guest-publish it over at Doctor Conspiracy's site; he's always gotten more hits than me anyways.  This blog itself won't be going anywhere either; I just won't be updating it anymore.

And thus, this now seems like the time to pull back the curtain and talk about some of the things I've done online in the last five years that weren't part of this blog, and which I didn't talk about at the time.

First, way back in January 2009, I wrote about WND's bogus Obama investigation petition, and how susceptible it was to fake signatures.  In April 2010, WND bragged about the petition crossing the half-million signature mark.

Who was that 500,000th signee?  It was me.  Indeed, to prove how utterly worthless this petition was, I signed it 216 times in a 20 minute period, leading up to the big symbolic number.  All 216 entries had the exact same obviously-fake email address (, the exact same obviously-fake surname (500K), and the first names were simply integers starting with "1" and counting upwards from there.

You have to register an account to post a comment at, but not to sign a petition.  This shows why; they simply don't care about the veracity of the signatures on their petitions.  In bragging about hitting the half-million mark, they'd have instantly spotted the hundreds of obviously-fake names I've submitted.  It was unmistakeable, but they didn't care.  All they care about is the fake number they can tout.

Second, there was another limited-purpose blog that I set up in 2010:  Ulsterman's Untruths.  For a brief moment, Ulsterman was the sort of pundit who could only ever exist on the internet; an anonymous muckraker claiming to get inside information from other anonymous informants.  And I demonstrated that before he started his "Insider" schtick, he had a habit of just fabricating fictional stories.  It's hard to say how many people ever actually took Ulsterman seriously, but even though he continues to publish at his own website, he's just internet background noise at this point.  This little project of mine had the notoriety of being cited by Media Matters.

Third, back before it was behind a paywall, I wrote and submitted four articles that were published by the Birther website The Post & Email.  Three of these were joke articles, designed to test the level of scrutiny that the website's editor would put on submissions from unknown contributors.  How ridiculous could I get in making anti-Obama claims before the site would balk?

The answer:  I never reached that point, because it published all three insane articles I offered up.  The first claimed that college-age Obama had been hand-picked for the Presidency through connections with Bohemian Grove; it didn't matter to the website that I manufactured this connection out of thin air, or that Occidental College is nowhere near Occidental, California, where Bohemian Grove is located.  Naturally, it didn't matter either that 'Bohemian Grove' has roughly the same cache among conspiracy theory proponents as 'Trilateral Commission' or 'The Illuminati.'

The second article claimed that Malcolm X was both Obama's biological father AND his illegitimate great-uncle.  I fabricated a story about Obama's great-grandfather Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham being a serial philanderer, and that he'd fathered both Stanley Armour Dunham and Malcolm X (who in turn impregnated Ann).  But even this tale of interracial and intergenerational incest didn't make the site bat an eye.

The third article was, at first blush, a general editorial about Obama.  It talked about his false face and the monster beneath, about his DNA and his true nature.  And in the midst of this, every single hyperlink in the article pointed to some external webpage that claimed Barack Obama is secretly an alien reptilian.  Hence the references to his "forked tongue" and his "fake shell."  Even some of the commenters started to balk at this one, but the Post & Email stood firm by its decision to publish an article claiming Obama is a shapeshifting alien.  Amazingly, while the Post & Email appears to have since removed the first two articles (whether intentionally or accidentally), the reptilian article is still there today, almost three years later.

The fourth article wasn't a joke; it was a control.  I wrote an article essentially taking the Birther point-of-view, and alleging that Birther Andy Martin wasn't eligible to run for President (as his father was a non-naturalized immigrant).  While I didn't believe in the conclusion, this was the only article I submitted to the Post & Email where all the information cited was both true and credible.  And yet this was the only one where the editor demanded that substantive changes be made to the article, because she wasn't comfortable with the allegations being made.

I was behind one other brief hoax in Birtherism in 2010, that of office supply store worker Chanise Foxx.  A Birther at FreeRepublic had created the name and story in a post, and I borrowed it and treated it as true in a comment at CitizenWells.  When the FreeRepublic server coincidentally went down the next morning, CitizenWells fell for it hard, and the Birthersphere briefly went into a tizzy.  It didn't last long, but the chaos was fun to watch while it lasted.  (As an added bonus, my comment at CW linked to the personal website of the FreeRepublic poster who penned the story, and who was a highly prolific Birther in his own right.  The fallout naturally hurt his online reputation, and he vanished from FR a few months later.)

I also recently started another blog that isn't intended for regular posts, but will instead be updated only as necessary:  Jerome Corsi: America's Worst Journalist.  Other sites regularly document WND's journalistic failings, but as an author who can still occasionally fib his way onto the bestseller charts, I wanted there to be a Google-friendly, one-stop destination for the worst of Corsi's offenses.  It's not to merely report his latest bit of rumormongering or smear attack, but rather to document when he dives into Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair levels of dishonesty that would get a reporter fired from any reputable news outfit.

Even though I never would have predicted that I would have spent nearly as much time and trouble as I did on the Birthers, I'm nonetheless proud of a lot of the work I did on this blog.  I exposed the original Birther document expert, Ron Polarik, as a fraud, and while the Birthers long ago left him behind, it's been sad to see him fall further into fringe absurdities.  I destroyed any hint of credibility of the DVD Dreams From My Real Father, which was the one Birther-friendly project outside of WND to have a measurable budget; my work even got cited (indirectly) by the President's own campaign site.  I caught Birther icons RaceBannon and Larry Martin in lies they were telling about their own personal experiences.  And I documented the play-by-play origins of the Birther rumor that started it all.

But there are other projects to move on to.  Let me thus close out with a piece of advice:  take the lessons you've learned about critical thinking in watching Birtherism, and try not only to impart them to others, but to also apply them to other parts of your life.  You may not believe something as overtly silly and publicly debunked as Birtherism, but you may well hold some incorrect beliefs simply out of inertia, because you've never stopped to truly think critically about them.  Remember that skepticism isn't a belief system; it's a process.

To that end, I suggest that if you've been interested in the Birther saga, then you should see what else the skeptical movement has for you.  Podcasts like Skeptoid, The Reality Check and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe provide weekly discussions on skeptical topics, websites like Science-Based Medicine and Doubtful News, and What's the Harm document new developments in skeptical news, and organizations like JREF and The Skeptics Society offer the opportunity to talk with fellow skeptics.  Or if you'd rather sit down with a good book, try the works of Michael Shermer, Martin Gardner, Joe Nickell, or, of course, Carl Sagan.  It was Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World that so heavily influenced my development as a skeptic, after all, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

So thanks for the support for the past five years, and here's to bigger and better things in the next five.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Five-Year Birtherversary

This month marks five years since the 'tipping' of Birtherism as a measurable belief. As I've documented, the rumors that would eventually give rise to Birther denialism originated in March 2008, but it was in June 2008, with a National Review post on June 9 and the publication of Obama's short-form birth certificate on June 12, that kicked off the online conspiracism.

One of the things that has long fascinated me about Birtherism is how outsized its reach is as a casual conspiracy theory, in comparison to the rather small size of its active proponents. The 9/11 'Truth' Movement, for instance, has long managed to attract enough diehard believers to fill seats at seminars and conferences; by contrast, the Birther movement has never successfully pulled off even a decent-sized rally.

In reflecting on this history, I realized that the Birther movement's leadership has remained so small and concentrated that it's actually possible to draw a through-line across the past five years, connecting the people who have, at different times, been the primary torchbearers of Birtherism.

The original central figure of Birtherism, the first person to do anything more than write some angry posts online, was attorney Phil Berg. He filed the first Birther lawsuit in August 2008, as well as several subsequent suits, and he created the website, which quickly became the central forum for Birthers online.

In September 2008, Berg came to be in contact with a street preacher named Ron McRae, who in October 2008 recorded a phone conversation between himself and Obama's Kenyan grandmother, Sarah Obama. A deliberately edited clip from that conversation was then used to promote the claim that Sarah had vouched for a Kenyan birth; when the full audio was eventually released, it was immediately evident why it had been edited down.

Nonetheless, the interview claim had one massive legacy: it attracted the attention of WorldNetDaily and Jerome Corsi. Since June 2008, WND had largely ignored the fledgling Birther claims. It reported that they existed, but did not appear to place much credence in them. WND ran only a handful of articles about Obama's birthplace between June and September of 2008, including an infamous article in August 2008 where WND reported that its own experts had vouched for the authenticity of Obama's short-form birth certificate. And when Jerome Corsi visited Kenya in early October 2008, the contemporaneous coverage of his trip was concerned only with Obama's relationship with Raila Odinga; none of the articles published or interviews given during his trip made any reference to a controversy over Obama's birthplace, or that Corsi was interested in investigating such claims.

But then Phil Berg made his announcement about the Sarah Obama interview in mid-October, and WND's interest was piqued. Whereas WND had run only six Birther-related articles in the previous four months (and the only two after August 8 dealt with Berg's lawsuit), it suddenly ran another six such articles in just the next three weeks before the election. Then, between November 4 (Election Day) and November 30, WND chief Joseph Farah wrote his first pro-Birther editorial column, WND started an online Birther petition, and the WND Forums got a new discussion board dedicated exclusively to Obama's eligibility. Although WND had all but ignored Birther claims prior to mid-October, by the end of November they were active and vocal proponents of Birtherism.

