Yesterday marked the release of WorldNetDaily writer Jerome Corsi's latest book, Where's the Birth Certificate? A few short weeks ago, the book rode a wave of publicity from unscrupulous conservative websites like the Drudge Report and Fox Nation to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list. Led by Fox News, right-wing media outlets were embracing the birther canard at an ever-increasing pace.
Then it all fell apart.
In the intervening weeks, the birther "issue" has very publicly - and quite embarrassingly for prominent birthers like Corsi and former pretend presidential candidate Donald Trump - collapsed. Obama released his long-form birth certificate on April 27, demolishing the supposed impetus for Corsi's book and rendering it an amusing cultural artifact. In its published form, the book provides a glimpse into the fevered imaginations of some of the most prominent conspiracy theorists of the Obama era.
Corsi announces in his preface that he was writing the book "in the conviction that Obama has usurped the office of the presidency by waging a skillful public relations campaign to suppress his actual birth circumstances." Unfortunately for Corsi, that "conviction" turned out to be utterly, laughably false.
So, first things first: Where's The Birth Certificate?, Corsi asks in his book title. In the Foreword, WND CEO Joseph Farah repeats the question, saying that it has "dogged Obama throughout his term of office" and "may well cost him any chance for re-election in 2012."
Well, here it is:
"Obama Has Usurped The Office of the Presidency"
Throughout Where's The Birth Certificate?, Corsi promotes a variety of conspiracy theories about Obama's past and how Obama's "media collaborators" have "conducted one of the most audacious cover-ups ever perpetrated at the highest level of American politics." (Where's The Birth Certificate? Page V)
At the end of the preface, Corsi posits the essential thesis of the book:
I write in the conviction that Obama has usurped the office of the presidency by waging a skillful public relations campaign to suppress the facts about his actual birth circumstances.
If he is not eligible to be president, he is also ineligible to command the armed forces defending this nation - a challenge several brave members of the military have dared to make, putting themselves at risk, and in at least one case actually losing his own liberty - in court-martial proceedings brought against them for refusal to obey orders.
Those of us who believe the Constitution of the United States is worth preserving, protecting, and defending intend to continue pressing the Obama eligibility argument until Barack Obama is either removed from office or forced to reveal the truth. [Where's the Birth Certificate? Page IX]
Of course, before this book was even written, Obama had already "reveal[ed] the truth" about his birth. However, Corsi and his fellow birthers refused to accept the mountain of available evidence, including Obama's certificate of live birth, statements from Hawaii Department of Health officials, and newspaper announcements of Obama's birth in Hawaii.
Instead Corsi uses specious arguments and ludicrous speculation in a desperate attempt to cast doubt on Obama's birthplace. (Actual arguments from the book include suggesting that Obama's grandparents planted the birth announcements in the Hawaii papers; dismissing the government issued certificate of live birth as a "computer-generated document"; and parsing the wording of a statement from the director of Hawaii's Department of Health to suggest that when she said she had "personally seen and verified that the Hawaii State Department of Health has Sen. Obama's original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures," she was deliberately trying to obfuscate whether she had personally seen Obama's long-form.)
For a characteristic example of how Corsi's mind works, here's his treatment of an interview Obama gave to NBC News' Brian Williams in 2010:
During a televised interview on August 29, 2010, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams asked Obama why more than one-fifth of Americans responding to recent polls believe he is a Muslim.
Oddly, Obama answered the question about his faith with a reference to his birth certificate: "Well, look, Brian I--I would say that I can't spend all of my times with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead. (LAUGHS) It -it is what--the facts are the facts. And so, it's not something that I can, I think, spend all my time worrying about."
Since Obama was not even asked about his birth certificate, his answer, viewed psychologically, could suggest he is self-conscious about his truthfulness regarding facts surrounding his birth. [Where's The Birth Certificate, Page VII-VIII]
We suppose it could suggest that. On the other hand, a rational person might view the comments as Obama acknowledging that no matter what he does, people are going to believe misinformation about him (nicely illustrated by the very existence of this book).
