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Friday, September 11, 2009

Versus: Who's Crazier -- Birthers or Truthers?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge Natural born American
  • Natural born American
This summer, anti-Obama protesters have showed up at the president's town-hall addresses on health-care reform with signs pushing the "birther" conspiracy theory, which asserts that Obama's presidency is illegitimate since he was born abroad.

Last weekend, White House "green-jobs czar" and veteran Bay Area activist Van Jones was forced out of the Obama Administration after conservatives raised questions about his signing a 2004 letter suggesting that Bush knew about and allowed the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to launching wars abroad. The letter was reminiscent of more extreme arguments by 9/11 "truthers," who believe the Bush Administration destroyed the World Trade Center for its own nefarious purposes.

With so much paranoia in the air on the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it seems an appropriate time for Versus to tackle a tough question: Who's crazier, birthers or truthers?

click to enlarge Seeing isn't always believing
  • Seeing isn't always believing
Let's start with the birthers. Like many conspiracy theories, the edifice of birther belief rests on various outgrowths of a single shaky premise: In this case, the notion that Obama can't produce adequate documentation of his birth within the U.S. Among the arguments birthers use is the supposed refusal of Obama, or authorities in the president's home state of Hawaii, to release a proper version of his birth certificate; the claim that the president, son of a Kenyan father and American mother, had dual citizenship, and was thus not a "natural born" U.S. citizen as required of presidential candidates by the Constitution; and the argument that Obama's birth certificate is meaningless, since the state of Hawaii allegedly issued such documents even to foreign-born babies.

Is your head hurting yet? Needless to say, the above sophistries are all bogus. But don't take our word for it -- take a look at a copy of Obama's birth certificate (pictured) for yourself. If you're still not convinced, browse a thorough debunking of birther claims in this November 2008 article on

On to the truthers. This is a conspiracy theory of older vintage, with a richer history of horseshit, so we won't even try to be comprehensive in assessing the movement's claims. Let's just tackle the shaky cornerstone of a premise, which in this case consists of the observation that the collapse of the twin towers is better explained as the result of a controlled demolition than airplane collisions. Adherents of this belief, including Brigham Young University physics professor Steven E. Jones, say that there has never been an adequate formal investigation into the possibility that explosives planted within the World Trade Center brought down the towers, rather than the extreme heat of burning jet fuel, which experts concluded caused the collapse of the buildings' steel skeletons.

As Jim Dwyer pointed out in a 2006 New York Times story, truthers aren't troubled by a few gaping holes in their theory. A couple examples: Controlled demolitions begin from the bottom of a building and explode upwards -- the opposite of what took place on 9/11. Additionally, demolition experts would have had to spend weeks prior to the collapse of the towers opening up walls and inserting hundreds of pounds of explosives, activity that could hardly have gone unnoticed. Truther ideas were also debunked in a report on the physics of the World Trade Center's collapse from the National Institutes of Science and Technology. Not to say that any intrusions of sanity have stopped this group's persistence; a recent truther film festival in Oakland was co-sponsored by those ever-vigilant defenders of paranoid thinking at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

So who's crazier, birthers or truthers? The analysis of this question requires some subtlety. The birther position -- that Obama's birth certificate is invalid for any number of reasons -- is fairly banal when compared to the insane grand narrative of truthers, whose conspiracy theory takes detours through the realms of physics and international politics. However, the birther position, supported as it is by a simple refusal to recognize that a birth certificate is, in fact, a birth certificate (see above, again) is more patently idiotic.

Our final verdict: Truthers are crazier. Birthers are dumber. In the name of the Illuminati, let's hope these people don't mingle among each other and reproduce.

Strait jacket photo   |   goodnight_photography

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Peter Jamison


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