As Phil Berg's prominence as a Birther leader began to dwindle (with his role as central Birther litigator usurped by Orly Taitz), WND took his place as Birtherism's most prominent cheerleader. Between October 20, 2008 and December 30, 2008, WND ended up running some 55 Birther-themed articles, and they more or less maintained that frequency for the next couple of years. In May 2009, WND started soliciting donations to fund its "Where's the Birth Certificate?" billboard campaign. Later in the year, WND released two Birther-themed DVDs: the Farah-hosted "A Question of Eligibility", and the Molotov Mitchell-created "For the Record: I'm Not Crazy." 2010 saw the publication of Aaron Klein's book "The Manchurian President". Throughout the next few years, WND also sold Birther-themed t-shirts, bumper stickers, and yard signs through its online store, and started multiple campaigns that encouraged its readers to donate money to fund pro-Birther efforts.

WND's cultural penetration reached its apex in the first few months of 2011. WND contributor Jack Cashill's book "Deconstructing Obama" was published in February 2011, promoting Cashill's Bill-Ayers-as-Obama-ghostwriter claim that he had developed in his columns at WND. Donald Trump became Birtherism's most prominent spokesman, repeating various rumors about Obama's birth and youth. Comments of his suggested that he had been influenced by WND coverage, and WND itself would subsequently report about communications between Trump and WND reporter Jerome Corsi. And finally, Corsi's own book, "Where's the Birth Certificate?", was set for release in May 2011.

Then came the morning of April 27, 2011, and the surprise press conference where Birthers were given exactly what they had demanded for three years: Obama's long-form birth certificate. And in response, they promptly pivoted and claimed it was fake. Within a week, Joseph Farah and Jerome Corsi were both on record as saying the long-form was fraudulent. This attitude led to Corsi's follow-up "Where's the REAL Birth Certificate?" and, more importantly, a particular speaking engagement in Arizona.

The Surprise Tea Party in Maricopa County, Arizona invited Corsi to speak in August 2011, in order to present his argument that Obama's long-form was an elaborate fake. At this meeting, a petition was circulated asking Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio to investigate Obama's birth certificate, and the next day the petition was delivered by Corsi and the tea party leaders to the Sheriff. About two weeks later, Arpaio announced that he was assigning his Cold Case Posse to conduct such an investigation, and that the Posse would be headed by one Mike Zullo.

What followed was several months when the Posse worked closely with Corsi in researching Birther claims, and in March 2012 they held a press conference where Zullo announced that (perhaps unsurprisingly) they had come to believe in the Birther claims that Corsi had been promoting for months and years prior. In fact, the day after the press conference, an e-book co-authored by Zullo and Corsi, titled "A Question of Credibility" was released online with a pricetag of $9.99. (Large portions of the e-book were subsequently found to be cut-and-pasted from old Corsi articles at WND.) The Posse's Birther beliefs were repeated in subsequent interviews and press conferences, with Mike Zullo remaining the only public voice of the Cold Case Posse, apart from Corsi.

This partnership continued throughout 2011 and well into 2012, but in the final weeks before the 2012 election, Corsi and WND seemed to lose interest in Birtherism. In October 2012 Corsi resorted to promoting several wild claims about Obama, ranging from allegations about his parentage to his wedding ring to claims that he'd had a nose job, all of which originated with the director of an anti-Obama DVD. But Corsi and Farah stopped writing about Obama's birth and his Constitutional eligibility, and after the election they acknowledged in interviews that they considered the issue a non-starter, even as they insisted that they believed in its merits.

While Corsi and Farah burned out, Mike Zullo kept the faith and pressed on. Insisting that he continues to devote considerable man-hours to the Posse investigation, Zullo now gives regular interviews where he promises new developments and discoveries, and claims that he has the ears of various powerful individuals. Without question, Mike Zullo is currently the central proponent and advancer of the Birther cause.

And for Mike Zullo's dedication to Birtherism, we owe Jerome Corsi and Joseph Farah. And for Corsi's and Farah's dedication, we owed Phil Berg (and to an extent, Ron McRae). Without this handful of men, the history of Birtherism would likely have been far more fringe and obscure, a conspiracy theory relegated to websites like Infowars and frivolous litigants like Orly Taitz.

