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.)