During the presidential campaign nutty right-wing rumors about Barack Obama swamped the Internet. Via mass e-mails, fearful conservatives were told that the Democratic nominee was a dangerous radical and a secret Muslim who would take the oath of office with his hand on the Koran. A whole conspiracy cult embraced the belief that Obama was not a natural-born U.S. citizen and was thus ineligible for the presidency. The Obama campaign had to build a Web site just to debunk the viral mythmaking.
After winning the election, President Obama, who was born in Hawaii (see his birth certificate here) was sworn in on Abraham Lincoln's Bible. He went to church on Easter Sunday. The supposed Manchurian candidate can't even get Gitmo closed properly, much less lead the Senate in a chorus of "The Internationale."
But the mythmaking has not stopped. The wheels of rumor grind fast, but they grind exceedingly dumb. Marooned on a grassy knoll of the mind, the right has spun new and scarier fantasies about the president, tales that would send any patriotic, gun-toting Christian fleeing across the border to Canada, if only the Canadians weren't so damn socialist. We present for your inspection, and then debunk, or paw at in desultory fashion, a dozen of the choicest conspiracy theories to gain traction since Jan. 20. We could print more, but we grow weary. (And by the way, Obama is still a Muslim foreigner.)
Myth: Obama can't function without a teleprompter, even uses it for answers at press conferences.
Who's spreading it: Rush Limbaugh; TeleprompterPresident.com
What they believe: "Barack Obama's use of teleprompters is becoming legendary. He doesn't go anywhere without them and rarely, if ever, speaks without their assistance." This has been a theme of Rush Limbaugh's since early in the campaign last year. Sean Hannity has joked, rather ickily, on Fox News about whether Obama sleeps with the teleprompter between him and Michelle. Right-wing bloggers argue Obama is totally incompetent without the prompter and can't speak off the cuff. The theory is widespread enough that a Web site has been devoted to it: TeleprompterPresident.com, which not only studiously collects Obama's bloopers but also retails other preposterous Obama conspiracies. (Note the nice Photoshop job in this "picture" of Air Force One flying over New York City's skyline.)
What is real: Presidents have been using teleprompters for more than 50 years, and notecards for even longer. It's true that Obama uses the prompter, specifically, more than most of his predecessors. He uses them for casual announcements and the lead-ins to press briefings, and on the campaign trail last year, he even set his teleprompter up in the ring of a rodeo. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen recently started reading from Obama's script, after an aide mixed up the two leaders' speeches.
But charges that he is "incapable of forming his remarks and speeches without reading them verbatim," or that he avoided one-on-one contact with U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown because the teleprompter would have made it awkward, are insane. Obama has written two books, given hundreds of unscripted speeches and interviews on the campaign trail, and even now goes on in great detail, and great length, during question-and-answer sessions with voters, lawmakers and reporters.
"Whether he's using notecards or a different method of reading his notes, I don't think anybody cares," a White House aide told Salon, after asking incredulously why this article was even being written. In fact, listening to Obama speak without notes, it's tempting to think his advisors want him to use the teleprompter in part because it keeps him from getting too involved in what he's talking about, rather than because he can't speak without it. At his first prime time presidential press conference, his answers dragged on so long he had time for only a handful of questions. But the aide wouldn't concede that his boss is -- left to his own devices -- a little wordy.
Myth: Barack Obama is the Antichrist.
Who's spreading it: Get in line. If you have an idea for a "Barack Obama is the Antichrist" Web site, the URL is probably already taken (www.barackobamantichrist.blogspot.com; www.obamaantichrist.blogspot.com; www.beastobama.com). It's also hard to blame any particular individual for preaching the bad news about Barack Obama being the Antichrist when a Google search for "Barack Obama is the antichrist" gets you nearly 800,000 hits and just searching for "Barack Obama" and "Antichrist" together gets you 2.2 million.
