Forged Kenyan Document Splinters ‘Birther’ Movement
Monday, August 03, 2009 at 7:58 pm
Jon Chessoni, a first secretary at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, can’t understand why his office gets so many baseless questions about whether Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
“It’s madness,” said Chessoni on Monday. “His father, in 1961, would not even have been in Kenya. When this matter first came up, the Kenyan government did its research and confirmed that these are all baseless claims.”
Nonetheless, Chessoni spent part of his day fielding inquiries about an image posted at the fringe conservative web site WorldNetDaily–a purported “certified copy of registration of birth” belonging to “Barack Hussein Obama II,” submitted by attorney Orly Taitz in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, part of her undying quest to get a judge to listen to the conspiracy theories about the 44th president of the United States. “I’m forcing the issue, where Obama will have to respond,” Taitz told the Website. “I am asking the judge to give me the power to subpoena the documents from the Kenyan embassy.”
Chessoni didn’t understand what Taitz was talking about or what her discovery (the gift of an “anonymous source” who’s “afraid for his life”) was supposed to prove. He showed the image to other embassy employees, who rolled their eyes at what was, for some, only the latest forgery being passed off as an official document from Kenya. “It’s a red herring,” said Chessoni. “Maybe there are not enough facts out there.”
The forged birth certificate, released early on Sunday morning, was quickly picked apart by a growing online community of freelance “birther” debunkers. It was marked as an official February 1964 document from the “Coast Province” of the “Republic of Kenya.” But there was no “Coast Province” in 1964, and Kenya was not yet a Republic. It was off by one year on the age of Barack Obama, Sr. It was signed by “E.F. Lavender,” which happened to be the name of a popular soap in Kenya, and “entered at the District Registry Office” on August 5, 1961, a Saturday when the office would have been closed. Late Monday evening, TWI reported that the certificate had significant similarities to an unrelated Australian birth certificate, which may have been the source of the forgery.
The new focus on a bogus document from an anonymous source has riven the small community of activists who are trying to prove that Barack Obama cannot be president of the United States. The day after the image appeared online, prominent “birther” attorneys and activists worried that Taitz was doing real, irreversible damage to their movement. As she’s become the public face of the “birther cause”–on Monday, MSNBC labeled her a “leader” of the “birther movement”–other figures in the “birther” community are distancing themselves from her work and from this document.
“If this turns out to be a bad document that she’s posted, I think it gives the non-birthers an argument to say: ‘See, these people don’t know what they’re doing,’” said Philip J. Berg, a Pennsylvania attorney who filed the first “eligibility” lawsuit against Obama one year ago this month. “If this document turns out to be a phony, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the non-birthers put it out there.”
On Sunday and Monday, the forums at the conservative web site FreeRepublic.com roiled with discussion of Taitz’s new allegations and the forged document. Some prominent “birthers” chimed in to attack Taitz. “Dr. Ron Polarik,” an anonymous “forensic analyst” whose attempts to prove that Obama’s Hawaiian Certificate of Live Birth is a forgery has been widely accepted by “birthers”–and even filed as evidence in one of Berg’s lawsuits–accused Taitz of shopping around “another BOGUS BIRTH DOCUMENT.” Jim Robinson, the founder and owner of the site, started his own thread, asking whether the certificate was a fake. On Monday, the site took the unorthodox step of linking directly to the two threads with a sort of disclaimer: “Welcome Visitors! If you’re looking for the Kenyan Birth Certificate story, click here! Or is it a fake?”
“The story broke at a perfect time [early Sunday morning] for people to sit at their computers all day,” laughed Kristinn Taylor, a spokesman for FreeRepublic. Taylor pointed to the combative threads about the “birth certificate” to show that the the conservative site’s readers were treating the story much the way they had treated the September 2004 CBS News story on President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. A FreeRepublic poster named Harry McDougland, who went by the handle “Buckhead,” did key research on the documents used in the original CBS News report that led producers to admit that they were probably forged, and eventually led to the network retracting the story.
“A lot of people are looking at this with a jaundiced eye, especially in light of what happened five years ago,” said Taylor. “One thing I really hate is people using forged documents to score political points. I didn’t like it in 2004. I didn’t like it when people went after Michelle Obama with that forged room service receipt, saying she had racked up this big bill at the Waldorf-Astoria. I don’t like it when it’s done to anybody.”
Taitz’s find has proven just as controversial with lawyers who’ve worked with her in the past. Gary Kreep, a California attorney who assisted Taitz when she filed her first lawsuits in the state last year, worried that Taitz had jumped the gun. “I’ve advised her in writing, along with several other attorneys, that if she has an original document that seems to bolster her case, it needs to be examined by a professional document examiner,” Kreep told TWI.
Kreep’s concern about Taitz’s “Kenyan birth certificate” came out of his own experience in being offered fishy or fraudulent “smoking gun” documents about Obama’s past. “I’ve gotten tips about birth certificates that are purported to be original, snuck out of Kenya, yadda yadda,” Kreep said. “Then, all of a sudden, the people offering these things disappear into the woodwork. Some people are definitely putting together hoaxes to damage our cause.”
WorldNetDaily has been accused of giving space over to hoaxes in the past. Last year, the site published purported emails between Obama and Kenyan presidential candidate Rail Odinga, allegedly obtained by Jerome Corsi, the author of the Swift Boat Veterans’ 2004 book “Unfit for Command” who went on a fact-finding mission to to the east African nation for WND. The poorly written and unauthenticated emails were promoted on “Fox and Friends,” the Fox News morning show, but sunk without a trace thereafter.
Taitz, who appeared on MSNBC on Monday to promote her find, has attempted to avoid Corsi’s mistakes by shifting the burden of proof for the forged certificate. In her special motion, filed on Monday, Taitz does not claim that her document is authentic, and instead asks for a “subpoena for deposition duces tecum” and “letters rogatory” to force American, Kenyan, and British authorities into releasing their records on Obama. (As Chessoni told TWI, Kenya has no such records.)
“There has never been a constitutional challenge to the identity and eligibility of a sitting President of the United States,” Taitz wrote in her filing, “and so there are no direct precedents regarding this matter, but it is fairly safe to say that the potential consequences and fallout from this present filing being made public will be severe and significant, even though the undersigned counsel makes absolutely no pre-judgment or prediction regarding the actual authenticity of the document of which only a color copy taken by a camera at an odd angle, which is attached herein as Exhibit A.”
Taitz’s stunt has confused and alienated other Obama skeptics. Michael Patrick Leahy, the conservative activist behind Top Conservatives on Twitter (#tcot), wondered why the attorney published the document online instead of verifying the claims herself. “Ms. Taitz is asking a Federal Judge to authorize a fishing expedition for documents pertaining to President Obama’s birth that might exist in the Governmental files of the Republic of Kenya, and she fails to offer any evidence as to the origin of the digital image upon which this request is based?”
The “Kenyan birth certificate” has made skeptics out of people like Leahy and Kreep. Two of Taitz’s original plaintiffs, Wiley Drake and Markham Robinson, both associates of Alan Keyes during his presidential campaign, were removed from her latest filing after seeking new representation. But according to G. Dana Hobart, a California attorney who testifies on legal ethics, Taitz may not feel any repercussions in California for introducing a forged and anonymously-obtained document as evidence in a high-profile lawsuit.
“If you have a reasonable belief in the accuracy of the document, you don’t have the frame of mind to be committing defamation,” said Hobart.
“The only value to this kind of crap is that it gets play in the media, it keeps the false ball bouncing, and gives the story more credibility simply by getting it more coverage.”
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