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/

The paranoid rants of the birthers in the comments above are hilarious. As another commenter stated, Hawaii has stated that Obama’s papers are legit so this is a total non-issue. Furthermore, even if Obama was born overseas, why would it matter? Are you all aware that John McCain and Arnold Schwarnzenegger were not born in the USA?What this comes down to is that the birthers are simply unable to accept the fact that a black man is the President of the USA. It’s that simple.

Posted by Kramer | Report as abusive

Birthers are racists, plain and simple, that can’t handle the fact that a black man is considered to be a legitimate citizen of the United States. Would they be doing this with McCain in office who was born in Panama? How many of these people are the same ones that wanted to change the constitution to allow Schwarzenegger to run for president? Black people are citizens too and are worth no less or more than you. Deal with it. If you don’t like what Obama is doing, let’s talk about the issues.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

There is a very hateful, very uneducated and very religiously reactionary element of the US and they sometimes feel like the majority.They elected George W. Bush twice. That led to the US beginning a completely unprovoked war in Iraq and the creation of a prison camp in Guantanamo, in which we have held prisoners of war (despite the frequently visible POW/MIA flags that adorn most mobile home parks in the US) for 8 years now. Not to mention, warrentless wiretapping and any number of other Bush era tweaks of the law that seemed to more closely resemble the style of the former USSR than the land of the free and home of the brave.This ultra conservative element of American society dominates the mid west, plain states all the way to the Canadian border, the south, and as we found out in the last election, Alaska. It is a huge swath of the American electorate, and when they turn out at the poles in droves, the rest of the world has reason to be concerned.

The “racist card” is always played as a futile response to this issue. It is an ignorant and pathetic non-reply that chooses to ignore hard facts. If McCain had won the election and his natural born citizenship were in question, there is NO DOUBT that he would be scrutinized by the public, even if McCain is white or whatever. In fact, McCain’s citizenship HAS been the subject of a full Congressional investigation in which Obama took part. The investigation proved McCain was qualified to hold the office if elected. McCain has been completely transparent with his records the whole way through. Strangely, Obama was never subjected to a similar level of congressional investigation of his citizenship eligibility. I did not like McCain one bit as a candidate and Palin just made me ill. Frankly I think the republicans as a whole are a pretty sorry and pathetic lot and they are directly responsible for the banking mess that has nearly collapsed our econony into a heaping ruin. However, it is FACT that Obama has been completely OPAQUE with the public w/r/t to his records and he is spending BIG money to keep it that way. People may think they know this man, but they are being deceived. I hope Obama is a natural born real-deal citizen. I am pulling for him. For God’s sake, we need leadership to pull us out of the mess left by the previous admin.

Posted by GB | Report as abusive

Where Obama was born is not the point. The point is that the Constitution requires the President to be native born and at least 35 years old. In this past election, a federal court decided that an average citizen – even if that citizen is a member of the candidate’s political party and a delegate to the party’s convention – has no right to ask for proof that a candidate meets the Constitutional requirements for President. Therefore, non-native born persons and persons who are too young can get their names on the ballot and receive votes for the office of president under the current judical climate. This is wrong. No candidate who doesn’t meet the Constitutional requirements should be able to have his/her name on the ballot. Instead of making fun of “birthers”, let’s work to correct an oversight in the process of vetting presidental candidates.

Posted by PlainsJane | Report as abusive

“f McCain had won the election and his natural born citizenship were in question, there is NO DOUBT that he would be scrutinized by the public, even if McCain is white or whatever.”This is just not true. The problem is his ‘natural born citizenship’ will NEVER be questioned because he is White and therefore this entire issue would never have come up.

This is poor Journalism, give us verifiable reasons not propaganda.Norm in Dallas

God I hope someday in my life or in my children’s life Americans realize it’s not left vs right, it’s us vs them. Us being the US citizens and them being the US Government.Think the gov’t cares if the majority of Americans wanted out of the Iraq War years ago? Think they care we don’t want Universal healthcare? Think they care you’re against the Patriot Act and want your taxes lower? BahWith Republicans and Democrats being identical on every issue in politics there no longer exists a “liberal” politician and a “conservative” politician. They’ve all moved into the fascist neoconservative section and I hope all your children see the light that you people cannot see.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Norm and Mike Ham pretty much hit the nail on the head for me!! GB off the dance floor.

Posted by GB | Report as abusive

I don’t personally believe the “birther” claims, but every time I read a story like this one – a BLANTANT whitewashing devoid of almost any factual basis, it makes me wonder – could the “kooks” be right? This “Myth” could be EASILY and conclusively debunked if Mr. Obama would simply release his real Birth Certificate. The only “Birth Certificate” ever released has been pretty conclusively proven to be a fake. So why won’t he release the real one? Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to silence the “Nuts” once and for all?

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

I’m not going to call the birthers stuopid, but they are paranoid. Look, your Dear Leader Bush wouldn’t produce his driving records because he didn’t want us to seehis DUI records, and they also scrubbed Laura’s records because of her unfortunate fatal car crash in HIgh School. I guess they were afraid of a smear campaign that the right wingnuts are attempting.I want to see the proof of all of this money the President is supposedly spending to shush this. That seems to be the LATEST now that the birth issue has been totally debunked.

