Many conservative Christian leaders say they can count on the specter of a second Clinton presidency to fire up their constituents. But the prospect of an Obama-Giuliani race is another matter. “You would have a bunch of people who traditionally vote Republican going over to Obama,” said the Rev. Donald Wildmon, founder of the Christian conservative American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., known for its consumer boycotts over obscenity or gay issues.
In the Wichita churches this summer, Obama was the Democrat who drew the most interest. Several mentioned that he had spoken at Warren’s Saddleback church and said they were intrigued. But just as many people ruled out Obama because they suspected that he was not Christian at all but in fact a crypto-Muslim — a rumor that spread around the Internet earlier this year. “There is just that ill feeling, and part of it is his faith,” Welsh said. “Is his faith anti-Christian? Is he a Muslim? And what about the school where he was raised?”
“Obama sounds too much like Osama,” said Kayla Nickel of Westlink. “When he says his name, I am like, ‘I am not voting for a Muslim!’ ”
That last part is where we pause and consider just what conservative blind hatred blended with garlic-strength stupidity hath wrought: have you heard the one about Barack Obama being a Muslim? That he attended a "madrassa", a school for children associated with the radical Wahhabist sect?
On August 10, 2004, just two weeks after Obama had given his much-heralded keynote speech at the DNC in Boston, a perennial Republican Senate candidate and self-described "independent contrarian columnist" named Andy Martin issued a press release. In it, he announced a press conference in which he would expose Obama for having "lied to the American people" and "misrepresent[ed] his own heritage."
Martin raised all kinds of strange allegations about Obama but focused on him attempting to hide his Muslim past. "It may well be that his concealment is meant to endanger Israel," read Martin's statement. "His Muslim religion would obviously raise serious questions in many Jewish circles where Obama now enjoys support."
There's more about Andy Martin, but you can go to the link for that. We'll continue:
Within a few days of Martin's press conference, the conservative site Free Republic had picked it up, attracting a long comment thread, but after that small blip the specious "questions" about Obama's background disappeared. Then, in the fall of 2006, as word got out that Obama was considering a presidential run, murmurs on the Internet resumed. In October a conservative blog called Infidel Bloggers Alliance reposted the Andy Martin press release under the title "Is Barack Obama Lying About His Life Story?" A few days later the online RumorMillNews also reposted the Andy Martin press release in response to a reader's inquiry about whether Obama was a Muslim. Then in December fringe right-wing activist Ted Sampley posted a column on the web raising the possibility that Obama was a secret Muslim. Sampley, who co-founded Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry and once accused John McCain of having been a KGB asset, quoted heavily from Martin's original press release. "When Obama was six," Sampley wrote, "his mother, an atheist, married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian Muslim, and moved to Jakarta, Indonesia.... Soetoro enrolled his stepson in one of Jakarta's Muslim Wahabbi schools. Wahabbism is the radical teaching that created the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad on the rest of the world."
On December 29, 2006, the very same day that Sampley posted his column, Snopes received its first copy of the e-mail forward, which contains an identical charge in strikingly similar language. Given the timing, it seems likely that it was a distillation of Sampley's work.
Yes, despite the e-mail that continues to be forwarded today, and the FOX and Friends news analysis (sic) and the Insight magazine article and the Townhall.com BS, Barack Obama did not ever attend a madrassa. Snopes.com painstakingly details how wild this exaggeration became (similar to Nigerian yellowcake, for example). CNN debunked it, and even FOX themselves corrected the smear, but the damage to fragile conservative minds, as you can see above, remains done:
Despite the fact that CNN and others have thoroughly debunked the smear, the original false accusation has clearly sunk into people's consciousness. One Obama organizer told me recently that every day, while calling prospective voters, he gets at least one or two people who tell him they won't be voting for Obama because he's a Muslim. According to Google, "Barack Obama Muslim" is the third most-searched term for the Illinois senator. And an August CBS poll found that when voters were asked to give Obama's religion, as many said Muslim as correctly answered Protestant.