The evidence? Why, Nostradamus predicted his coming. Obama bears traits resembling the Antichrist, according to former "Saturday Night Live" cast member and current Christian wactress Victoria Jackson. He sends subliminal messages to his minions and to his master, Satan. Also, Jesus' biblical prediction of the coming of the Antichrist describes him as coming as "lightning from heaven"; that translates to "baraq o bama" in Hebrew. And if Obama were not the Beast foretold in Revelation, why would the nickname for his presidential limo be -- the Beast? And, why, on the day after his election, was the winning number in the Illinois lottery 6-6-6?
What's real: The winning number in the Illinois Evening Pick 3 Lottery on Nov. 5, 2008, was 6-6-6. And his armored-plated 2009 Caddy is nicknamed the Beast. But Obama is probably not the Angel of the Bottomless Pit, the First Horseman, or the Seed of Satan. If he is, well, then we're wrong about a whole lot of other things too.
Myth: Obama is a Nazi-style eugenicist.
Who's spreading it: Glenn Beck
What they believe: Obama's support for embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights are all part of a nefarious plot to eliminate undesirables and create the master race through population control. The real mission of Planned Parenthood is the extermination of minorities before they make it out of the womb, and Obama, as an African-American, helps make this racist plan palatable to the targeted communities.
What is real: Obama supports abortion rights, stem cell research and international family planning. In January, he lifted restrictions on funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling overseas, repealing the so-called global gag rule, but he also angered Planned Parenthood by removing a family-planning provision from the stimulus. In March, Obama overturned Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, shared some views with the eugenics movement of her day, but broke with others. Abortion opponents use this legacy to try to maintain that Planned Parenthood's mission is racist and eugenicist to its core, even though its more than 850 health centers provide services to people of every race and those people voluntarily request those services.
There's no evidence that Obama's stances on stem cell research or reproductive health means he's participating in a plot to eliminate any race or creed, including those with which he, his wife and his daughters share a history.
Myth: Obama plans to resettle hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the United States.
Who's spreading it: One of the original sources of the belief might have been this Feb. 7 article. New Media Journal is a news site run by a nonprofit group called BasicsProject.org, which states that its mission is to "re-introduce the American public to the basic elements of our constitutional heritage while providing non-partisan, fact-based information on relevant socio-political issues important to our country, specifically, but not limited to, the threats of aggressive Islamofascism and the American Fifth Column." The diatribe below, posted on Snopes.com, seems to have started as a post on Wizbang that picked up the claims in the New Media Journal article. It also turned up here and here.
What they believe: "President Barack Obama has signed an executive order ... allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to resettle in the United States. Sure, what can go wrong when we allow hundreds of thousands of people who have been, as Mark Steyn memorably described, 'marinated' in a 'sick death cult,' who voted for Hamas, and 55 percent of whom support suicide bombing [to] live here and at the American taxpayers' expense."
What is real: Per Snopes.com, just after Obama took office, the United Nations asked member nations for more than $600 million to pay for humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. The president authorized $20.3 million from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to pay for the "humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza." About one-third of that money went to the Red Cross, two-thirds to U.N. relief agencies. It differed little from an authorization of nearly $30 million in aid made two years earlier by President George W. Bush. Those funds went toward relief in Darfur, Somalia, Gaza and the West Bank.
Myth: Led by Obama, Democrats are planning to reinstitute the Federal Communications Commission's Fairness Doctrine, eviscerating right-wing talk radio in the process.
What they believe: The government used to require radio and TV broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to public policy discussions, and to provide "contrasting views" on the matters discussed. The FCC abolished the rule in 1987, under President Ronald Reagan. The next year, America was first treated to the dulcet tones of Rush Limbaugh's national radio show, thus ushering in a golden age of broadcast wingnuttery, interspersed with ads for mattresses. So now that a Democrat -- and one as suspicious as Obama is, to boot -- is in the White House, conservatives are certain that a nefarious plot to undo Reagan's handiwork is underway. There's also a more generalized paranoia that sweeping media reforms will be implemented under the guises of "localism," "media diversity," and "community interests," which, in the right-wing imagination, can have but one purpose: to muzzle conservative voices. The terror this appears to be striking in the hearts of the right is almost charming: "As a candidate, Barack Obama was mostly relegated to filing complaints, threatening lawsuits and organizing angry mobs to intimidate dissenters," one piece on NewsBlaze warns. "As President, Obama now has unbridled power to systematically destroy the only source of checks and balances to his radical policies: talk radio."
