The Birther Movement: Threats from the Fringe?
Jeffrey P. Macharyas
CYB 610-Cyber Intelligence
April 11, 2014
There has always been opposition to politicians. Healthy debate and disagreement strengthens democracy and holds politicians accountable. However, there are people who use illegal, subversive, immoral, or just plain crazy means to discredit those they feel are not worthy of office. The “birther movement” is that: A large group of people believe that President Barack Obama was not born in America, nor is he a product of a “natural birth” or many other reasons, and is therefore not eligible to be President and should be removed.
THE MOVEMENT has gained traction with the membership of several notable personalities, such as Maricopa, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Saturday Night Live! comedienne Victoria Jackson and former Congressman Bob Beauprez. Alarmingly, birthers are in government or are currently running for office (this report was written in April 2014 as part of my Master’s in Cybersecurity at Utica College). Bob Beauprez, an avowed birther, is seeking the Republican nomination for Governor of Colorado (Nir, 2014), Arpaio is a Sheriff and Jackson is running for County Commission. This report will expose the dangers of this movement and will focus on these three influencers.
The Birther Movement’s Plan to Disqualify the President
Robert L. Beauprez is a 65-year-old former Congressman from Colorado, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Governor of Colorado. According to his LinkedIn profile, Beauprez is a buffalo breeder, banker, pundit, author, and dairyman. Beauprez’ views skew to the conspiracy side of the political spectrum. Beauprez’ 2009 book, A Return to Values, details his doubts on the validity of climate change, calling it “a complex hoax” and “hysteria.” (“In Colorado, A Climate Denier Re-Run,” n.d.)
In 2010, Beauprez was a guest on the Talk to Solomon Show. When asked about Obama’s birth records, he stated, “if he is an American, he’s a different kind of American.”(“Colorado GOP candidate calls Obama birth certificate a ‘myth’ in uncovered video | The Raw Story,” n.d.). Beauprez is now distancing himself from his comments, but his fringe beliefs and his poor voting record in Congress make him a danger (“Bob Beauprez, former U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 7th Congressional District,” n.d.).
Victoria Jackson is a 53-year old entertainer from Florida, who has appeared in movies and television, notably Saturday Night Live! In addition to her exhaustive blog, where she promotes her views on everything from global warming to adultery, she writes for the Liberty Alliance, a website dedicated to far-right viewpoints. Liberty Alliance claims to be non-violent, but boasts an alliance with Bullets First—a “Second Amendment Rights” website—which promotes the proliferation of more guns in society.
Jackson writes in her blog that the death of Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy was related to Obama’s “fake” birth certificate and that she was killed as part of the larger “conspiracy” (“Mysterious Death Related to Obama’s Fake Birth Certificate,” n.d.).
A posting by Jackson on the “evils” of Islam had this response from her fan “ThomasThePaine”: “We need to start killing Muslimes on sight!” What makes Jackson dangerous (in addition to her popularity as a media star) is that she is now seeking a seat on the Williamson County (TN) Commission. Along with Beauprez, that would add two more birthers to the ranks of government (Populist, n.d.).
Jackson has a kindred spirit in Congress—Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), who introduced HR 1503 in 2009, a failed attempt at a “birther bill” requiring presidential candidates to supply birth certificates, and any other “necessary” documentation upon filing to run. The law was to become effective in 2012—the year of Obama’s re-election (Powell, 2011).
Maricopa, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the most vocal of the “celebrity birthers.” Arpaio is 81 years old and has been Sheriff since 1993. In 2012, Arpaio stated his birther investigation was funded by private donations but admitted that he “hoped the agency would be paid back by private donations.” Arpaio conducted his out-of-jurisdiction investigation using taxpayer funds. Donations have been received, but mostly from WorldNetDaily, a conservative organization Victoria Jackson is affiliated with (“Sheriff Joe Arpaio Admits Using Taxpayer Funds To Pursue Birther Conspiracy Probe,” n.d.).
There will be “universe-shattering” news concerning Obama’s ineligibility to be President sometime soon, Arpaio’s lead investigator, Lt. Mike Zullo of the Maricopa County Cold Case Posse announced in early 2014. Adherents on the movement’s primary website, BirtherReport.com, promise “elected officials will be held accountable for not doing their job.” How they plan to hold them accountable is unknown and frightening (Volin, n.d.).
Arpaio, or “Crazy Joe” as he is called, is known for his many antics, from dressing inmates in striped uniforms and pink underwear to serving them bread and water. Arpaio crossed the line in defiance of President Obama’s directive to not deport undocumented minors who pose no risk to security, by arrested a 6-year-old girl under suspicion of illegal immigration (“Arizona’s Crazy ‘Sheriff Joe’ Arrests A Six-Year Old Girl Suspected Of Illegal Immigration,” n.d.).
The birther movement refuses to fade away. In just a few years, dangerous celebrities have adopted it as their mission to bring down a President. Obama’s past was first brought up as a tool against him by Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s advisor in the 2008 presidential campaign. Penn’s intention was to use Obama’s background as a contrast to Clinton’s middle-America roots and not to bring in question Obama’s eligibility to be President. However, the far-right Republicans seized on this and have been using this “information” to discredit the President for seven years. The movement gained traction during the 2012 campaign when Donald Trump became the “spokesman” for birtherism and Governor Mitt Romney publicly embraced him, bringing the movement fully into the light (Green, 2012).
- An “anti-birther movement” should be mobilized. This can be achieved by leveraging the power of social media and garnering the cooperation of like-minded celebrities to discredit the birthers’ views in the media.
- Support should be given to challengers of birthers running or holding office. In particular, anti-birther candidates should be recruited to run against Arpaio, Jackson and Beauprez.
- Any use of public funds, or public trust, to further the birther movement should be scrutinized, and if illegalities are found, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
- Legislation (counter to HR 1503) should be proposed and passed that would clarify the eligibilities of office.
- A Constitutional Amendment should be considered to remove the vague clauses and allow persons not born in America to have the opportunity to serve their adopted country.
Birtherism will hound Obama until 2017 and will probably be used against others in the future. It is interesting to note, although it has been brought up, there have not been any concerted “movements” to discredit George Romney (born in Mexico) Ted Cruz (born in Canada) or John McCain (born in the Canal Zone).
Collecting information on US citizen via open sources is both legal and ethical. Although not taken very seriously decades ago, the use of OSINT has become more valid through years due to the broadening of security concerns and the sheer volume of open source channels. Open source is simply that: information that is readily available online or in printed version and often created by the subjects themselves. One danger of OSINT is credibility. Although the information is out there for the picking, can it be trusted? (“OSINT Goes Social,” n.d.). As Ronald Reagan said: “trust but verify.”