The trial of President Obama, Part 2

"This is not about racism. It just happens that Mr. Obama is alleged to be black"

Topics: Birthers, War Room, New York, Religion, Barack Obama,

The trial of President Obama, Part 2

This is Part 2 of my report on the ATLAH World Ministries trial of Barack Obama. Part 1 ran on Friday. For my mostly unedited live coverage of the day, click here.

“He’s got multiple wives,” Matt told me. Matt, a film student, was taping the mostly quiet exterior of the church. He’s working on a documentary about the Rev. Dr. James David Manning, and his increasingly weird ATLAH church in Harlem.

Matt had asked me what my initial impression of Manning was. He seemed charismatic, I said, and everyone connected to his church had been as nice as can be. “He’s got another side,” Matt said, echoing what a neighbor had told me earlier. I didn’t have time to get into it — I had to get back through the metal detector and into the church for jury selection.

A few years ago, Manning made headlines locally by announcing a boycott of Harlem businesses, ostensibly to fight gentrification. Meanwhile, he was opening a grocery store of his own. At the trial, lunch was offered for a nominal fee, and I picked up a card for ATLAH’s catering service as I waited for my turkey and spinach lasagna. (Lunch, by the way, was held in the church basement, which is obviously used as a school.) I think Manning’s a typical huckster preacher who discovered there’s a lot more fame and glory in attaching yourself to a national political cause than simply leading a flock of local believers in wars against wealthy interlopers.

As we all settled back in and waited for the trial to begin, attendees who saw me taking notes stopped to chat. They shared an instinctual distrust of the media coupled with an urgent need to get their stories out to the people. They asked me to report the “unbiased” truth as they saw it — that 30,000 veterans protected the Vietnam memorial from anarchists at an Iraq war counter-protest (a Washington Post reporter came around but he didn’t report the size of their party accurately), that it’s the liberals who are confrontational and violent.

The Rev. Michael Hahn (the older, well-dressed white gentleman in the confrontation video who says he attends an all-black church) told me the president’s so-called birth certificate is void because the numbers are blacked out. He suspects (though he admitted that it’s “hearsay”) that the president became a citizen only once he married Michelle Obama. He wanted me to look into it. “I believe God puts people in my presence for good things,” he said.

We rose for the judge. Bob Unger, an unctuous lawyer in a bad rug who’s running for Congress in Queens as a Republican, entered in a black robe, sat behind a desk, urged us to remain orderly, and began reading the indictment. There were 20 charges, ranging from treason and espionage to mail fraud and violation of New York education statutes. Half were against Obama, the other half against Columbia University.

Manning, now acting as prosecuting attorney, told us that the biggies — espionage and treason — would be “delineated” (dropped) from the indictment. Considering that this was supposed to be Barack Obama’s treason trial, that was a bit of a disappointment. But Manning got in a spot of trouble for seeming to threaten the president’s life some time ago, and he’s treading as carefully as a crazy person can. The jury would not be deliberating on whether to execute the president.

Sixty-five people registered to be jurors. Thankfully, only 13 showed. The jury selection process was long, repetitive and only occasionally amusing. Manning made a show of asking each juror, in as many different ways as possible, whether he or she could possibly manage to be fair and impartial. Obviously all of these people had showed up because they believed that Barack Obama is a usurper. The very first juror questioned, Kurt, did not seem to understand that for the purposes of this farce, he had to play along.

Kurt announced that he was already certain of Obama’s guilty.

“Do you think you could be convinced otherwise based on the evidence?” Manning asked.

“No, I do not.”

“Even though you may have a strong sense of his guilt, we need to know if you could possibly find him not guilty.”

Kurt still didn’t know how to answer. “Everything’s coming at me so fast.”

After an assist from Unger, they managed to convince Kurt to say he’d be “fair.” The ritual was repeated with each juror, but they eventually got it.

More important than establishing fairness was instilling the proper sense of paranoia. “Your pictures will be placed in some unsavory places,” Manning warned the jurors. “And some historic and patriotic places.”

