The fringe movement to keep Barack Obama from becoming president.

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Dec. 4 2008 4:25 PM

Change They Can Litigate

The fringe movement to keep Barack Obama from becoming president.

Barack Obama. Click image to expand.
President-elect Barack Obama 

If you want to stop Barack Obama from becoming president, there's still time. But you have to act right now. Go to RallyCongress.com, and you can be the 126,000th-odd American to demand "proof of citizenship" from the president-elect. Follow the instructions at WeMustBeHeard.com, and you can join a sit-in outside the Supreme Court of the United States, starting at 8 a.m. Friday, as the justices decide whether to consider a suit filed by a professional poker player that challenges the presidential eligibility of Obama, John McCain, and Socialist Workers candidate Roger Calero.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Can't make it to Washington, D.C.? Too bad—you missed your chance to FedEx a letter to the justices for only $10, sponsored by the venerable right-wing site (and Chuck Norris column outlet) WorldNetDaily. "There is grave, widespread and rapidly growing concern throughout the American public," writes WND Editor Joseph Farah, "that this constitutional requirement is being overlooked and enforcement neglected by state and federal election authorities."

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Widespread? Rapidly growing? Who are these people? They're engaging in a new American political tradition: the quadrennial early-winter attempt to overturn presidential results by any means necessary.

It started, as all election madness seemed to, in 2000. As soon as it became clear that Al Gore had won the popular vote but might lose Florida's electoral votes, some liberal writers and activists argued for a constitutional path to victory: convince three Electoral College voters pledged to George W. Bush to switch their votes to Gore. The challenges lasted past the December Electoral College vote and into the January 2001 certification ceremony before a joint session of Congress, when members of the Congressional Black Caucus objected to the vote. They got nowhere because they needed a sponsor from the Senate to make it official. In 2005—after Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 made the 2001 protest famous—Sen. Barbara Boxer of California objected to the Ohio vote count, and the chambers divided for debate. Bush won anyway.

If you thought Barack Obama's clear rout over John McCain meant we'd be spared a third Electoral College melodrama—well, think again. This time, the argument is not over votes. It's over Obama's citizenship.

Thanks to the increased simplicity of online organizing and coverage in talk radio and fringe political Web sites, the citizenship crusaders have grown numerous enough to irritate people at every level of the presidential vote certification process. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the people questioning Obama's citizenship are hitting electors as hard as the Gore activists ever did. Go to AmericaMustKnow.com, and you, too, can contact one of the 538 electors at his or her home address after you read up on the latest doomed lawsuit.

How did the citizenship rumor get started? Ironically, it began when the Obama campaign tried to debunk some other conspiracies. After Obama locked up the nomination in early June, low-level talk radio and blog chatter peddled rumors that Obama's real middle name was Muhammad, that his father was not really Barack Obama, and that he was not really born in Hawaii. The campaign released a facsimile of Obama's certificate of live birth. Requested from the state in 2007, the certificate reported that Obama was, indeed, born in Honolulu at 7:24 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1961.

The certificate was a bullet that didn't put down the horse. Why, skeptics asked, release a new form from Hawaii instead of the original paper that Obama's parents got in 1961—the one that Obama found in a box of his dad's knickknacks in Dreams From My Father? They quickly came up with an explanation: The certificate was forged. Anonymous digital image experts with handles like Techdude and Polarik sprung from the woodwork to prove (shades of Rathergate!) that pixels, spacing, and indentation on the form indicated that the Obama campaign had created the certificate with Adobe Photoshop. The state of Hawaii's official statement that the certificate was legitimate didn't make a dent—after all, who is Registrar of Vital Statistics Alvin Onaka to argue with Techdude?

This "forgery" became an article of faith in the Obama conspiracy community. When a Hillary Clinton supporter found a birth announcement for Obama from the Aug. 13, 1961, edition of the Honolulu Advertiser, the theorists were unbowed: After all, the Obama family could have phoned that in from Kenya. When Pennsylvania lawyer Philip J. Berg filed the first birth-related injunction against Obama this August, asking that Obama be ruled "ineligible to run for United States Office of the President," he alleged that the certificate had been proved a forgery by the "extensive Forensic testing" of anonymous experts and claimed that Obama's campaign had simply inserted his name over that of his half-sister, Maya. That would have been quite a trick, as Maya Soetoro-Ng was actually born in Indonesia.

Berg's involvement in the movement—and his self-promotion, which has included a radio interview with Michael Savage and a full-page ad in the Washington Times—is probably a net loss for all concerned. Berg's last big lawsuits were filed in 2003 and 2004 on behalf of 9/11 skeptics that sought to uncover the Bush administration's complicity in the attacks. "There's been many fires in many buildings before, and even after," Berg said in a 2007 interview. "Concrete and steel buildings do not fall down from fires." Berg did not respond to my request for an interview, but if you call his office, you can press "2" for more information on "the 9/11 case."