Change They Can Litigate
The fringe movement to keep Barack Obama from becoming president.
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.
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."
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."
None of that stopped Berg from stoking the conspiracy theorists. On Oct. 16, an Anabaptist minister named Ron McRae called Sarah Hussein Obama, the president-elect's 86-year-old paternal step-grandmother, at her home in Kenya. Two translators were on the line when McRae asked if the elder Obama was "present" when the president-elect was born. One of the translators says "yes." McRae contacted Berg and gave him a partial transcript of the call with a signed affidavit. He opted not to include the rest of the call, in which he asks the question more directly—"Was he born in Mombassa?"—and the translators, finally understanding him, tell him repeatedly that the president-elect was born in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian documentation, the 1961 newspaper announcement, the phony evidence from Sarah Obama—all of that aside, the idea that Obama wasn't born in Honolulu goes against everything we know about his rather well-documented life. Barack Obama Sr. came to America as part of a 1959 program for Kenyan students—he did not return home until 1965, years after he left his wife and son. Ann Dunham was three months pregnant when she married Obama Sr. and 18 years old when she gave birth. There is no record of Dunham ever traveling to Kenya, much less the year after the Mau Mau rebellion ended, when she was pregnant and when she had no disposable income to speak of. "Ann's mother would have gone ballistic if her daughter had even mentioned traveling to Kenya in the final stages of pregnancy," says David Mendell, author of the biography Obama: From Promise to Power.
Reached by phone, Ron McRae doesn't claim to know when or how Dunham got to Kenya, only that she gave birth in a Third World country because "she didn't want to take a chance on that flight back" and that "everyone in Kenya" knows this. If so, they've kept it a pretty solid secret from the international reporters who've visited the country since Obama rose to prominence. But the story is good enough for Gary Kreep, the conservative head of the United States Justice Foundation, who filed suit against Obama on behalf of Alan Keyes, the unstoppable fringe candidate who was on the ballot in California on the American Independent Party ticket. "If he's got nothing to hide," says Kreep, "why not give us access?"
That's the same argument made by Bob Schultz, the founder of the paleoconservative We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education. On Monday and Wednesday, Schultz gave the Obama conspiracy its biggest burst of attention—at least since Rush Limbaugh speculated that this was the real reason Obama visited his dying grandmother—by purchasing full-page ads in the Chicago Tribune. In the "open letters" to Obama, Schultz asserts that Obama's certificate of live birth is "forged," that his "grandmother is record[ed] on tape saying she attended your birth in Kenya," and that Obama would have lost his citizenship anyway when Ann Dunham married her second, Indonesian husband, Lolo Soetoro. (Lou Dobbs would be delighted to discover that the 14th Amendment can be nullified so easily.)
Schultz has asked Obama to allow forensic investigators to inspect Obama's files in Hawaii's Department of State. "Have one guy go in and do his thing," explains Schultz. "Have another guy go in, do his thing, put the certificate back in the envelope. These are scientists. They should all come to the same conclusion."
If Obama doesn't submit to the investigation—and so far, Obama and Democratic National Committee lawyers have ignored or waited for dismissal of the lawsuits and complaints—Schultz will go ahead and send packages of the key anti-Obama complaints to every Electoral College voter. "They're going to be warned that if they go ahead and cast their votes for Mr. Obama, then they've committed treason to the Constitution," Schultz told me on Wednesday.
Schultz, like every Obama-citizenship skeptic, is watching the Supreme Court on Friday and Monday to see whether it will decide to hear Leo Donofrio's lawsuit. "They should at least delay the Electoral College vote," suggests Schultz. More likely, the justices will consider the lawsuit—which claims that Obama Sr. made his son a dual citizen of the British Empire and thus ineligible for the presidency—frivolous, decide that Donofrio lacked the standing to sue Obama anyway, and move on.
How much further will the fight to de-certify Obama go? It won't stop if the Electoral College votes for Obama, as the skeptics will try to get a congressman or senator to officially challenge the result. Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah was willing to believe that Bill Ayers wrote Dreams From My Father, so the skeptics might have a chance.
And if every vote certification goes off without a hitch and Obama is inaugurated on Jan. 20? Gary Kreep is ready for that.
"When Obama starts signing executive orders and legislation," Kreep says, "I'll be filing lawsuits unless and until he proves he's an American citizen. Some judge, someday, is going to want this proved on the merits. You can run, but you can't hide."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Barack Obama by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.