Almost as soon as Orly Taitz answered her cellphone, before I could even ask a single question, the leader of the movement determined to disprove President Obama’s American citizenship breathlessly told me the president was “connected” to 39 bogus Social Security numbers, including one for a deceased person born in 1890. “If Obama is not stopped, we will be in Nazi Germany!” Taitz, who has a thick Russian accent, shrieked. “Forgery is a criminal matter and he committed it. Obama should be in the Big House, not the White House!”
Since Taitz’s “birther” campaign began, in the summer of 2008, during the late stages of the Democratic primaries, the dentist, lawyer, and mother of three has begun winning friends in high places. Taitz told me excitedly that since she opened her Facebook account, she has had to hire a staff of five to process the thousands of friend requests she receives each week.
Among those requesting her online friendship, Taitz said, are House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. She has even received a request, she said, from someone saying they are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I personally checked [the request] and determined that it came from his office,” Taitz said.
Among Taitz’s “biggest supporters,” she said, is CNN anchor Lou Dobbs. “I did Lou’s radio show for half an hour and he was very understanding,” she told me. “He became a supporter and since then he became a supporter of the whole [Obama eligibility] issue.” Indeed, during the July 15 broadcast of Dobbs’ radio show, he praised Taitz’s work, suggested Obama might be “undocumented,” and demanded the president “show the documents” to prove he was born in the United States.
When I spoke to Taitz, she had just finished taping an interview with The Colbert Report. By her own count, she has been interviewed by no fewer than 170 news outlets around the world. While she’s grateful for the exposure, the scrutiny of the media seems to have her in a persistent state of heightened exasperation.
“This is Nazi Germany! These are brownshirts in action!” Taitz exclaimed when asked about recent segments by Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, and Jon Stewart mocking her campaign and questioning her credibility. “Anybody who does not take Obama’s word at face value will be harassed by brownshirts like Rachel Maddow.”
Taitz’s apparent view of present-day American life through the lens of World War II Europe may be due in part to her upbringing in the Soviet republic of Moldova and then in Israel, where she lived until she immigrated to the U.S. in 1987. Now a resident of Buena Park, California, Taitz said she feared Obama would transform her adopted country into a totalitarian state as soon as he stepped onto the national stage. Reading online discussions about Obama’s supposed plan to create a “civilian national security force” aroused Taitz’s early alarm.
“I realized that Obama was another Stalin—it’s a cross between Stalinist USSR and Nazi Germany,” she said.
After becoming transfixed by online conspiracy theories claiming Obama’s family had forged his birth certificate in Hawaii, Taitz snapped into action. She filed a lawsuit in June 2008 with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen demanding an investigation into Obama’s eligibility to serve as president. Taitz’s plaintiff in the case was Wiley Drake, an Orange County radio preacher and former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention who has acknowledged he once publicly prayed for Obama’s death.
The lawsuit went nowhere, but Taitz was undeterred. She barnstormed the country, from state to state, barging down the corridors of secretaries of state and federal law-enforcement officials, demanding they compel Obama to release his complete hospital birthing file, college records, and passport information. While accomplishing little of substance, Taitz’s campaign found symbolic support from Republican lawmakers from local statehouses to Capitol Hill.
In March, nine Republicans signed on to a so-called birther bill proposing that future presidential candidates must prove their citizenship before becoming eligible to campaign. The bill was modeled after a similar piece of legislation introduced by right-wing lawmakers in Missouri. One month later, after Taitz brought her campaign to the office of Kentucky’s deputy Secretary of State Leslie Fugate, Fugate issued aletter to the state’s attorney general calling for “President Barack Obama’s eligibility to be on the ballot in Kentucky.” So far, state officials have ignored the letter.
On July 8, Taitz filed a motion in a federal court on behalf of a U.S. Army major named Stefan Cook, who refused to serve in Afghanistan on the grounds that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore was not eligible to serve as commander in chief. A judge dismissed the case a week later, saying, “Federal court only has authority of actual cases and controversies.” The case was moot, the judge concluded, because Cook had already been told by the Army he did not have to deploy in Afghanistan—though the soldier declared moments before his hearing that he would be “on the airplane the next day over Afghanistan” if Obama could simply prove his citizenship.
By the time the ruling was handed down, Cook’s case had become a conservative cause célèbre. Among the media bigwigs who publicized the case were Sean Hannity and Dobbs, who segued into a segment on Cook by announcing, “New questions are being raised about Obama’s eligibility to serve as president.” On his radio show the same day, Dobbs said Cook “should be taken seriously. There are real questions here that need to be answered.”
Taitz told me that Dobbs invited her on his nightly TV program to discuss the Cook case but wound up calling in sick. Instead, Dobbs’ fill-in, Kitty Pilgrim, covered the story. Pilgrim was visibly embarrassed by the topic, remarking, “CNN has investigated the issue, found no basis for the questions about the president’s birthplace… There is overwhelming evidence that proves the president’s birth certificate is real.”
Taitz told me Dobbs assured her after the broadcast that he would bring her back on his program for a sympathetic treatment. But Taitz’s appearance was canceled when CNN President Jon Klein declared Dobbs’ questioning of Obama’s citizenship a “dead story,” then told Variety’s Brian Lowry, “It would not be legitimate for Lou or anyone else at CNN to explore whether Barack Obama is an American citizen.”
Deprived of an appearance with Dobbs, her “biggest supporter,” Taitz takes heart from the support she receives from the conservative online community and a cadre of Republican members of Congress.
“Even if I have to be a punching bag, it is still better than listening to the silence from the mainstream media,” she said. “More and more people support me because they are sick and tired of the mainstream media acting like Nazi brownshirts and calling names.”