Obama, Elvis and America’s birthers

By Bernd Debusmann
August 6, 2009

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –
Nobody ever landed on the moon, the televised images are a hoax. John F. Kennedy was murdered in a complex plot involving the Mafia and the CIA. Elvis Presley lives. Barack Obama was born outside the United States and therefore is ineligible to be president.

All these claims stem from conspiracy theories and myths born in the U.S. and they throw a question mark over the long-held view of experts that such ideas flourish most in societies where news is controlled, access to information difficult and barriers to independent inquiry difficult to overcome.

This kind of restrictive environment  applies to many Third World countries – conspiracy theories are particularly abundant in the Middle East and Africa — but not to the technologically and economically advanced United States. Yet there is a parallel universe inhabited by millions and millions of Americans immune to facts, logic and common sense.

Some of the myths are harmless, such as the notion that rock-and-roll king Elvis Presley did not die in 1977 and instead went into hiding. (The reasons vary depending on who tells the tale).

There have been thousands of supposed Elvis sightings and a 2005 book says there’s DNA evidence that he is still alive. While the Elvis-in-hiding theory appears to fading (though it is far from dead), the hoaxed moon landing continues to run long enough to prompt a Newsweek magazine article that debunked the story on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo mission to the moon in July. Perhaps not surprisingly, early skepticism about the moon landing came from the Flat Earth Society, based in California.

The Flat Earthers have their own website, unlike the latest addition to America’s wide variety of conspiracy cults, the “birthers.”

They insist that President Barrack Obama was born in Kenya and that the certificate attesting to his birth in Hawaii is a forgery. Unlike the Flat Earthers, the birthers managed to find Congressional sponsors, all Republicans, to introduce a bill meant to block non-eligible Americans from becoming president in future.

H.R. 1503, introduced by Florida Republican Bill Posey, wants to “To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee’s statement of organization a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate, together with such other documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution.”


Weighty language for a weighty cause. First voiced during the presidential election campaign (when Obama opponents also aired suspicions that he is a Muslim), the birther conspiracy gained currency when a right-wing talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, expounded on it and entertained his audience with the following line: “What do Obama and God have in common? Neither has a birth certificate. How do they differ? God does not think he’s Obama. And there’s another difference between God and Obama, and that is that liberals love Obama.”

This from a man with a reputation as the loudest and perhaps most influential conservative voice in American politics. Asked a few weeks ago whom he would chose as a political leader if the choice were between Limbaugh and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Vice President Dick Cheney opted for Limbaugh.

A conservative cable TV show host, Lou Dobbs of CNN, also boosted the birth certificate tale, inviting proponents of the theory on his program and raising questions over the authenticity of the certificate Obama’s campaign team produced before the elections.

Air time for the birthers, whose natural habitat is the Internet, clearly helped spread their claims. There are no reliable statistics on the number of American Flat Earthers, Moon Walk deniers or Elvis spotters but a poll in late July showed considerable Republican support for the birthers’ assertions and their conclusion that Obama is an illegitimate president.

According to the survey, by the polling institute Research 2000, there is a huge gap between Republicans and Democrats on the issue: 93 percent of Democrats believed that Obama was born in the U.S. while only 42 percent of Republicans thought so. Of the rest, 28 percent thought he wasn’t born in the U.S. and 30 percent were not sure.

“Far from being an isolated, on the edge movement, the birthers have planted deep a paranoid conspiracy seed about Obama’s legitimate right to sit in the White House among a wide body of Americans,” lamented Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst.

The debate, he says, has bestowed a kind of perverse legitimacy on the birthers. “They won’t quietly go away.”

Probably not. Conspiracy theories come in many forms but they have one thing in common: they survive against overwhelming factual evidence.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Perhaps their attraction lies in the fact that the very first conspiracy theory to which we are all exposed as children – the non-existence of Santa – actually turns out to be true. (My apologies if this comment distresses anyone….)