Posted by on-ree | Report as abusive

It still amazes me how arrogant liberal elites are. I am educated with an M.A., conservative, and not stupid. Why do some believe he doesn’t need to show his birth certificate? Do you believe everything you see on T.V? Do you believe everything you read in the newspaper? I honestly think you are too cowardly to admit that you voted for a young black man born in Kenya and set up as a Manchurian candidate to promote the biggest sham ever committed against this country. He not only will not provide a valid, long-form birth certificate, but also has hired 3 law firms to keep his college records and mostly all of his past a secret. Does that sound like someone who isn’t hiding something? Wake up!!

Posted by Sue | Report as abusive

Philip Berg the former Attoney General of Penn is a Democat initated the lawsuit that took years to get to the Supreme Court. Obama and his lawers fought this and spent millions. The Supreme Count denid the request following that many more lawsuits followed. Look all he had to do was show the original Birth record. Mr. Berg had video tape of Obama’s grandmother and a Doctor who both stated they were there when he was born. Both stated in camera he was born in Kenya. So this didn’t start with Rush.

Posted by Barry | Report as abusive

For some reason the right wingers are a bunch of paranoid hate mongers. They believe anything that is put out to them by a handful of radio talk show personalities and con-men that write hate books. I can’t believe their gullibility, it’s scary. I know people at work that seem very smart until they get to politics and they sound like idiots and they all spout out exactly the same paranoid rantings. it’s like they gave away their brains to the right wingers.It shows how people can be fooled into anything. Like people believed in Hitler became lemmings for his cause.

Posted by marj | Report as abusive

I truly wonder if anybody who is posting here could define “natural born citizen”. I suspect that most answers by the public school educated population would be “born on US soil”. Unfortunately the emphasis on the birth certificate is misplaced.1. According to the US senate resolution which declared John McCain a natural born US citizen the understanding was “born to US citizens on US soil”. So even the senate acknowledged their understanding was that both parents had to be US citizens at the time of the birth.Barack Obama is not eligible because his father was not a US citizen at the time of his birth.PERIOD. And that is exactly what the senate said. Of course, the racists on the left refuse to uphold our constitution.Sick.

Posted by caolila | Report as abusive

First of all, Obama is not black. He was born to to pure white mother and a black father. Therefore to call him “black” is factually incorrect. I wish people would call him what he is.Secondly, the Constitution requires the president to be a naturally born citizen. Why doesn’t Obama have to prove that he is? Why does he refuse to release the documents that will put this all to rest? Why did he have most of his documents sealed? Why is he allowed to hide this from the US public? The document he released is not his official long-form birth certificate.There is plenty of evidence that should cast doubt on his eligibility to be president…why do the liberals just dismiss it? It would be so simple to hush the skeptics by releasing proof, but he won’t. Why does he get a pass? Oh, it’s because their “savior” got elected and they don’t care about the Constitution.

Posted by lazerator | Report as abusive

You forgot a favorite conspiracy theory of the the left…9/11 was an inside job. Sound like a familiar left nut-case conspiracy? I’m not a ‘birther’, but I can’t understand why Obama doesn’t just haul out his birth certificate and put this crap to rest. By the way, he’s not ‘black’, as in black mother and father…he’s a mulatto (i.e. one white and one black parent). This statement really pisses off the left. Why? I don’t know, it’s true. But then, the left just doesn’t like the facts and it is a simple fact…black and white, as they say. Also, I could care less if the president is black. I’ll take Clarence Thomas or Thomas Sowell anyday…but they are black conservatives. Think about that you ‘liberal’ racists.

Posted by Exlib | Report as abusive

“This is just not true. The problem is his ‘natural born citizenship’ will NEVER be questioned because he is White and therefore this entire issue would never have come up.”Wrong. John McCain’s citizenship was questioned! http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23415028 Stop crying “racist” every time someone disagrees with you. It’s shameful.All Obama has to do is release his original birth certificate that the Republican governor of Hawaii says she’s seen. That’s it. Why won’t he just publish it?

Posted by J the C | Report as abusive

The “birther” issue has NOTHING to do with Obama’s race! I did not vote for him and it wasn’t because he’s black-I don’t care about that. I did not vote for him because he has hidden his birth certificate and medical records, supported groups that encourage racial divide and discourse. He is not right for this country and never will be. He reminds me way too much of John Kerry and he’s as white as you can get.I think that all politicians are corrupt and not worth a flip.Obama is doing his best to set up discourse in this country with the choices he’s made for his cabinet and Supreme Court nominee and not to mention that ill formed health care bill. Sotomayor is possibly the worst choice ever for SC Justice. If you want to tell someone to hush about playing the “race card” it’s that woman!

Posted by Brown | Report as abusive

Barack Obama was a dual citizen of the USA and the UK until 1982, when he became a USA citizen only.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive