Since Barack Obama became a household name, there have been a number of people who have claimed that his birthplace is somewhere outside of the U.S.—thereby making him an illegitimate candidate to be president. This racist belief continued to be fairly popular throughout both his campaign and presidency, and it is widely known to have been held by current United States President Donald Trump. The support of this claim by notable individuals throughout the years led to numerous litigation attempts to illegitimatize Obama’s presidency.
Although there had been rumors surrounding Obama’s birth starting around 2008, in 2009, dentist/attorney Dr. Orly Taitz obtained pictures of a document that was purported to be Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate. The document, which was debunked within a short time, is just one of many false evidence ploys that was used to back up the claim. In 2017, Malik Obama, Trump supporter and half-brother to the former president, tweeted a picture of yet another fake birth certificate in an attempt to support the infamous conspiracy. Although Malik Obama may have appeared to have some sort of authority on the matter due to his family name, at that point the White House had already released copies of the president’s Hawaiian birth certificate years ago in 2011.
It seems as though the popularity of this belief may have been due to the large number of celebrities, campaigners and Republican figureheads that inevitably helped spread the rumors. The idea spread like a wildfire within the minds of people who were believed to be rational—in a manner that suggested that people simply fell victim various appeals to authority figures. Believers seemed to completely discount the thought of how hard it would be for a government official to make it that far up with an illegitimate citizenship.
Skeptics often found themselves within circles that supported their beliefs without evidence. Moreover, they succumbed to faulty thinking such as confirmation bias and post hoc rationalizations. Even in the face of images of the actual birth certificate, the rumors continued to flow. Instead of starting from the evidence and moving forward to come to a conclusion, a fair amount of people merely began with a conclusion and proceeded to try and rationalize it.
The use of fake documents helped make this topic one of the most popular presidential conspiracies in recent history, however it wouldn’t have been able to reach levels that it did without the biased thoughts of its supporters. In addition to the faulty thinking used by birthers, many believe that the rumors can be attributed to the racial prejudice that is held by all Americans. Given that we live in a majority white society, the first president to belong to the relative outgroup of Americans was almost destined to face some sort of prejudiced thinking. It’s entirely possible that the conspiracy was just a manifestation of the sort of thinking that is popular within our society. Nevertheless, the rumor proved to be one of many false conspiracy theories surrounding our government and the individuals within.
“FACT CHECK: Is This Barack Obama’s Kenyan Certified Registration of Birth?” Snopes.com, www.snopes.com/fact-check/kenyan-mistake/.
New York Daily News. “Obama’s Critics Launch the Birth of a Nutty Nation.” Nydailynews.com, New York Daily News, 11 Jan. 2019, www.nydailynews.com/opinion/obama-critics-launch-birth-nutty-nation-article-1.430638.
“Obama’s Half-Brother Tweets Image of Debunked Kenya Birth Certificate.” Snopes.com, www.snopes.com/news/2017/03/10/malik-obama-kenya-birth-certificate/.
Vergano, Dan. “Study: Racial Prejudice Plays Role in Obama Citizenship Views.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 27 Apr. 2011, content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2011/04/social-scientists-look-at-racisms-role-in-birther-viewpoint/1#.XKP04afMw1I.