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

It is clear from the evidence that Obama cannot produce a real birth certificate and evidence is increasingly pointing to a non US birth. This is not the primary issue issue. The main issue is the fact that Obama is completely controlled by Rockefeller institutions such as the Trilateral Commission and the CFR. The American revolution in 1776 began as a conspiracy. Don’t let these propagandist try to make you feel stupid for questioning a presidents credentials. It is time for a real investigation into Obama.

Posted by jay | Report as abusive

The birthers have a point Obama cant have his argument both ways.. On one hand he claims to have indosinan national status to get a free education from an ivy league school.Yet to be president he clams to be a natural born citizen..If there is no Lie here..SHOW THE DOCUMENTS AND END THE CONTROVERSY

Posted by steve davis | Report as abusive

Typical leftist empty rhetoric citing no evidence, since in the world of the liberal, no evidence is required if your obviously more refined and worldly view intuits a “conspiracy”. Your piece conveniently fails to mention the high bar for presidential eligibility set out in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution requiring the president be a “natural born citizen” as later defined in the courts.The only evidence cited so far by the Obama worshippers is a certificate of live birth, which anyone could obtain in Hawaii in the early sixties regardless of origin. Even if he’s born in Hawaii, there are questions that loom large such as the later requirement for his Indonesian citizenship and his total lack of transparency on his educational background as well as passport records.This is no conspiracy, it’s a fraud in process.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

I’m not particularly concerned either way about this subject but you said “Conspiracy theories come in many forms but they have one thing in common: they survive against overwhelming factual evidence.” So, where in your column was the “overwhelming factual evidence” that the conspiracy theorists are wrong in regards to Obama’s birth record?

Posted by Ed | Report as abusive

judges do not decide fact the jury does…….and the judge is not supposed to decide evidence either…..so my question is if an entity is given the power example warren commission to decide both fact and evidence what is the balance to insure there is no tyranny…..here is a conspiracy theory the federal reserve is a private central bank and the central bank is a pillar of the communist manifesto…so we have fought wars while allowing communism to sprout in our own country….so next time your teacher says sit down and stop questioning my authority tell them the flag i just pledged allegiance to gives me that right

Posted by kainoa | Report as abusive

Is this a “conspiracy theory” or a “legitimacy concern”?To all Americans; you deserve complete transparency from your government. The government works for, and is subservient to the American people.

Posted by A. Fisher | Report as abusive

Doesn’t the law actually state that, irregardless of one’s birthplace, if one parent is a US citizen, the child is a US citizen?In fact, I believe Sen. McCain was not born within the borders of this nation.Mr. Limbaugh it seems has given birth to more than a few “illegitimates” in his reproductive years.

Posted by DAVE | Report as abusive

This is a very lame attempt at mudslinging the birthers. You include nothing to support your claims. Why don’t you mention the US serviceman who successfully challenged his military orders b/c Obama has not proven his eligibility to be Commander-in-Chief? Other similar suits are pending. This case is fact, not fiction. This issue is serious and is not a trivial matter as you try to spin it. It is not just endorsed by conservative Republicans either, as you want us to believe. You may want to believe the American public is as stupid as ever, but I wouldn’t be too sure about that Mr. Debusmann. I would be very surprised to see my comment published.

Posted by GB | Report as abusive

The big lie lives.-The use of the term “Birthers” is meant to deny any credibility to a group that has presented factual evidence and is calling for an investigation into the facts.-The fast and loose use of “facts” by the left is being used to discredit the real facts.-Those that cannot justify their positions often scream the loudest while calling their opponents names. The left cannot justify their president.

Posted by A Natural Born American Citizen | Report as abusive

Hey I got an Idea,Why don’t we quit calling the birthers stupid…And Have Obama produce an original (not a copy) of the Birth certificate……and prove them stupid.C’mon we need to quit the name calling..Prove it…and put the issue to rest.Why would the president of the US not be up front on the issue. Leads one to believe he has something to hide!