I also can't help but wonder how the last five years of my life would be different without that chain of influence. Maybe I would've found more productive uses for my time than following and responding to this bit of political periphery; or maybe I would've wasted time in some other fashion. I have to imagine, though, that without Birtherism I wouldn't have written a book, and as a major highlight of my last five years, that works for me.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Skepticality: Spot the Bull Interview

Following the publication of my book, Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation, I gave an interview to Skepticality, the podcast of Skeptic Magazine. And that interview aired last week:

Skepticality: Spot the Bull

Although the interview is not at all Birther-centric, it does involve a lot of discussion of pseudolaw, including flag fringers, tax deniers, and the "Lost" Thirteenth Amendment. And if there's not enough Birther material in the interview, the book's chapter on pseudolaw addresses Birthers and their illegitimate theories of citizenship.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wayne Allyn Root's Columbia Conspiracism, Part 2

Last time, I documented how Wayne Allyn Root was perfectly nonplussed about Barack Obama's Columbia credentials until early September 2008, when his public attitude suddenly changed from "Obama and I are fellow Columbia graduates!" to "So what's the story with Obama's years at Columbia?"
In the years since, Root has been tagged with the 'Birther' label, which he rejects. Root says " that none of the questions I have asked about the President ever involved his birth or birth certificate. Never. Not once." This is actually untrue, but Obama's birth has admittedly never been the focus of Root's commentary.
However, what has been the focus of Root's attempts to stoke a Columbia controversy has changed over the past five years. Even noted this, noting that his 2012 comments echoed his 2008 comments, "Minus the Birther Twist".
That twist, and the evolution of Root's Obama conspiracism, is evident when you look back at what he was actually saying in late 2008. In that September 2008 interview with, Root first speculated as to why the young Obama didn't make an impression on his fellow students, and Root's theories were rather mundane:
Wayne Root: That's my point. Where was Obama? He wasn't an outgoing young man, no one ever heard of him.
Tim Cavanaugh: Maybe he was a late bloomer.
Root: Maybe. Or maybe he was involved in some sort of black radical politics.
Matt Welch: Ooooooooooh.
Root: Maybe he was too busy smoking pot in his dorm room to ever show up for class. I don't know what he was doing!...
Welch: That's peculiar! Do you have any theories?
Root: Don't have any theories. I don't know. Don't know why. Kept to himself.... The only thing I could even imagine is that he talks in his biographies about being, you know, his identity crisis, his "am I black or am I white?" He chose black. And he hung out with a couple of black kids and never went near anybody and his wife? That's the only thing I can think of. All my buddies are white, what can I tell you! They don't know him, nobody's ever seen him, I don't know what to tell you.
Then, when Root opined on precisely what he thought Obama's college records would prove, his suspicions were similarly ordinary:
Root: And I'd be willing to bet every dime I have in the world, a million dollars I'll put, I'll put a million dollars cash on the fact—

Welch: This is on the record—
Root: —that my GPA was better than Barack's—
Welch: Oooooh.
Root: ...and he got in based on the color of his skin.