Oh yeah. And the e-mail continues to circulate.
"Everybody started calling me" when the e-mail first made the rounds, Andy Martin told me. "They said, 'Hey, did you write this?' My answer was 'they are all my children.' "
Heard the one about Hillary Clinton snubbing the Gold Star Mothers? That John Kerry didn't earn his medals in Vietnam? That Al Gore invented the Internet?
Such is the power of the right-wing smear forward, a vehicle for the dissemination of character assassination that has escaped the scrutiny directed at the Limbaughs and Coulters and O'Reillys but one that is as potent as it is invisible. In 2004 putative firsthand accounts of Kerry's performance in Vietnam traveled through e-mail in right-wing circles, presaging the Swift Boat attacks. Last winter a forward began circulating accusing Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim schooled in a radical madrassa (about which more later). While the story was later fed through familiar right-wing megaphones, even making it onto Fox, it has continued to circulate via e-mail long after being definitively debunked by CNN. In other words, the few weeks the smear spent in the glare of the mainstream media was just a tiny portion of a long life cycle, most of which has been spent darting from inbox to inbox.
The profoundly uninformed, relying almost entirely on FOX and Limbaugh and Hannity for their "news", is at greatest risk for this kind of glaring ignorance:
For a certain kind of conservative, these e-mails, along with talk radio, are an informational staple, a means of getting the real stories that the mainstream media ignore. "I get a million of them!" says Gerald DeSimone, a 74-year-old veteran from Ridgewood, New Jersey, who describes his politics as "to the right of Attila the Hun." "If I forwarded every one on, everyone would hate me.... I'm trying to cut back. I try to send no more than two or three a day. I must get thirty or forty a day."
Do you have a Republican relative who forwards these, and other messages of similar intellectual laziness, to your inbox once a week or so -- which may be the only time they turn on their computer? Well, you're not alone:
Mike D'Asto, a 29-year-old assistant cameraman living in New York, received so many forwards from his conservative father he started a blog called MyRightWingDad.net, where he shares them with other unwitting recipients. "I suddenly have connected to all these people who receive these right-wing forwards from their brothers-in-law," D'Asto told me. "Surprisingly, a very large number of people receive these."
And that, as The Nation's Christopher Hayes notes, is the problem.
For conservatives, these e-mails neatly reinforce preconceptions, bending the facts of the world in line with their ideological framework: liberals, immigrants, hippies and celebrities are always the enemy; soldiers and conservatives, the besieged heroes. The stories of the former's perfidy and the latter's heroism are, of course, never told by the liberal media. So it's left to the conservative underground to get the truth out. And since the general story and the roles stay the same, often the actual characters are interchangeable.
Did you ever get the one about the Senator questioning Oliver North about a terrorist (who was named Osama bin Laden in the e-mail but in reality named Abu Nidal -- hey, they all sound alike, right?) In 2000, it was Gore; in 2004 it was Kerry.
"A lot of the chain letters that were accusing Al Gore of things in 2000 were recycled in 2004 and changed to Kerry," says John Ratliff, who runs a site called BreakTheChain.org, which, like Snopes, devotes itself to debunking chain e-mails. One e-mail falsely described a Senate committee hearing in the 1980s where Oliver North offered an impassioned Cassandra-like warning about the threat of Osama bin Laden, only to be dismissed by a condescending Democratic senator. Originally it was Al Gore who played the role of the senator, but by 2004 it had changed to John Kerry. "You just plug in your political front-runner du jour," Ratliff says.
So what can we expect for the next twelve months? Hillary's a lesbian? Check. Her husband still catting around? Roger that. Barack Osama hates America? John Edwards got an expensive haircut, and he and Al Gore are both gay and live together in a 40,000 square-foot house with a $10,000 monthly utility bill?
The next time you get one of these howlers in your inbox from you-know-which-relative, do two things: check out whether it's accurate at Snopes, and then send it back to the forwarder correcting their understanding.
Our republican democracy thanks you in advance.