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Anna Gonzales

Birthers vs. Truthers

I've seen a fair share of people claiming that the so-called "Birther" conspiracy theory regarding Obama not being born in the US is approximately equivalent to the "Truther" conspiracy theory regarding the "truth" about what really happened on 9/11. This equivalency is somewhat comforting in that we already have a fair amount of experience with the Truthers, and their wacky antics never amount to too much. They sit there spinning out their confirmation bias and researching up new tiny problems with the "official" story they know are already there somewhere.

Unfortunately, like many Left vs. Right equivalencies, this one seems to break down upon close inspection.

The Truther conspiracy theory has a coherent plotline with a motive and a goal: the world domination at the hands of Neocons, willing to murder Americans to achieve these ends. It doesn't even sound far-fetched at first glance, given the Neocon philosophy of armed intervention in the affairs of other nations. It has scientific facts that sound good on first listen, notably that jet fuel burns at a much lower temperature than needed to melt steel (ignoring that steel softens considerably by that temperature). It has an obvious villain, the Bush administration, and an implication of sinister dealings behind closed doors. Basically, the sort of thing that could be an action movie.

Now, I am aware the "birther" movement is relatively nascent by comparison (though it really has been going on since 2007), but it lacks nearly every one of those points. There is no plotline or goal aside from "scary foreigners out to get us so they plant Obama in the US." There are no scientific or even anecdotal facts offered to indicate Obama was born anywhere other than Hawaii. The mantra involved is that Hawaii hasn't released the birth certificate, so it must not exist (which is really odd when you consider how much these people take exclusively on faith). Even arguing over the existence or lack thereof of an actual birth certificate instead of a certificate of live birth seems petty when you consider Obama's birth was announced in two local papers at the time.

There are no facts, no rhyme or reason, and no coherent plot line to any of this, yet many people out there believe it completely and utterly. It's been debunked on the news, yet people ignore the debunking, or simply aren't exposed to it, because in their mind Obama can't possibly be American. Facts have nothing whatsoever to do with this.

I would set this analogy as such: The Truther story is a shack, a house of cards, that blows away in the wind, but it's there. It's rickety and full of holes but some people have convinced themselves it's stable. It's not, but whatever. People, you know.

By contrast, the Birther story is an empty, weedy, garbage-filled lot with a sign stating "THERE IS A MANSION HERE." No facts, no holes, no story, just belief in some deep underlying fact-free conspiracy to destroy America.

It doesn't make a lick of sense until you realize these people literally believe Obama is the Anti-christ, come to begin the ending of the world. These people don't need facts. Their brains are so clouded with fear, and fermented fear that has become rage, that facts don't hold any weight anymore.

You can draw the parallels if you like, but I would say that is a dangerous thing to do. Truthers gather, argue, and protest. Given the stated Birther mentality, people are going to get hurt. I will be pleasantly surprised if Obama makes it out of this first term without any assassination attempts, given the impotent, willful, reality-detatched raged that is filling the heads of a few of these people.

Obviously, not all birthers, or people with doubts, are as I described. I think the thing that political writers and analysts forget most quickly is that not everyone is informed. Most people (myself included until a few bare years ago) don't have time or energy to look this stuff up. Politics constitute a headache, best left alone until something important happens, and if murmurs from the mire claim there are questions about Obama's birth certificate, are they really going to look it up themselves? Of course not, certainly not all of them. A lot of people come home tired from work, and careful thinking is the last thing they want to do. Most people probably just want a beer and some TV before bed, and certainly not those depressing news stories.

This is not an indictment of every person who is "uncertain" about Obama's birth certificate. I think such indictments about the uncertain category are ignorant of the reality of many Americans who simply don't take the time to be informed citizens, something that many internet talking heads forget. The "uncertain" category aren't the malicious ones. The troublemakers are the last 1% who are so frothily convinced that Obama doesn't belong that I predict we will see more arrests and assaults before this is over (if it will ever be).

I was about to predict suicide bombings by these folks, but somehow, that doesn't seem quite right. When Americans want to go out in a blaze of glory, we seem to do it with firearms. It's our version of the futile, righteous last stand, burned into our collective consciousness by Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Little Bighorn, and D-Day. Suicide bombings leave no chance of celebrating victory on the part of the bomber, they are instead a final statement of futile impotence. I think as a culture we've watched one too many action movies to think that the good guy can't just go win with a sawed-off shotgun and a pair of Desert Eagles. But I could be wrong, America is a big place.

So big that a 1% fringe is a huge crowd of armed, dangerous believers. Yikes.

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