So to summarize Root's position in 2008: 1) He claimed other Columbia students don't remember Obama, 2) He admitted he had no theories as to why others didn't remember him but suggested it was maybe because Obama was a slacker or because he hung out with black students, 3) He thought he earned a better GPA than Obama, and 4) He thought Obama was admitted to Columbia and/or Harvard because of affirmative action.
Now while this is certainly a distinct change from Root's previous "Obama/Root Columbia '83!!!" attitude, note what he WASN'T saying. He was not saying that Obama's Columbia years are suspicious in any way, or that he didn't actually graduate, or that he was a foreign student, or that he used a different name, or that there's some larger coverup. He was just suggesting that Obama was a poor student, and that he might've benefited from race-based admission policies. Are these meritorious accusations? Maybe, maybe not. But they're uncomplicated and free of any real conspiratorial or 'Birther' overtones.
And Root maintained this attitude through the latter months of 2008.  Days after the Reason interview was published, Root was entirely focused on grades, and still wasn't disputing Obama's actual tenure at Columbia:
That is why I've made this public challenge to my classmate Barack Obama- to prove that his grades were better than mine, and to thereby prove that he deserved to gain admission to Harvard Law School. I think Barack owes us all the opportunity to see his Columbia college transcripts.
Barack and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum; we've lived lives inside different colored skin; had different experiences; faced different challenges, yet graduated from the same college (Columbia University Class of '83) on the same day, with the same major exactly 25 years ago. We now make history together- as the first college classmates to run on opposing Presidential tickets.
In comments to WorldNetDaily in October 2008, he again reiterated that his issues were grades and affirmative action:
“Yet, Barack was accepted to Harvard Law School. Was it because of his grades, test scores and college record? Or, was it because of the color of his skin?” asked Root.
Even into early 2009, Root still wasn't conspiratorial about Obama's time at Columbia:
Here is a tale of two classmates. President Barack Obama and I both attended Columbia University, Class of 1983. We both majored in Political Science and Pre Law.
In May 2010, Root agreed (at first) to speak at Rev. James Manning's bizarre 'CIA Columbia Obama Sedition and Treason Trial,' where it was alleged that Obama was actually a CIA operative during his claimed years at Columbia University. But on the eve of the event, Root backed out, and published a public explanation explaining why.
I explained that I do NOT believe there is any cover-up by Columbia University administration...I told Pastor Manning however that none of this is factual proof that Obama did not attend Columbia. Nor do I believe my university would ever participate in a cover-up. I have simply been asked by many in the media for several years now if I knew my famous classmate and I’ve always answered honestly. I’ve always stated publicly that my assumption is that he went to Columbia, but probably rarely (or never) attended classes. Perhaps he was too busy pursuing a radical political agenda. Perhaps he was too busy hanging out with his radical friends plotting the destruction of capitalism or the overthrow of America. I assume he spent most of his time at Columbia off campus and took what is often called at Ivy League colleges a “Gentleman’s C” for simply showing up for final exams.
In the midst of these denials, note what Root is nonetheless still admitting his familiarity with. The Manning mock trial itself, obviously. But also the name "Barry Sotero," which he felt was important enough to randomly bring up. He plainly believes the false meme that Obama had "sealed" his college records. And of course there's the 400 classmates report, which likely led to his initial change in attitude in 2008.
But just because Root was distancing himself from Manning's conspiracy theories doesn't mean that Root was adverse to Obama-related conspiracy theories. He was trending in that direction at least as early as September 2009:
Actually I believe that my college classmate (Columbia University, Class of ’83) is brilliant. Nothing he does is out of ignorance or naiveté. Therefore this must all be part of a well thought-out plan to destroy the U.S. economy. Why? I can only surmise that Obama's plan from day one has been to wreck capitalism; destroy Wall Street and the banks (the very heart of capitalism); expand the size and scope of government dramatically; get the American people so fearful as to demand bigger government to “save” them and get involved in every aspect of their lives; and thereby introduce Socialism without debate.
It was finally in 2012, in the months before Obama was up for reelection, that Root decided to commit to the same sorts of conspiracy theories he'd rebuffed two years earlier. In August 2012, in a post titled "The Obama Scandal Is At Columbia", Root kicked off his discussion of Obama's Columbia years with this declaration:
My bet is that Obama will never unseal his records- never...EVER. Because they contain information that could destroy his chances for re-election.
Remember how in 2008, Root was just suggesting that Obama's college records might show he had a mediocre GPA or might have benefited from affirmative action? Forget that. Now Obama's college records are so explosive that they "could destroy his chances for re-election"!!
Root continues:
If anyone should have questions about Obama’s record at Columbia University, it’s me. We both graduated (according to Obama) Columbia University, Class of ’83. We were both (according to Obama) Pre-Law and Political Science majors. And I thought I knew most everyone at Columbia. I certainly thought I’d heard of all of my fellow Political Science majors. But not Obama (or as he was known then- Barry Soetoro). I never met him. Never saw him. Never even heard of him. And none of the classmates that I knew at Columbia has ever met him, saw him, or heard of him.
"(according to Obama)". That's certainly new. Even after the 2008 election, Root never disputed the specifics of Obama's Columbia degree. And in his public statement during the Manning 'trial' in 2010, Root said "All I can testify to is that I was a member of the Class of ’83- just like Obama. And that I was Pre Law and a political science major- just like Obama." He was adamant that he did "NOT believe there is any cover-up by Columbia University administration." But by 2012, even those foundational facts had been replaced with doubt as to whether Obama had graduated from Columbia at all. Also notable here: "(or as he was known then - Barry Soetoro)". He's asserting, in print, that Obama used the name "Barry Soetoro" at Columbia. Even though he says immediately thereafter that he never heard of him. And even though the one and only instance of the name "Barry Soetoro" has always been when Obama was 6 years old.
The first question I’d ask is, if you had great grades, why would you seal your records? So let’s assume Obama got poor grades. Why not release the records? He’s President of the free world, for gosh sakes. He’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military. Who’d care about some poor grades from three decades ago, right?So then what’s the problem? Doesn’t that make the media suspicious? Something doesn’t add up.
It's rather funny to see Root ask who'd care about some poor grades from three decades ago. Because Root began this entire downward spiral in 2008 by caring about somebody else's grades from three decades ago.
Secondly, if he had poor grades at Occidental, how did he get admitted to an Ivy League university in the first place? And if his grades at Columbia were awful, how’d he ever get into Harvard Law School? So again those grades must have been great, right? So why spend millions to keep them sealed?
Here we see Root repeating one of the boilerplate Birther memes that he apparently fell for: that Obama spent millions of dollars to keep his records secret. This, like his use of "Barry Soetoro" above, indicates the sort of information Root chose to absorb and believe since 2008.
Third, how did a poor kid pay for all these fancy schools? If he had student loans or scholarships, don’t American students need good grades to maintain student loans?
Actually, no, they don't. Students need to maintain satisfactory academic progress to keep receiving student loans. That usually means something like a C-average. Root originally just suggested that Obama's grades at Columbia weren't stellar; is he now suggesting that Obama actually failed classes? In any case, Root then advances his theory on Obama's time at Columbia, and it's a lot more sweeping than his 2008 theory of 'He was a slacker':
I can only think of one answer that would explain this mystery.

