Born in the USA? Someone doesn't think so

A fringe movement that questions Barack Obama's nationality is gathering pace – and now the woman behind the campaign is running for office. Guy Adams reports

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:44

She's been called a heroine, a patriot, and a tireless defender of liberty, justice, and the American way. She's also been dubbed a racist crank who exemplifies the worst excesses of the blowhard right.

But the one thing Dr Orly Taitz really can't stand is the way she's usually described in print: queen bee of the so-called "birther" movement. "When you say 'birther' you're using a pejorative term," she says, with lawyerly aggression. "I'm in fact a constitutional attorney, who believes that Barack Hussein Obama could be guilty of a major fraud, and should therefore be investigated." We are at a branch of TGI Friday's about five minutes' drive from the building in Orange County where Dr Taitz runs a dental surgery, a dormant estate agency, a solicitor's practice and a high-profile international campaign to expose the President of the United States as a fraud.

Dr Taitz is therefore a busy woman. When we meet, she's just finished filing a lawsuit which aims to prevent the new US healthcare bill taking effect. A few days earlier, she made headlines by entering the race for the Republican nomination in November's election for the position of Secretary of State of California. She is also pursuing 18 legal cases on behalf of around 200 US soldiers who are contesting their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Her clients are arguing that Mr Obama is unqualified to act as their Commander in Chief because he was born overseas; possibly, they say, in Kenya or Indonesia.

"We are fighting a global war against radical Islam," she says. "We know about acts of terrorism in Indonesia and Kenya. Let's say those incidents repeat themselves, and we need to send troops to those countries. Don't you think it's important for my clients, to know where the loyalties of Barack Hussein Obama lie?" With this sort of rhetoric, it would be easy to dismiss Dr Taitz and her followers as a shouty fringe group on the far right-wing of US politics. But that is not necessarily so: a poll out this week showed 57 per cent of Republican voters believe Mr Obama to be a Muslim. A quarter believe him to be the Antichrist.

"AOL has also published a study saying 80 per cent of Americans believe there's an issue with Obama's birth," adds Dr Taitz. "A Pew poll said 85 per cent would like to see his birth certificate. So there is a vast majority who think there's a problem and say that we cannot have an unknown sitting in the White House."

Though once considered taboo, the issue of where the President was born has entered the mainstream. CNN's Lou Dobbs actively encourages debate of it. Republican politicians call for his birth certificate to be published. "Tea Party" activists carry placards that depict the first black President as an Arab, or a Kenyan tribesman. Dr Taitz's blog boasts 8 million readers a month. She gets hundreds of supportive emails a day, and has achieved celebrity status. Dr Taitz subscribes to the view that President Obama's birth was retroactively registered in Hawaii, perhaps to help him gain US citizenship. She talks of myriad anomalies related to his life story – allegedly faked birth announcements, fabricated social security numbers – which are detailed endlessly on her and other websites. Most of all, though, she complains about the White House's refusal to authorise the release of the original birth certificate which would conclusively prove that Barack Obama was born on 4 August 1961 at Kapi'olani hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"All they have released is a certificate of live birth," she says. "That's a document given to people who don't have an original. And it does not show the name of the hospital. It should be OK to get a driving licence and to go get a job. However, for someone who wants to be President, it's not good enough."

Judges don't see things that way. A federal appeals court ruled last Monday that Dr Taitz must pay $20,000 (£13,000) in fines for wasting court time by repeatedly bringing spurious cases referring to Mr Obama's place of birth. The fines are "a deterrent to prevent future misconduct and to protect the integrity of the court".

She is refusing to pay, though. "The judge called me 'frivolous'. What is frivolous? You tell me: what can be more important for the nation than having a legitimate President? This is despicable. The judge was clearly pandering to the President."

One of the many ironies in Dr Taitz's story is that she is herself an immigrant. Born into a Jewish family in Communist-era Moldova, she moved to Israel in her early 20s. Her husband Yosef, a computer whiz from California, met her during a holiday to the Holy Land in the 1980s. They married a few months later. A fiercely intelligent woman who speaks five languages, she built a career as a dentist before waltzing through exams which also allow her to practise as an attorney and estate agent. In her free time, she looks after three children, trains in taekwondo and maintains a fearsome set of fake eyelashes.

Dr Taitz began taking an interest in President Obama shortly before the 2008 election. Helped by a photographic memory, which allows her to quote obscure laws on cue, she threw her energies into trying to have his election declared illegal. Her blog was launched that summer, and her first lawsuits – seeking to get California's Secretary of State to demand to see a copy of the then-Democratic candidate's birth certificate – was filed a few weeks later.

But there is the issue of race. If President Obama had white skin, the "birther" question wouldn't exist. Protesters at recent Tea Party events, including Dr Taitz, are almost all white. Are the noisy right inserting themselves into the foreground of US politics motivated by a degree of racism?

"That's an interesting question," she replies. "I would answer: in 2008, whites voted for Barack Obama in large numbers, close to 50-50. But nearly 90 per cent of blacks voted for Obama. So what does that tell you? I would say that the blacks of this country showed themselves to be more racist than whites."

This is very far from a denial. And it serves as a reminder of the deep-seated nature of the divides that currently underpin America's fractious political landscape, and are fuelling the small but noisy minority whom Dr Taitz has come to represent.

"The White House is trying to harass and intimidate anyone who speaks up by labelling them a racist, or a right-wing conspiracist. You know why? Because they talk about the issues. They refuse to show the birth certificate that will prove he is not a fraud. But whatever they try, we are not going away."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments