Monday, January 12, 2009

Question: Where Did the "Born in Kenya" Theory Come From?

Central to the entire Birther conspiracy is the notion that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya, or Canada, or really anywhere other than his stated birthplace of Honolulu, Hawaii. It's a fairly ridiculous proposition on its face, but its believers are nonetheless rabid in their faith in it.

My question is: where and when did this theory originate? Particularly the specific allegation that he was born in Kenya, and what the original 'evidence' was that the allegation hinged on.

Even though Obama started campaigning for President in early 2007, Phil Berg didn't file his lawsuit until August 2008, just days before the Democratic convention. Jerome Corsi's book, "The Obama Nation," was published earlier that month, and despite the fact that it didn't shy away from making outrageous allegations, even it didn't raise any questions as to Obama's birthplace. Andy Martin's 2004 hit piece similarly didn't raise any birthplace disputes.

A cursory search on my part for the origins of this meme have produced these results:

- In the first moderately high-profile mention of the Kenyan-birth theory that I've found, the National Review's Jim Geraghty mentioned it June 9, 2008 as a theory he found "rather unlikely."

- Geraghty's own citation for the existence of this theory was an April 21, 2008 posting on the Snopes message board.

- An anti-Obama site "Ruthless Roundup" said this on March 5, 2008:

Add to the family history shown in this article that Obama's mother was allegedly visiting Kenya with Obama's father in the final months of her pregnancy and was not allowed to board a flight in her late term to return home.

She allegedly had Obama in Kenya and quickly boarded a flight to Hawaii. Airlines do not accept late term pregancies but do not refuse passage to a newborn, usually issuing a 10% or free fare ticket for the trip.

Once in Hawaii, his mother registered him as being born in Hawaii.

- A commenter on a TV news website wrote on March 2, 2008, "There is something seriously wrong here! From what I can find out Obama was either born in Kenya or in honalua and then lived in Kenya and Indonisia the first 10 years of his life, went to Muslam schools?"

Does anyone know of any usage of the Kenya-birth theory before March 2008? Does anyone know how it initially spread?

And does anyone know what the original argument was for Kenya, specifically, as the *real* place of birth? Birthers consistently rely on only two pieces of evidence that they say point specifically to Kenya, but both of those (the October 2008 McRae/Sarah Obama interview, and the November 2008 radio morning show interview with the Kenyan ambassador) BOTH happened after Berg filed his August complaint. Berg's complaint does note a June 2008 article by Wayne Madsen, wherein he mentions a supposed February 2008 GOP trip that supposedly found a Kenyan birth certificate. But even the National Review was already shooting down the theory by that time, so even that can't be the original alleged evidence.

So where did this theory come from, and how did people come to be convinced that 'Kenya' was the truly legit place of birth, in the absence of ANY evidence actually pointing to Kenya at all?


  1. Not sure if you were aware, but some of the psters from the Berg blog have now begun a new forum.

    So far, they are welcoming posts from all sides of the issue. I hope that will last. We shall see. I have already been asked not to discourage people after stating that I think the judiciary is not the place to solve the issue, so, time will tell if all views are truly welcome!!

  2. This was shortly after the photo of Obama in Somali clothing was posted by Drudge.


    Breaking – Obama is a native Somalian
    by nisleib
    Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 07:18:48 AM PST

    ... Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones said of the photo that there was nothing wrong with circulating a photo that showed, "... him (Obama) in his native clothing."



    What country is Obama a native of?


    Not really Conspiracy Theory 'evidence' as such, but there are lots of comments on whether or not Tubbs-Jones's (a Clinton supporter at that time) was intentionally feeding the "Obama unpatriotic" smear.

    The last comment is particularly tantalizing ...
    "not an american" is the worst...

    This feeds directly and exactly into some of the worst smears circulating about him -- check out the "not an american" rumors already circulating:

    by Kai Stinchcombe on Tue Feb 26, 2008 at 06:22:23 PM PST

    Unfortunately Kai didn't post any of the links found by google.

  3. Jerome Corsi did say in his book "Obama Nation" this on pages 24-25:

    "Obama has been in Africa three times," Sayid [Obama, the President's uncle in Kenya] insisted. "The first time was in 1986. Then he came back again in 1992, when he was collecting material for his autobiography..."

    This is consistent with a YouTube video of Sayid Obama saying Obama was in Kenya the first time on that visit.

  4. Spurred by your question, I have been digging, enough for a couple of articles at The most solid old reference I found was to the question: "If Obama bin HUSSEIN al Barack was born in Kenya, how can he run for president in the US?" at Yahoo Answers.

    It dates before May 23, 2007.

    I found an earlier reference in February 2007 that just looks like a mistake by the writer. That started me thinking. Any number of people could have independently, and purely by mistake, thought Barack Obama was born in Africa to an American mother and believed him to be eligible through his mother. Those mistakes could have been picked up and been the source of the story, which as all rumors do, grew in the telling.