So here’s my gut. I believe Obama got a leg up by being admitted to both Occidental and Columbia as a foreign exchange student. He was raised as a young boy in Indonesia. Did his mother ever change him back to a U.S. citizen? I’m betting not. He was abandoned by his mother and sent back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. No one was paying much attention to young Obama, so his citizenship was never changed back. But suddenly as he nears college-age Obama learns that foreign students have a much easier path being admitted to U.S. universities. And even more amazingly, they get loads of aid and scholarships to attend college for free- something unavailable to U.S. citizens.
So a plan is hatched. Obama uses his Indonesian passport and citizenship to get into college. Suddenly even Ivy League Columbia University is a possibility- for a foreign student from Indonesia. And it’s all paid for by the taxpayers.
That would explain how a poor student who rarely attended class and got mediocre grades, and with no money, was able to get accepted and pay for Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law. The door magically opened for a foreign student with an exotic background.
The sad reality is there is some U.S. student- a Valedictorian of his or her school- who never got to go to Columbia or Harvard Law because Barry Soetoro took their place.
That would also explain the great mystery of how in the summer of 1981 Barry Soetoro was able to travel to Pakistan when no U.S. citizen was allowed to travel there. Did he use his Indonesian passport?
Of course a foreign student isn’t qualified to serve as President of the United States. So that secret had to be sealed and covered up for the rest of all time. In 2007 everything happened so fast no one could even ask questions…ask Hillary! That explains why a sitting President of the United States would spend millions of dollars in legal fees to keep his past sealed.

If you lost track there, Root's allegations now include 1) Obama became an Indonesian citizen, 2) Obama never regained U.S. citizenship, 3) Obama had an Indonesian passport, 4) Obama claimed to be a foreign exchange student to get into college, 5) Obama's college education was paid for by taxpayer-funded foreign aid, 6) The Pakistan travel ban myth, 7) Obama has spent millions of dollars to keep his records sealed, and...wait for it...8) Obama may not be eligible to be President at all!
That's quite a list. Root himself itemizes what he now thinks Obama's college records would show:
If you could unseal Obama’s Columbia University records I believe you’d find that:
A) He rarely ever attended class.
B) His grades were not those typical of what we understand it takes to get into Harvard Law School.
C) He attended Columbia as a foreign exchange student.
D) He never paid for either undergraduate college or Harvard Law School because of foreign aid and scholarships given to a poor foreigner like this kid Barry Soetoro from Indonesia
To refresh your recollection, 2008 Wayne Allyn Root was willing to bet that Obama's college records would show that he had a lower GPA than Root. And that maybe, as a black student, he was aided by affirmative action. Whereas 2012 Wayne Allyn Root was willing to bet that Obama's college records would show that he was a foreign exchange student with Indonesian citizenship named Barry Soetoro who paid for college with foreign aid money. And that he had a subpar GPA and rarely went to class (but nonetheless was indoctrinated into Marxism).
And this change in opinion was effected despite the fact that no additional evidence appeared in the interim four years to support the new claims. There was an April Fool's joke about Obama being a foreign exchange student, and plenty of additional information supporting that Obama was a perfectly ordinary college student. Yet Root's beliefs only got wilder and wilder.
If only he'd followed his own advice that he wrote when he backed out of James Manning's mock trial:
I found myself uncomfortable being involved or associated in any way with the wild charges, claims and conspiracy theories that have been publicly aired by this mock trial. I believe these wild charges and claims actually damage any future legitimate opportunity to question President Obama’s background.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wayne Allyn Root's Columbia Conspiracism, Part 1