Obama is allegedly going to clamp down with backdoor policies determining whether or not talk radio stations offer voices that are in the "public interest"; they'll refuse to renew licenses to those that don't fit their standards. World Net Daily has written that it's even possible Obama wants to go further -- by nationalizing the newspaper industry, in order to control it. "It's a program worthy of the old Soviet Union -- where the old joke noted there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia," WND contributor Joseph Farah wrote, adding a nice communist twist to the myth. (Note to Farah: The joke works only if people know "Pravda" is Russian for "truth," and "Izvestia" is Russian for "news," which you didn't mention.)
What is real: Yes, many Democrats like to grumble about talk radio, and yes, some have said they'd like to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. But even Fox News has reported that the White House has no plans to do that. Obama "does not believe the Fairness Doctrine should be reinstated," a spokesman told the network less than a month into his term. Going the belt-and-suspenders route, the Senate has also passed a bill by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint, which would ban the return of the doctrine. (Lawmakers also approved a proposal by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, to affirm existing FCC policy that encourages diversity in media ownership, though, which has made conservatives antsy.)
Still, the Republican agitation about the alleged return of the policy is way overblown; they're so busy opposing it that they've skipped right past the fact that no one is really trying to do it. As Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told the Washington Times in January, "We have enough real problems facing this country that we don't need to invent ones that don't exist." That may be true if you're trying to govern. But it's not true if you're trying to scare the right-wing masses.
Myth: Obama's stimulus provided cash for a "levitating train" between Disneyland and Nevada brothels.
Who's spreading it: Michelle Malkin, Fox News, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
What they believe: That Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid included an earmark in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that would pay for a "pie in the sky" science fiction train that would whisk people from the gates of Disneyland to Nevada whorehouses.
What is real: The stimulus included $8 billion for high-speed rail, but to this date the projects that the money will be spent on have yet to be chosen. The myth began when right-wing bloggers, led by Michelle Malkin, seized on a sentence from an Associated Press story declaring that "[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid's office issued a statement noting that a proposed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail could get a big chunk of the money." Reid's statement, however, somehow never made it to Reid's congressional Web site. It is true that Reid has, in the past, supported the construction of a "maglev train" that would take Southern California tourists to Las Vegas, but such technology is neither "pie in the sky" nor science fiction. It's real. What's not real, however, is any earmark in the stimulus that directs taxpayer dollars to be spent on the project.
Myth: Obama is a socialist.
Who's been spreading it: The loudest prophets of panic include a certain bald plumber, Michele Bachmann, who warned that we're "completely socializing the American economy," and Mike Huckabee, who scoffed that "Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff," referring to Obama's proposed budget.
What they believe: Roughly since Nixon called Helen Gahagan Douglas "pink right down to her underwear" nearly 60 years ago, conservatives have worried that anyone left of Dwight Eisenhower was a Comintern stooge. With populism loose in the land and industry nationalization in the air, Republicans look at Obama, and they see red. With his talk of political transformation and his whiff of messianism, Republican fears about Obama exceed the usual grousing about "socialized medicine" After all, during the campaign, Obama said he wanted to "spread the wealth around." As Sarah Palin summed up, "There are socialist principles to that, yes."
What is real: Far from "completely socializing the American economy," Obama has shown, repeatedly, and to the consternation of liberals, that he doesn't want to socialize any of the economy if he can avoid it. His banking plan bends over backward to buy up toxic assets while avoiding buying up whole banks. He wants to use competition to universalize healthcare. Even when vital industries have nowhere else to turn, the administration really doesn't want to crowd out private capital. As a real socialist puts it, "Barack Obama is not one of us."
Myth: Obama is a fascist.
Who's been spreading it: Glenn Beck, but especially Jonah Goldberg. His revisionist history book, "Liberal Fascism," re-shelves European fascists as inveterate leftists and insinuates that vegetarian, organic-eating Hitler was some kind of proto-hippie.
What they believe: So you think Obama is cool? Hold on there, liberal mushhead, Mussolini was cool too. He had the worshipful crowds, the admiring world leaders, the good public transit -- the whole nine yards. Hence the insistence, in certain quarters of the right, that we keep a close eye on hipper-than-thou President Obama for hints of fascist instincts. It's the surreal, looking-glass version of "Obama is a socialist." "We've so overused the word 'socialism,'" says GOP operative Saul Anuzis. "Fascism -- everybody still thinks that's a bad thing." The government is bossing around corporations, the president is the subject of a cult of personality, and there's a bundle of rods pictured on the back of the dime called the fasces in Latin. It's all evidence that our first black president is a brownshirt. "People are once again feeling oppressed by an out of control state," wails Glenn Beck. "Like it or not, fascism is on the rise." Of the quasi-nationalization of GM, pundit Goldberg said ominously to Beck, "I'm not calling Barack Obama a Hitler and I'm not calling him Nazi and all the rest. But, you know, in fascism, we saw the people's car. We call it the Volkswagen."
What is real: Bush-era torture, surveillance and aggressive warfare do not meet the standard for fascism, but bailing out a bankrupt car company apparently does. If this is the road to fascism, the American people aren't feeling oppressed -- they're riding shotgun. Also, the fasces have been on the dime -- as well as on all the rest of our symbols -- since before the term "fascism" came into English.
Myth: Republican Chrysler dealers were targeted for closure.
What they believe: The Obama administration told Chrysler which of its dealerships needed to be closed -- and they wielded that power for political ends, punishing dealers who donated to Republicans while protecting Democrats. And the numbers prove it: The vast majority -- nearly all, in fact -- of the closed dealerships were owned by Republican dealers.
What is real: This one actually deserved looking into. After all, when the government takes over a major car company and starts having a hand in its business decisions, there's the possibility for all sorts of malfeasance. But it just didn't turn out to be true.
The reason so many of the closed dealerships were owned by Republican donors? Well, almost all car dealerships, period, are owned by Republicans. What statistical evidence there is to back up the hypothesis is flawed and basically meaningless. And Chrysler, not the administration, decided which dealerships to shutter.
However, now, like all good conspiracy theories, the proponents of this one have refused to let it die. One mathematical analysis showed no favoritism toward Democrats, and no targeting of Republicans -- but it did seem to indicate (if you're a little rusty on your statistics) a trend toward favoring Clinton donors. So now the hypothesis has shifted, and to back it up, the people advancing the theory are pointing to one dealer group in particular. Owned by people like Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, a major backer of Hillary Clinton in 2008, and Mack McLarty, who served as White House press secretary in Bill Clinton's administration, it didn't lose a single dealership.
Sure, that might seem at first like an indication of something nefarious. But if you seriously think the Obama team is risking everything to protect a guy who brought up their candidate's drug use on the trail during the Democratic primary, well, we have an American car company we'd like to sell you.
Myth: Obama has created his own version of the Hitler Youth.
What they believe: Again with Hitler! Even by the rather baroque standards of the Obama conspiracy theorists, this one's a tad wacky. It stems from a bill that Congress recently passed and Obama signed into law as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The law allegedly contains "disturbing" language forcing young people into mandatory national service. Ratcheting up the fear, some conservatives are calling it "coercive servitude" and "statist indocrination." "At best, this reprise of Hitler Youth will nationalize charitable work, using slave labor to help the State to further marginalize Christianity, which is one of the few remaining obstacles to totalitarianism," Right Wing News seethed. "At worse, this and Obama's Serve America Act are part of his stated plan to create a race-based, Gestapo-style 'Civilian National Security Force' as large and well-funded as the military." Evidently, Obama wants to conscript 1 million young people into "youth brigades," and they'd be barred from attending church services while they were enlisted. "This has serious Nazi Germany overtones to it." In a nice twist, some bloggers are calling the alleged brigade "Obama Ujana" -- using the Swahili word for "youth."
