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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some "birther" history

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, 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.

The real 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!)
No Quarter was definitely over the top and suspicious in my book but the Techdude birther crap cemented that they were wolves in sheeps clothing. Taylor Marsh was the one who disappointed me the most with how she "flipped" once Hillary got hosed by the corrupt Caucuses. I was never an Obama fan. I understand that people who lie or say whatever we want to hear are not accountable and will not stand up and fight for their positions.

Obama has proven to be piss poor at standing up to the Republican propaganda machine and they have basically lied about him continuously with impunity. He is what I thought he'd be and yet, to me he is better than expected as I had zero expectations. But the drone attacks and the killing of American citizens to having law enforcement in this country pulverize our rights and freedoms just kills it for me. While much of it is not his fault purely from a cause and effect relationship his dearth of leadership really does set the tone. The war on young black kids by our police officials just is perplexing and must be stopped but is Obama leading the charge against this blatant racism? Hell no. He is a failure of epic proportions and yet he is better than W and better than I expected. Not a bad guy just one not able to do the job of President. (That person may no longer exist by the way).
Ah, I remember the Meta but not the Micro. Wasn't there some argument about a font on the birth certificate or do I have my scandals confused? btw, for historical reference, I was sitting in the comment thread at the Confluence when the name was coined and I was probably the second or third person to jump on the PUMA wagon-- I tried to change my voter registration to PUMA but the election board said no.
I have nothing to add but, I was there too (The Confluence) at the birth of PUMA. What a sad day, I can't get over it.

To me, that Rules Committee meeting proves that the primaries are a worthless waste of money. And perhaps a fraudulent exercise. How could delegates have been moved willy-nilly from a candidate who was on a ballot to a candidate that wasn't -- at the very least that was a deal killer for me and the Democratic Party.

PUMA was everything to do with that and nothing at all to do with birtherism (which will still get you tossed in the spam filter if you try to talk about it at The Confluence)

I remember that I posted a link (at TC) to your exposé of the birth certificate / photoshop thing -- like breaking news. I was so impressed with the work you did and the clarity of your explanation. VERY weird to think that PUMAs or The Confluence (by association) could be tainted with that idiocy.
I'm grateful for your kind words, katiebird. I hope RD won't get too mad at me, even though I'm disenchanted with Hillary. She should have stayed in the Senate, fighting for working people. Having any association with this administration was a mistake.

Avlon's book gets PUMA history wrong, but what can you expect? Gore Vidal once said that every single time he attended an event that was later reported in the newspapers, the newspapers never told the story accurately. Something similar can be said of "events" that happen online.
Thanks for noting this, Joseph, and setting the record straight. The only omission from the entire dialog is what set the birther scam off to begin with. The original "natural born citizen" argument was whether Obama qualified because he was multi-national. He himself said he had British citizenship thru his father's nation. Add to that the question of whether his step-father made him an Indonesian citizen and we're up to four nationalities. Since the founding fathers likely put in that language to weed out those with lingering ties to Great Britain it was a discussion our nation should've been having and this birth certificate distraction made a fine derailment...much like the "controlled demolition" derailment of other more serious questions about the greatest security failure in our history.
I agree with prowlers: there was a discussion to be had about the multiple nationality question in 2008 but . . . the conversation was either insanely conspiratorial [Obama hate 24/7] or deemed verboten on any level.

Strange thing about No Quarter. I was a regular poster at the site until it took a hard right, Tea Party turn. It happened rather quickly as I recall and the posters who were all pro-Hillary transformed into hate all government, all the time and particularly anything with a 'D' attached to it. The rage is what startled me. Not quite sure how you keep that up without burning out. That's not to say that POTUS didn't disappoint early on for anyone who believed all the silly hype. But the hate itself is corrosive and hard to stomach.

Gregory P pretty much stated my own Obama opinion: he was never the right candidate for the job or the situation the country found itself in after the GW&Cheney debacle. There's a lot of blame to go around but the same people who hyped Barack Obama are now insisting that there's a 'perfect' progressive candidate in the wings.

I didn't buy the meme in 2008; I don't buy it now.

On the other hand, the Republican brand is utterly toxic and contaminated with Mad Cow disease [something C. Pierce reminds his readers on a daily basis]. The Democratic Party is badly flawed but the Republicans are beyond redemption, deserving of a straight jackets, not election wins.

The beat goes on!

Thanks for this Joseph. As a veteran of the Primary Wars of 2008, it's nice to know that you're out there keeping the record straight. Of course back then it was part of a winning strategy to paint PUMAs as crazy, racist or both.
I'm curious as to how many people like me (party loyalists who had manned phone banks for thirty-
odd years) the democrats lost in '08. Up until then, I had been naive enough to believe in the system. A candidate gaming the systemn in order to win was one thing; the systemn gaming itself in the service of...I'm really not sure who or what (plutocrats? villagers? hipsters?)... was another matter entirely. So to this day, I say PUMA, and I say it proudly.
I wish someone would write a book to document those horrible times from the real pumas perspective.
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