Wayne Allyn Root, who was the Libertarian Party's candidate for Vice President in 2008*, has continued to occasionally pop up on the Birther radar in the last four years, typically espousing arguments and accusations that Barack Obama's Columbia University education is somehow...suspicious. Root, who graduated from Columbia in 1983 like Obama, has floated multiple theories, while being seemingly reluctant to commit to any one. But is this suspicion about Obama something that Root has always felt? Or did it only appear, suddenly, right before the 2008 election?
Root announced his candidacy for President on May 4, 2007. That day, Root released a press release that BEGAN with this sentence:
Barack Obama and Wayne Allyn Root used to have one thing in common, both graduated from the same college class, Class of ’83 Columbia University; after Root’s announcement they share a second commonality, they are both running for the 2008 Presidential election.
Notice that in May 2007, Obama and Root's Columbia connection was a bragging point for Root. It wasn't until September 2008, over a year and a half later, in an interview with, that Root first began publicly disputing Obama's Columbia credentials:
Matt Welch: So tell us what we should know about Barack Obama that we don't?
Wayne Allyn Root: I think the most dangerous thing you should know about Barack Obama is that I don't know a single person at Columbia that knows him, and they all know me. I don't have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia. Ever!
Root: Class of '83 political science, pre-law Columbia University. You don't get more exact than that. Never met him in my life, don't know anyone who ever met him. At the class reunion, our 20th reunion five years ago, 20th reunion, who was asked to be the speaker of the class? Me. No one ever heard of Barack! Who was he, and five years ago, nobody even knew who he was.
Welch: That's peculiar! Do you have any theories?
Root: Don't have any theories. I don't know. Don't know why. Kept to himself.... The only thing I could even imagine is that he talks in his biographies about being, you know, his identity crisis, his "am I black or am I white?" He chose black. And he hung out with a couple of black kids and never went near anybody and his wife? That's the only thing I can think of. All my buddies are white, what can I tell you! They don't know him, nobody's ever seen him, I don't know what to tell you.
That's almost exactly sixteen months between beginning his run for President and his first attempt to cast aspersions upon Obama's history. Still, this sort of delay might be excusable; for instance, if Root was never presented with an opportune time to share any preexisting doubts about Obama's time at Columbia.
Except Root not only had many such opportunities, but, as illustrated by that initial press release, he unabashedly made his shared alma mater with Obama an overarching theme of Wayne Root's own Presidential campaign. Root didn't question Obama's Columbia credentials; he emphasized them at every possible opportunity, for over a year and a half.
Root's campaign website,, featured a blog that Root made regular posts to. Like this post on May 15, 2007:
Barack Obama (my Columbia College Class of '83 classmate) certainly doesn't think like you.
On September 17, 2007, Root published a post that compared and contrasted his and Obama's Columbia experiences at length:
OBAMA vs. ROOT- Two Very Different Career Paths from Columbia University Class of 1983: The Case for a Small Businessman as President
Barack Obama and I both graduated from the same class at the same college- Columbia University, Class of '83. We both chose the same major-Political Science. Today we are both running for President of the United States. The only difference is that Barack is the darling of the liberal news media- who give him a "free pass" on whether he's qualified to run the greatest country and economy in world history. Since we come from such similar educational backgrounds, yet we each chose such divergent paths since graduation, I thought a study of what each has accomplished in the "real world" might shed some light on who is best qualified to occupy the White House and run the greatest economy in world history...
I'm sure my old college classmate Barack is a nice guy. I'm certain he's a smart guy. I know he went to a great college!
Obama was mentioned again in passing on September 24, 2007:
[O]ver 25 years later as I read my Columbia College Today alumni magazine and see updates on the career success of my classmates, I see the names of future Supreme Court justices, close advisors to Presidents (George Stephanapoulus was a classmate), liberal United States Senators (Barack Obama of Illinois), the best and brightest legal minds in the country (any wonder lawyers seem to be at the root of most problems in our society?), and many of the most influential journalists and media executives in America.
And again on October 9, 2007:
Then there's my old Columbia College classmate Barack Obama.
And again on January 14, 2008:
Hillary has never risked her own money on a business, never created a job, never run any business of any kind. Ditto for my Columbia College '83 classmate Barack Obama.
Root similarly referenced his common Columbia background in an interview with Wikinews on February 6, 2008:
Mr. Root: Barack Obama (my college classmate Columbia University Class of '83) talks nonstop about change. So do Hillary and McCain. None of them are agents of change.
In a blog post on February 29, 2008, Root didn't simply off-handedly refer to Obama as a "classmate"; he dwelled on that commonality, and stressed its details:
You see I am not just Barack's match as a salesman and communicator of a political message. I am Barack Obama's college classmate. Yes, we are graduates of the same college (Columbia University), same class (Class of '83), same major (Political Science). We graduated on the same day 25 years ago. Never before in the history of American politics have two college classmates run against each other for President. Talent aside, sometimes you just need a bit of luck. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined running for President in the same election as my college classmate.
Then, in an interview with Glenn Beck on March 7, 2008, Root was actually asked if he remembered Obama from their Columbia days. And Root's answer didn't raise the spectre of fraud or misconduct; Root simply admitted he didn't know Obama, and didn't think that was odd:
GLENN: Hang on just a second. You were actual — did you have any classes with Barack Obama?
ROOT: Well, I’m sure I did. I just never knew him. We were both political science majors at the same college, Columbia University, graduated in the class of ’83. So I guarantee you we were sitting in the same classes together but I did not know him. It’s probably a graduating class of 600 or 700. So it’s very possible to be in the same class and not know a person. I didn’t know everyone in the whole class.
Root again emphasized his and Obama's shared Columbia roots in this May 2008 press release from Root's campaign:
Wayne went onto graduate prestigious Columbia University Class of 1983 in political science (classmate of Barrack Obama). Wayne and Barrack Obama will be the first classmates to ever run against each other for President.
The Columbia connection was again invoked in a blog post of Root's on May 16, 2008:
Wayne Allyn Root is a New York-born son of a butcher; small businessman; home-school father of 4 young children; Ivy League-educated college classmate of Barack Obama;
And on May 23, 2008:
A Root victory in the Libertarian nominating convention would set the stage for a history-making election. Root, like Senator Barack Obama, was a 1983 graduate of Columbia University, which according to Root, creates the first presidential contest in history featuring two college classmates from the same graduating class squaring off against each other.
And again on August 11, 2008, just three weeks before the Reason interview where he first questioned Obama's grades at Columbia:
That loan, by the way, helped pay my way through Columbia University Class of 1983, the same graduating class as Barack Obama...It is telling to contrast my choices with those of my college classmate Barack Obama - who graduated on the same day 25 years ago.
Even after that interview, and after the election, the bio that Root attached to multiple blog posts in 2009 still included this sentence:
Wayne also happens to be Barack Obama's college classmate (Columbia University Class of '83).
So what, if anything, happened between August 11, 2008, when Wayne Root seemingly had no qualms with Obama's Columbia education, and August 28, 2008**, when he was willing to offer a million dollars to make Obama release his college records? Well, on August 18, 2008, Fox News aired "Presidential Character & Conduct 2008: Barack Obama". This was the program that infamously said that 400 Columbia graduates were contacted, and none of them knew Obama. Curiously, just weeks after that was broadcast, Wayne Allyn Root suddenly stopped bragging about his Columbia connection with Obama, and instead started questioning Obama's time there.
And that's just what led up to Root's change of heart. In Part 2, we'll look at how Root has descended further into conspiracism and crankery since September 2008.
*Secret shame: I (reluctantly) voted for Root in 2008. I liked Bob Barr, but not Root. So much so that even as a VP candidate on a zero-chance third-party ticket, I was strongly tempted to not vote Libertarian. It was only the fact that he had absolutely no chance of occupying the VP's office that I was able to conscientiously vote for a ticket with him on it.
**The Reason article was published September 5, but the intro explains that the interview was conducted on or about August 28.

