Last week, a U.S. Army major named Stefan Frederick Cook made news when he refused deployment to Afghanistan on the grounds that President Barack Obama might not be a natural-born citizen and therefore is constitutionally ineligible to give orders as commander in chief. Now Cook’s lawyer says she has 170 more soldiers willing to file similar protests against the president.
Welcome to the world of the “Birthers”—right-wing conspiracy theorists committed to undoing the 2008 presidential election by trying to prove that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The movement is evidence that Obama Derangement Syndrome is going viral from the far right, proliferating beyond fringe-festival Internet sites. It’s in danger of a quiet mainstreaming along partisan lines—reaching into talk radio, cable news, the armed services, and even the halls of Congress.
The 170 number thrown out by Cook’s lawyer has the feel of Joe McCarthy’s claim that he had a list of 205 communists working in Harry Truman’s State Department—i.e. pseudo-specific, intentionally inflammatory, and ultimately bogus. But what’s not in question is the nine Republican congressmen who have co-sponsored a bill that, in response to this much-debunked conspiracy theory, would require presidential campaigns to provide “a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate.”
Asked whether Obama “is a U.S. citizen,” bill co-sponsor Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican, replied: “I don’t know. I’ve never seen him produce documents that would say one way or another.”