What is real: Don't start goose-stepping yet. The legislation doesn't involve conscription, Obama Youth or anything else of the sort. It expands AmeriCorps and other existing volunteer programs, devoting $6 billion over five years to creating 175,000 new service jobs and creating new volunteer corps to deal with energy, education and healthcare. It does set up a commission to investigate whether mandatory national service would make sense for America down the line, but chances are its findings -- whatever they are -- won't exactly set the political world on fire. There's no ban on attending church services, no racial component at all, and no reason to be alarmed. Unless you're a Republican who looks at exit polls showing two-thirds of voters under 30 supported Obama.
Myth: The president wants to raise my taxes.
What they believe: No matter what he may have said on the campaign trail, many conservatives are convinced President Obama's secret agenda now that he's in office is to suck every last cent out of hard-working Americans through tax increases. The anti-tax tea parties on April 15 vividly displayed this widely held belief. Granted, some who attended the events exist on the political fringes, but many notable Republicans, such as Newt Gingrich, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, were also big tea-party supporters.
Who's spreading it: CNBC's Rick Santelli won fame for his trading-floor conniptions, but he didn't start the tea-party movement or the post-inauguration antitax groundswell. (A whole cadre of conservatives has been warning about Obama's desire for higher taxes. In addition to Gingrich, Perry and Sanford, other right-wing luminaries such as Michelle Malkin and Dick Armey have also propagated the tax myth. However, give credit where credit is due: Unquestionably, the unofficial sponsor of the "Obama is going to raise my taxes" movement has been Fox News. Fox on-air personalities such as Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity steadily promoted the tea party demonstrations with unbridled gusto and Fox Business has warned their audience of the impending Obama tax hike.
What is real: Obama will raise taxes -- just not on most of the people who are worried about it. For those who make under $250,000 a year (the vast majority of Americans), Obama's tax plan will either lower income taxes or leave those taxes unchanged. The tax increases, which by most estimates amount to $1 trillion over 10 years, are targeted at the incomes of top-tier earners, as well as their capital gains and itemized deductions, such as charitable donations. Obama wants to use the increased tax revenues to pay for healthcare, as well as the soaring national debt and the two wars his predecessor started. Making the myth even more ridiculous is that even with Obama's tax raise on the wealthy, the top tax rate in the nation will still be far lower than it was during the reign of Ronald Reagan, that great beacon of conservative economic policy.
Myth: The president is taking aim at the Second Amendment and wants to take our guns away.
What they believe: The Obama administration has given bailouts to the auto industry and Wall Street, but perhaps no one has benefited more from the change in White House leadership than the gun industry. People are running scared to the gun store and sales have skyrocketed. Many gun-owners believe that the president and Attorney General Eric Holder are going to mount a campaign to enact more stringent regulations on gun ownership by linking the arms trade in American with the drug war in Mexico.
Who's spreading it: Though this meme has been around since early in the 2008 presidential campaign, a few big players have done more to spread this myth than others. These include the usual suspects when it comes to fears about gun regulation, with the NRA leading the charge. Local gun clubs, gun rights advocacy clubs and right-wing Web sites have also played a part. Fox News has also been spreading fear about gun control, especially Glenn Beck, but so too have Michele Bachmann and Chuck Norris. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has said the administration has the goal of "disarming us". Even Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor has triggered a boost in gun stocks. This is one myth that, regardless of its merits, is believed by a significant chunk of the population.
What is real: Obama has supported gun control in the past, but since he's taken office and during the campaign, his main concern has been reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that was allowed to lapse during President Bush's administration. Yet Obama acknowledges that putting the ban back in place isn't politically viable right now and gun control was absent from his first-100-days agenda . Obama and Holder have said they believe reducing the gun flow through North America would help to alleviate the drug violence in Mexico, but that hardly means they're planning to take guns away from Americans. Obama has largely ignored the issue since taking office, and when he has spoken about gun control, his rhetoric on the issue has been noticeably conciliatory, with a focus on improving the enforcement of existing laws.