Earlier today, during a Barnes and Noble run, I flipped through a book called Wingnuts
, by John Avlon -- a work which carries an endorsement from no less a personage than Bill Clinton. Although the book came out a few years ago, I did not get a chance to skim through those pages until tonight. It's a not-bad compendium of the nuttier right-wing attacks on Barack Obama.
Alas, Avlon gets his history wrong when he talks about the origin of "birther" madness. Worse, his blunder was picked up by the Daily Beast
Avlon claims that birtherism was originally a liberal "thing." Specifically: Wingnuts
argues that birth certificate paranoia originated with the PUMA movement. In case you came in late, PUMA is an acronym for Party Unity My Ass, a movement comprised of people who refused to give up on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign. I was loosely affiliated with PUMA.
To claim that this movement gave birth to birtherism is wrong and arguably slanderous.
PUMA began on The Confluence
, a pro-Hillary site set up by Riverdaughter, a feisty and extremely talented former Daily Kos blogger. She was exiled from Markos Moulitsas' mega-site because she refused to clamber aboard the Obama bandwagon. Her site was the first to publish the acronym and the first to shape that acronym into a movement. Throughout 2008, The Confluence was PUMA Central.
It's important to understand one key fact: Not long after The Confluence got PUMA going, Republican operatives -- sensing an opportunity -- set up a number of fake
PUMA sites. These sites pretended to be the work of liberals disenchanted with Obama, although these wolves-in-sheep's-clothing were rarely very persuasive. No matter how stridently they tried to baaa
, they emitted a distinctive lupine odor.
Perhaps the most influential pseudo-PUMA site was No Quarter, the brainchild of former CIA guy Larry Johnson. He was the cleverest of the bunch -- which isn't surprising, given the man's background. Johnson had me fooled for a while, although I eventually saw through him.
Another suspected "wolf in sheep's clothing" site (at least in my opinion) was PUMAParty.org, which published some of the earliest birther texts. I never considered those people to be genuine Democrats, and thus did not link to any of their posts.
PUMA movement centered around the Confluence. Love her or hate her, Riverdaughter was the real deal.
Being a scientist, Riverdaughter understood from the start that birtherism was sheer nonsense. Neither she nor any other contributor to her site ever published one positive word about that idiotic theory.
Throughout this period, I was "kinda, sorta" aligned with the PUMA movement. What differentiated me from someone like Riverdaughter is...well, in the first place, she's a better writer than I am, at least on those occasions when she's fully engaged. More importantly, she was and is Hillary Clinton's number one fan, with the possible exception of Chelsea.
For my part, the situation was always more complicated. I was not so much a Hillary supporter as an Obama opponent. It was all too easy to predict what kind of president Obama would be -- and to forecast the damage he would do to the Democratic brand name. Hillary Clinton deserved support because she was the only person standing between Obama and the nomination. Of course, her sheer grit and tenacity during that battle eventually won me over.
For the most part, Riverdaughter preferred to ignore the birther phenomenon. I did
pay attention to it, but that attention was not sympathetic.
Larry Johnson publicized an analysis by someone who went by the name of "Techdude," an alleged forensic specialist. He claimed that, by using the imaging program GIMP, he could determine that Obama's "short form" birth certificate was a forgery. The Techdude posts were filled with "fancy footwork" that bedazzled the gullible while providing nothing of probative value
. I've used Photoshop (the pro app that does what GIMP does) professionally since the very first iteration of that program, and I could not replicate this fellow's directives
. Neither could anyone else.
Despite The Daily Beast's claims that birtherism began on the left
, none of the original birth certificate loons were bona-fide lefties or real
PUMA folk. Eventually, they all showed their true colors as right-wing wackos: Larry Johnson, Orly Taitz, the freaks behind HillBuzz, Phil Berg, Linda Starr, the vile "Texas Darlin," and the ultra-mega-hyper-vile Pamela Geller. Most of these people were pretty easy to figure out -- for example, I found evidence that "Texas Darlin" had been a contributor to the far-right Free Republic site
, which is not normally known as a hotbed of pro-Clinton activism. Texas Darlin' (who later pushed a lie that Michelle Obama had been disbarred) had the same IP number as the ultra-weird Larry Sinclair, the oddball who claimed that Obama had been a male hooker.
(Were Larry and TD one and the same? Hm!)
As for Johnson -- well, allow me to reprint some words I published in 2008
In previous posts, I detailed how Larry Johnson's No Quarter deliberately inflamed the public with a false story about the allegedly "forged" Obama birth certificate. That site published as established fact -- without any caveats or "maybes" -- the claim that a professional image analyst was able to discern the name of Barack Obama's sister in the candidates much-disputed Certificate of Live Birth.
Did No Quarter publish a single image backing up this assertion? No. The site published all sorts of other images, but not the one that mattered.
No-one has replicated these "findings." No Photoshop professional found the details comprehensible. The source of the claim, "Techdude," has now been exposed as an utter fraud.
Has No Quarter issued an apology? Nope.
Johnson and his confreres (Texas Darlin' and Susan UnPC) maintain an aggressive, belligerent stance, despite having about as many legs to stand on as Monty Python's black knight.
Think about it: If your blog published a major piece of false information -- one that sparked a firestorm of public interest -- wouldn't you show a little humility when the whole thing was revealed as a crap-fest of deception?
You can't understand what happened to PUMA unless you understand the tactics of infiltration and political imposture. To the best of my knowledge, none of the "birthers" had any previous history of liberal activism. The genuine PUMA writers, the ones who could be trusted, all had Riverdaughter's seal of approval.
(Well, she never really approved of me
. But how could she? I'm an unclassifiable, ornery ol' bastard who pisses off everyone on every side of every issue. And proud of it!