At various points in the book, Corsi endeavors to guess the "secret" contained in Obama's long-form that needed to be concealed, including suggesting Obama Sr. might not be the father; that Obama wasn't actually born on August 4, 1961; that it's possible Ann Dunham might not be the mother ("where are the photographs of Ann Dunham pregnant," Corsi asks); that Barack Obama is not the president's legal name; and of course, that the document doesn't exist at all, because the president was really born in Kenya (or elsewhere).
In his foreword, WND CEO Joseph Farah asserts that Obama "probably doesn't meet the simple requirements" to be president, or else he would have no reason for all of the "secrecy," "mystery," and "intrigue."
The release of Obama's long-form certificate proved even further that there was no there there. The information contained on Obama's long-form certificate confirmed all of the previous details about Obama's birth that Corsi had declared dubious.
In response to the entire basis of his book - and his last three years of work - being publicly demolished, Corsi has not backed down. Instead, he and his publisher, WorldNetDaily, have committed themselves to declaring Obama's long-form a "forgery" based on inane observations about things like smudged stamp ink.
WND still has a whole section of their store devoted to hawking birther wares like t-shirts, yard signs, and, of course, this book. Apparently, as long as there's money to be made in pushing conspiracy theories about Obama's eligibility, Corsi and WorldNetDaily are going to stick to their guns, no matter how unhinged it makes them look.
Birthers, Truthers, and White Supremacists: Meet the Cast of Where's The Birth Certificate?
Throughout his book, Corsi scoffs at critics who dismiss those obsessed with Obama's birth certificate as fringe nuts. However, a closer look at some of the cast of characters that populates Corsi's birther saga reveals a mix of conspiracy theorists, racists, and other fringe figures.
Hawaii Elections Clerk/White Supremacist Conference Participant Tim Adams
More than once, Corsi references the allegation made by former Hawaii elections clerk Tim Adams that "there's no birth certificate" for Barack Obama on file in Hawaii. (There is.)
Adams told WND it was "common knowledge" among Hawaii government officials that Obama didn't have a long-form certificate:
In a telephone interview, Adams told WND it was common knowledge among election officials it was common knowledge among election officials where he worked that no original, long-form birth certificate could be found at the Hawaii Department of Health.
"My supervisor came and told me, 'Of course, there's no birth certificate. What? You stupid,'" Adams said. "She usually spoke well, but in saying this she reverted to a Hawaiian dialect. I really didn't know how to respond to that. She said it and just walked off. She was quite a powerful lady." [Where's The Birth Certificate? Page 26]
Here's how Corsi describes where Adams first made his allegations about the supposedly non-existent birth certificate:
Adams told WND he has been telling other people his information for a long time, and is free to talk about it publically since he no longer has any confidentiality restrictions from his former employer, the Honolulu government.
Adams first brought his testimony to public attention when he was interviewed by James Edwards, the host of a weekly radio show on WLRM Radio in Memphis, Tennessee. [Where's The Birth Certificate? Page 270]
This is a woefully incomplete description of how Adams' comments first came to light.
Corsi is referencing a June 2010 interview on James Edwards' The Political Cesspool radio program, which was broadcast that day from the 2010 Council of Conservative Citizens National Conference. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the CoCC as a "white supremacist" "hate group." The CoCC states on its website that they "oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind."
Edwards' "weekly radio show" describes itself as "pro-White." Edwards claimed that Adams was "in attendance" at the conference. Other guests on Edwards' show that day included several leaders within the white supremacist movement.
Corsi previously appeared on Edwards' program in July 2008 and was scheduled to make another appearance in August 2008 to promote his anti-Obama book Obama Nation. Corsi canceled the appearance following criticism by Media Matters and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
At the time, Media Matters highlighted several outrageous remarks by Edwards, including his claim that "for blacks in the Americas, slavery is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Unfortunately, it's the worst thing that ever happened to white Americans." Edwards has also urged his followers to attend a speech by David Irving, who the ADL calls "one of the best-known Holocaust deniers in the world." Edwards wrote that "If you're anywhere near Alabama, and you want the chance to meet a real hero, mark August 26th on your calendar. That's the day David Irving, a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust against free speech, will be speaking at the Prattville Holiday Inn."
After Corsi canceled his appearance, Edwards responded by suggesting Media Matters is funded by wealthy liberals with "funny last names" and announcing that he and his co-host were "not rooting for either [presidential] candidate. We're rooting for white people."
In a post on his blog this week, Edwards touted the release of Corsi's book, noted that Corsi previously appeared on his program and wrote that Corsi "personally e-mailed me a few months ago for some assistance on a story closely related to the contents of this book." Edwards explained that he was "happy to oblige and work behind-the-scenes with both Dr. Corsi and World Net Daily on this matter." [**Corsi disputes Edwards' comments. See the update at the bottom of the post.]
9-11 Truther Philip Berg
Philip J. Berg surfaces repeatedly throughout Corsi's book, often in the context of the lawsuits he has filed about Obama's birth certificate and eligibility. Corsi is careful to stress that Berg is a "Democrat" in his descriptions, but he glosses over the fact that Berg is a 9-11 truther.
Here's how Corsi handles Berg's trutherism:
One of the earliest litigants was attorney Philip J. Berg, former deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania and a Democratic supporter of Hillary Clinton. Obama supporters like to characterize Berg as an extremist, activist attorney who in 2004 filed a RICO (Racketeer Influences and Corrupt Organizations Act) case on behalf of a World Trade Center maintenance worker, charging the Bush administration was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. [Where's The Birth Certificate, Page 285]
Well, yes. Obama supporters do like to characterize Berg as an extremist over his apparent trutherism, but Corsi doesn't explain why that is unfair. That's a bit like writing "Obama supporters like to characterize David Icke as an extremist because he believes several prominent world leaders are lizard people."
The lawsuit (PDF) filed on behalf of the maintenance worker alleges, among other things, that the twin towers and WTC building 7 were "destroyed by controlled demolition, as clearly proven by the laws of physics" and that the "demolition could only have been an 'inside job.'"
In a January 28, 2004, appearance on the now-defunct MSNBC program Scarborough Country [accessed via Nexis], Berg said that there is "no question that President Bush knew about it, it was very complicit in the events of 9/11."
In 2008, Berg asserted on a conservative radio show that "evidence" indicates that "Barack Obama, even though he states he was born in Hawaii ... was born in Kenya."
"Chicago Activist" Andy Martin
Corsi compiles a "Birth Certificate Issue" timeline and references "Chicago activist" Andy Martin's attempts to get Hawaii to release Obama's birth certificate.
Martin was largely credited with starting the rumor that Barack Obama was a Muslim. However, after speaking with anonymous sources in Hawaii, Martin later revised his theory about Obama's upbringing, claiming that Obama's "father was Frank Marshall Davis." (Davis was a political activist and poet who lived in Hawaii and features prominently in conspiracies about the identity of Obama's real father.)
In 2007, Martin filed a lawsuit against Media Matters and in a document claimed that "African-American judges ... circle the wagons and try to protect Barry." He also said that the actions of an African-American judge who presided over the case "show that African-Americans are willing to corrupt and abuse their-public offices to defend their own sleazy candidate for office."
In addition to peddling discredited claims about Obama and making racially-charged comments about African-Americans, the rather litigious Martin was criticized in the 1980s by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit for having previously made "viciously anti-Semitic assertions," including referring to a judge as a "crooked, slimy Jew, who has a history of lying and thieving common to members of his race."
After Sean Hannity hosted Martin to smear Obama prior to the 2008 election, Howard Kurtz reported that Fox News senior vice president Bill Shine told him "having that guy on was a mistake."
Martin apparently occupies the sweet spot between "too crazy for Fox News, but not too crazy for WorldNetDaily."
"Dentist And Attorney" Orly Taitz
Orly Taitz, a "Russian-born, California-based dentist and attorney," features prominently in Corsi's birther timeline, as well as his section about the various lawsuits that have been filed about Obama's birth certificate. Corsi mentions that Taitz has "perhaps drawn the most media attention among the lawyers challenging Obama's eligibility." This is undeniably true, insofar as much ink has been spilled documenting her utter ridiculousness. A brief and incomplete list of Taitz's various adventures:
- In 2009, Taitz displayed her critical thinking skills by running with what she claimed was a copy of Obama's original Kenyan birth certificate (a story eagerly promoted at the time by WorldNetDaily).