(This post and its follow-up were originally posted in July 2013.  Since the blog has been effectively retired due to a lack of novelty in the Birther arena, I've since backdated these two posts in order to keep the Birtherversary and Skepticality posts at the top of the page.  The Birtherversary post, in particular, I felt was a better feature item than a random treatment on Mr. Root.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Joel Gilbert's Evolving Disclaimer

In my first full post on Joel Gilbert and his pseudo-documentary Dreams From My Real Father, I showed how Gilbert has a history of rewriting the past when it comes to his movies. I noted below that Joel Gilbert keeps changing the claims on his website to avoid admitting that he's been discredited.

But what I discovered in reviewing Dreams From My Real Father on Netflix Streaming is that he's actually changed the movie itself.

Approximately one minute into the film appears a "Director's Note." It's basically a disclaimer, and it reads not unlike the disclaimers in Kevin Trudeau's fake-medical-advice books. Here's what it says on the DVD:

"This film's contents are based on actual events, interviews, and archives, as well as re-creations of probable events, using reasoned logic, speculation, and approximated conversations in an attempt provide a cohesive understanding of Obama's history.

"Is this the true story Barack Obama should have told, revealing his true political foundations and his agenda for fundamentally transforming America?"

Talking Points Media quoted this disclaimer back in May 2012. So did Gilbert fan Jack Cashill. Here's a screenshot from the film itself:

But that's not what you see if you watch the movie on Netflix, where it was made available for streaming just a few weeks ago. Rather, the Netflix version of the film carries this "Director's Note":

Notice the difference? Look what follows the words "reasoned logic" in the first sentence.

Apparently, the original DVD version of Dreams From My Real Father was based on "speculation," but the Netflix version isn't.

Interview on KRUU

I gave an interview with KRUU-FM about Gilbert's movie and about my new book, Bullspotting.

It's the first radio interview I've given in a long time (I have a few more scheduled), but I had fun and I thank the host for having me on to talk.

You can listen to the show at