Politico on the latest wave of stupid conspiracy theories:
Bill Clinton had the Vince Foster “murder.” George W. Bush had 9/11 Truth. And the new administration has brought with it a new culture of conspiracy: The Birthers.
Out of the gaze of the mainstream and even the conservative media is a flourishing culture of advocates, theorists and lawyers, all devoted to proving that Barack Obama isn’t eligible to be president of the United States. Viewed as irrelevant by the White House, and as embarrassing by much of the Republican Party, the subculture still thrives from the conservative website WorldNetDaily, which claims that some 300,000 people have signed a petition demanding more information on Obama’s birth, to Cullman, Alabama, where Sen. Richard Shelby took a question on the subject at a town hall meeting last week.
Their confinement to the fringe hasn’t cooled the passion of believers; the obscure New York preacher James Manning turned up at a National Press Club session in December to declare the president “the most notorious criminal in the history not just of America, but of this entire planet.”
A quick reality check, before we dive in: The challenges to Obama’s eligibility have no grounding in evidence. Courts across the country have summarily rejected the movement’s theory — that Obama can’t be a citizen because his father wasn’t —as a misreading of U.S. law; and Hawaii officials, along with contemporary birth announcements, affirm that Obama was in fact born in Honolulu in 1961.
But belief in obscure, discredited theories is a constant in a country with a history of partisan division — a country in which, a recent survey showed, 34 percent of the public believes in UFOs and 24 percent believes in witches.
The risk, of course, is the growth of a segment of the population, however small, that views the president as illegitimate.
“Some individuals and groups who are opposed to Obama’s presidency want an ‘acceptable’ reason to cite to convince other individuals and groups who might be on the fence to join in their way of thinking,” said Patricia Turner, who studies rumors at the University of California, Davis. “The notion that his presidency is actually in violation of the Constitution has a fundamentally patriotic appeal.”
The opportunity for the White House? It’s one of which some conservatives are sharply aware — that the Birthers may discredit Obama’s more mainstream enemies.
“At some level, they’re not that bad to have around because it reminds people that under the mainstream conservative press there’s this bubbling up of really irrational hatred for the guy,” said former Clinton White House press secretary Jake Siewert.
Not surprisingly, World Net Daily and Alan Keyes are involved. Equally unsurprisingly, since it’s rare for a conspiracy theorists to believe only one ridiculous conspiracy theory, there’s some overlap with the “9/11 Truth” movement:
The movement has also faced internal divisions. Kreep, a well-known conservative litigator, expressed some discomfort with his main East Coast counterpart, Phil Berg, a former Pennsylvania prosecutor who has also sued President George W. Bush to claim that he was complicit in the September 11 attacks.
“I don’t ascribe to all his theories about 9/11 and all that,” Kreep said of Berg.
Via Charles Johnson, who’s been on a roll against the far-right fringe these past few months. (He also calls out Obama troofer Pamela Geller for inadvertently cribbing material from neo-Nazi Hal Turner, who regularly calls for the mass murder of Jews.)