He asked Billy: “Have you been contacted by any member of the Democratic Party, the CIA, or the Department of Homeland Security,” to act as an agent and “report on this trial and thereby derail it?”

Are you worried that you may lose your job? Are you worried that your family may be in danger? “Do you have any concerns for your well-being, or your life?” After all, “we could very well have agents of the Secret Service listening in now.”

Everyone bravely said they were unafraid. One man, a deacon, announced that he’d been to “The Waco Memorial 16 years in a row. So the government knows me.” This led Manning into an odd aside about David Koresh.

“The American press presented that as a runaway preacher with a crazy group of people that deserved to die,” Manning said. “Do you think that some in the media might say that I’m a runaway preacher?” (Well, sure.)

The deacon desperately wanted to be a juror, but back home in Texas, his wife was about to have surgery. This struck me as more than a little bit sad — that he’d rather be participating in a mock trial than caring for his wife. But it inspired a bit of levity from “Judge” Unger. “He asked you if you were afraid of the government. He didn’t ask you if you were afraid of your wife!” (This joke got such a good response that Unger tried several more times to bring up the deacon’s wife.)

Manning knows how to flatter white reactionaries into thinking their unease with Obama is justified. When a charismatic black preacher gives you a pass on your racial issues, you feel a lot more confident telling the world that you’ve had it bad, too, and you don’t expect any “special treatment.”

Manning’s parochial concerns (against gentrification, against Columbia University) slightly confused the visiting Birthers, but they were game for just about anything. “Were you aware,” he asked one potential juror, “of any statements about Obama not attending Columbia before this trial?” He wasn’t, but he was willing to buy one more conspiracy theory, as long as he was here.

(According to Manning’s theory, Obama was a CIA operative while he was supposedly attending Columbia.)

Juror Bill inadvertently summed up the entire Birther movement. Manning asking him, “Do you believe that one way or another that I have a personal vendetta against President Obama? And that I am seeking some sort of glory?”

And Bill said: “Most of us are here because we sensed a deception of some sort.” Watching this foreign-seeming black man make his way into the White House with the support of millions of supposed Americans back in 2008, Bill was not sure what this deception actually was, but he just knew, in his gut, that something was wrong.

Finally, Manning made his opening statement. (The jury — all 13 members — would be sworn in tomorrow, because a friend of Manning’s who really wanted to be on the jury was unable to make it that day. Also Judge Unger would not be around on Saturday, but a Constitution Party candidate for governor would be sitting in as judge.)

No evidence of wrongdoing was ever introduced. We did learn that George Washington and John Jay inserted the natural-born clause into the Constitution in order to prevent something like this from ever happening. We learned that “this is not about racism. It just happens that Mr. Obama is alleged to be black.” We were told that some would call us “barbaric names,” but that the best way to deal with Mr. Obama was not to challenge him on his policies, but to go after his very right to hold office. The Illuminati were brought up, as part of the cabal of puppet-masters who made Obama president in the first place.

We learned that even John McCain was implicated in the conspiracy.

And finally we learned that we could not try Obama for treason because some time ago Manning told “some Tea Party people” that instead of fighting the healthcare bill, they should go after Obama for capital crimes, because “if he’s found guilty of treason and sedition then he should be executed.” This, supposedly, led to a visit from the CIA. So Manning wanted to make it very clear that he does not plan on personally executing the president after the trial is over. (He also wanted to make it clear that, personally, he still believes the president should be “hanged from his toes” until dead.)

Dr. King was referenced and paraphrased. The glory of the cause was invoked. “I believe that when we marched on Columbia yesterday and today, that this presidency ended, effectively.”

And martyrdom was hinted at. Manning is not afraid to die for this cause.

“We should not be afraid of loss of our job, or loss of our friendship, or any other kind of losses when we’re serving a cause as great as America.”

Manning said God had just recently spoken to him. The Lord said to the reverend that “our shoes are our weapons.” And they’d be back at Columbia tomorrow morning, to keep fighting the war.

It looks like the rest of the trial is proceeding in much the same fashion.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>