Saturday, August 01, 2009
WASHINGTON — The false allegation that President Barack Obama was born in another country is more than a fact-free hit job.
Marked by accusations and backstabbing, it's the story of how a small but intense movement called "birthers" rose from a handful of people prone to seeing conspiracies, aided by the Internet, magnified without evidence by eager radio and cable TV hosts, and eventually ratified by a small group of Republican politicians working to keep the story alive on the floors of Congress and the campaign trails of the Midwest.
It's a powerful story about what experts call political paranoia over a new face in a time of anxiety and rapid change — the sort of viral message that can take hold among a sliver of the populace that's ready to believe that the new president is a fraud, and just as ready to angrily dismiss anyone who disagrees as part of the conspiracy.
"He is NOT an American citizen," yelled a woman at a town hall meeting in Delaware, angrily confronting a congressman. "I don't want this flag to change. I want my country back."
When Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., responded that Obama is a citizen, she and others in the room jeered him.
"It's a fascinating phenomenon," said Jerrold Post, director of the political psychology program at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and author of a recent book entitled, "Political Paranoia."
"They are not searching for the truth. They are searching for anything that confirms their fixed idea, their malevolent idea . . . It doesn't soothe people to tell them it's not legitimate. That makes them angry."...(Remainder.)