- In a 2009 interview with Salon, Taitz seemingly implied that Obama was having his previous gay lovers killed, saying that numerous gay men who had attended Obama's church had supposedly ended up dead...mysteriously. She reportedly said, "Now, I don't want to say that Obama did it. I don't want to say that people close to Obama did it. But those are the facts."
- In a 2009 post on her blog, Taitz wrote that Obama's defenders, including "Clair McCuskill [sic]" should be "tried in Nurenberg [sic] style trials."
- Taitz once called David Shuster, who is Jewish, a "brownshirt."
Jesse Merrell "Colorfully" Uses Racial Slurs When Discussing Obama
In his birtherism timeline, Corsi lists an event where a "man critical of Obama case judge [is] visited by marshals":
A Washington, D.C., man who believes Obama probably isn't eligible to be president - and colorfully stated as much to a federal judge who dismissed a case challenging Obama's residency in the White House - says he got a visit from U.S. marshals for his exercise of free speech. [Where's the Birth Certificate? Page 339]
The language in Corsi's book is identical to that of a 2009 article at WorldNetDaily by "news editor" Bob Unruh about Jesse Merrell. However, Unruh specifically documents precisely how Merrell "colorfully stated" his concerns about the birth certificate to the judge.
According to Unruh's report, Merrell not only called the judge a "smug, slimy shyster," but "finished with his speculation on what 'ought' to happen to the judge, a physical act not appropriate for a family-oriented report."
Merrell also reportedly referred to Obama by using a racial slur, calling the president a "blue-gum baboon":
"How dare people use a flimsy thing like the Constitution to darken your sanctimonious door!" he wrote to the judge. "The insane idea that a blue-gum baboon slashing our Constitution has to prove U.S. citizenship - as our silly old Constitution demands - is too absurd to consider in the sacred chambers of the tiny tin gods of the Potomac, adorning the royal purple and sipping Jim Jones Kool-Aid."
Jerome Corsi: Natural-Born Liar
Now that the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate has further debunked the already discredited premise of his book, Corsi has but one argument to which he can cling: the "natural-born citizen" clause. This argument has always served as a sort of Plan B for the birther faithful, who claimed pre-birth certificate that even if it could be demonstrated that Obama was in fact born to Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. in Hawaii in 1961, he would still not meet the criteria for the presidency as laid out in the Article II of the Constitution, which stipulates that only a "natural-born citizen" of the United States may occupy the office.
In Where's the Birth Certificate?, Corsi does indeed argue against Obama's eligibility based on his interpretation of the "natural-born citizen" clause -- an interpretation that twists logic, defies historical context, and ignores legal precedent.
What little confusion exists over the eligibility clause is attributable to the fact that the Founders never defined "natural-born citizen" and the Supreme Court has never directly ruled on its meaning. Corsi and the birthers have exploited this for all it's worth, which, as it turns out, isn't much.
Corsi argues that since the Founders did not define "natural-born citizen," we have to gauge their intent. And their intent, Corsi claims, can be found in... Switzerland. Specifically, in the writings of Swiss philosopher Emmerich de Vattel, a contemporary of the Founders who wrote extensively on the concept of citizenship. Corsi argues that Vattel was the first to use the term "natural-born citizen" in his 1758 treatise Law of Nations, which he defined as person born to two citizen parents. According to Corsi, this definition was clearly what the Founders referenced in drafting the Constitution:
The Founding Fathers wanted to exclude foreigners from the presidency because they were distrustful of elevating to chief executive of the nation or commander in chief anyone who by birth might bear allegiance to a foreign nation. That someone was born to a foreign parent reflects no fault of their own, of course, but the Founding Fathers were distrustful that a dual citizen at birth would owe his undivided loyalty to the United States of America. [Where's the Birth Certificate? Page 36]
Legal scholars have pointed out that British common law used the term "natural-born subjects" and that this was likely where the Founders derived it. What's more, British common law adhered to the legal principle of jus soli -- law of the soil, or birthright citizenship. But, of course, it is difficult to pinpoint with any certainty the Founders' interpretation of the term because they pointedly refused to define it.