Posted by Marky | Report as abusive

There’s nothing like living in a country with a bunch of paranoid illiterates.

Posted by A J Franks | Report as abusive

Other challenges have focused on Obama’s citizenship through his father, a Kenyan subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom at the time of his birth, thus making him a dual citizen. The cases contend the framers of the Constitution excluded dual citizens from qualifying as natural born.Complicating the situation is Obama’s decision to spend sums estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid releasing a state birth certificate that would put to rest all of the questions.WND has reported that among the documentation not yet available for Obama includes his kindergarten records, his Punahou school records, his Occidental College records, his Columbia University records, his Columbia thesis, his Harvard Law School records, his Harvard Law Review articles, his scholarly articles from the University of Chicago, his passport, his medical records, his files from his years as an Illinois state senator, his Illinois State Bar Association records, any baptism records, and his adoption records.

Posted by BG | Report as abusive

The currently developing anti-Obama attacks by the so-called birthers as well as many comments to Berd Debusmann’s thoughtful article demonstrate once more (if one needs such demonstrations!) that our country is overcrowded with aggressive idiots. Poor America!

Posted by Aleksey | Report as abusive

That admitted fake Certification of Live Birth that the Obama soldiers have posted on the net is a “certification” of Live birth, not a “Certificate” of Live Birth, big difference. Obama could not reenter the US from Canada with that worthless piece of paper, I know cause just had to prove everything for a enhanced drivers license to do that and furthermore, Sec of State would not accept the same for a friend, but he can POTUS with the fake. Futhermore why won’t any of the Obama supporters answer one simple question, why has he spent a million dollars with several law firms, in 12 states in the country fighting law suits just so he does not have to show a $10 real vault copy of his birth certificate. Comeon people use your head, he is covering up the biggest scandal in this countries history. BTW..you can get a blank Hawaiian Certification of Live Birth (just like Obamas) fill in the blanks and be whoever you want to be.

Posted by Dave J | Report as abusive

Did someone before me just say “anti-Obama attacks”? That’s funny… all I see are TRUE patriots asserting their freedom of speech.All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.Give me a call when you guys wake up to the false left/right paradigm.

Posted by Alen | Report as abusive

Sigh. Yet another reason why I rarely pay attention to mainstream media. Folks, do a search for “The Art of Propaganda” and read it. Then reread this article.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

The Republican governess of Hawaii and the person in charge of the state of Hawaii’s public records have both declared that all paperwork showing that President Obama was born in that state are legit. Of course, now people are going to claim that the Republican governor of Hawaii is a liberal. Other people have seen, and touched, the actual birth certificate (go to http://www.factcheck.org and look it up, unless you birthers want to be proven wrong).I know that is is disheartening to come to grips with the fact that Sarah Palin lost the election by such a wide margin, almost 6%, to Barak Obama. George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and was president, and won the popular vote in 2004 by a mere 1.5%. Losing an election is no reason to start believing everything you read from the e-mails that your friends have forwarded to you over the past year.Freedom of speech is one thing. Freedom from the facts is another.

Posted by jimb | Report as abusive

is this a joke?i thought intelligent people read reuters. you really think a foreign national got elected president? shouldnt you have been talking about this when your candidate was losing? i love how the ex post facto arguments come out in a weak attempt to discredit our president. birthers are idiots. huge idiots.

Posted by hank | Report as abusive

This from a column in the Denver Post by David Harsanyi:“The mystery the nation faces isn’t President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The mystery is how any American can believe that all the president’s former political opponents, both the Republican and Democratic parties, Hawaiian officials and two Honolulu newspapers (nay, the entire press corps) could work in concert to conceal the biggest con of the eon.”That hits the nail on the head. The birther thing does resemble the fake moon walk theory, which is based on the notion that the 400,000 or so people who worked on the project all lied about it. But maybe the birther campaign is more closely related to the Swift Boat campaign which sank John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Toxic politics, and in Obama’s case just sour grapes and whiny losers.

Posted by Elvira | Report as abusive