Thankfully, the Founders put in place systems to help fill in such omissions: a process by which to amend the Constitution, and a judicial branch to interpret it. And both the courts and the amendment process have conspired against Corsi's restrictive (and legally suspect) definition of "natural-born citizen." The 14th Amendment states that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Its ratification effectively recognized two classes of citizens -- citizens by birth, and naturalized citizens. Since then, the courts have operated using this framework, and have lent support to the idea that birthright citizens and "natural-born" citizens are one and the same.
In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Wong Kim Ark that a man born to "subjects of the Emperor of China" who were residing in the U.S. was, by birth, a U.S. citizen. In the ruling, Justice Horace Gray noted the extent to which British common law informed the framers of the Constitution and observed:
The fundamental principle of the common law with regard to English nationality was birth within the allegiance, also called "ligealty," "obedience," "faith," or "power" of the King. The principle embraced all persons born within the King's allegiance and subject to his protection. Such allegiance and protection were mutual -- as expressed in the maxim protectio trahit subjectionem, et subjectio protectionem -- and were not restricted to natural-born subjects and naturalized subjects, or to those who had taken an oath of allegiance, but were predicable of aliens in amity so long as they were within the kingdom. Children, born in England, of such aliens were therefore natural-born subjects.
In 2009, the Indiana Court of Appeals cited Wong Kim Ark in ruling that "persons born within the borders of the United States are 'natural born Citizens' for Article II, Section 1 purposes, regardless of the citizenship of their parents."
A 2009 Congressional Research Service report prepared specifically to address the question of Obama's eligibility concluded that the "weight of scholarly legal and historical opinion appears to support the notion that 'natural born Citizen' means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship 'at birth' or 'by birth,' including any child born 'in' the United States (other than to foreign diplomats serving their country)."
Corsi, however, insists that "natural-born citizen" is actually a class of citizenship distinct from citizenship by birth. He's capitalizing on the fact that the Founders never defined it by defining it in terms that suit his purposes -- namely, demonstrating Obama's ineligibility -- even though there is no evidence that the courts, following the passage of the 14th Amendment, have ever recognized such a distinction.
And while we're on the topic of the 14th Amendment, let's quickly examine Corsi's views on its citizenship clause:
The point is that being born in the United States was not alone considered sufficient to grant citizenship automatically. The persons born on U.S. soil must also be born under the jurisdiction of the United States, a determination that had to be made by considering the citizenship of the parents at the time the person was born. [Where's the Birth Certificate? Page 52]
As a factual matter, this is completely incorrect and, as demonstrated above, completely contrary to the longstanding legal interpretation of the 14th Amendment. A non-diplomatic foreign citizen within the territorial boundaries of the United States is subject to the laws of the United States and is thus subject to its jurisdiction. Diplomats, because they are working in service of a foreign government, are not subject to U.S. law and thus don't fall under its jurisdiction (the concept is commonly referred to as diplomatic immunity).
As a moral issue, Corsi's view is nothing short of repugnant. The 14th Amendment was crafted specifically to cure the antebellum injustice of denying the rights of citizenship to those who, by virtue of their birth within the United States, deserved them -- namely, former slaves. Under Corsi's interpretation of the 14th Amendment, freed African Americans could have still been denied citizenship by virtue of the fact that their parents were not citizens, and children of immigrants can be denied their rights simply because of their parentage.
Ever since its ratification, the 14th Amendment has become a symbol of the American ideal of equality under the law. Corsi, however, wants to undo all of that and disenfranchise millions as part of his beyond-quixotic mission to disprove the already proven presidential eligibility of one man.
In an interview with Media Matters' Joe Strupp, Corsi takes issue with this Edwards quote. Corsi said: "Jim Edwards did not help me with my book. The contact with Jim Edwards was that Tim Adams spoke on his program, and I wanted Tim Adams' phone number. Now if Jim Adams [sic] acting as a telephone directory is helping me with my book, I think that's a complete misrepresentation. And I object both to you - to Jim Edwards saying it, and you writing about it without even contacting me for comment. I want that said. That's the kind of twisting that I take to be typical of what you guys do and I'd like that said, too. Jim Edwards did not help me write my book, I never consulted with him on a single sentence of it, and his views are not represented in any way in the book. He gave me a telephone number when I was looking for Tim Adams."