Josh’s New Taxonomy of Birtherism

April 28, 2011 6:46 a.m.

As I noted yesterday, there’s a vast sociological literature demonstrating that after the central prediction of apocalyptic cults goes unfulfilled many of members of the group will not give up but rather intensify their belief. And so it goes with birtherism in the aftermath of the release of President Obama’s ‘long form’ birth certificate.

So as we move into D Day +1 I’ve been trying to put together a new and workable taxonomy of birtherism. And here are my preliminary findings. Notwithstanding birtherism’s roots in xenophobia and racism, the reactions have nonetheless been diverse. The birther movement has broken up into three broad contingents, with at least some overlap between the groups.

First comes what I’ll call ‘Fine, Whatever! Post-Birthers‘. These are the people who recognize, more or less grudgingly, that the release of the long form birth certificate finally settles whatever remote doubt might have existed over where President Obama was born and thus whether he is eligible to serve as president. The key though is that pretty few actual birthers fall into this category. Most were ‘birther curious‘ politicians who never came down hard in favor of birtherism.Second comes what I now term ‘Forensic Denialist Long Form Birthers‘. These are the folks who going on very theories deny or doubt the authenticity of the document released yesterday. Orly Taitz appears to be in this category, claiming, with no apparent reason, that an authentic document would have identified Obama’s father as “Negro” as opposed to “African.” More creatively, Jerome Corsi, author of the swift boat smear and leading birther now calls the Nordyke twins — two girls born one day after Obama — represent the “Rosetta Stone” of birtherism because the numbers on their birth certificates are lower than Obama’s notwithstanding being born a day later.

Most intriguing and the final broad category are the Racialist Birther Triumphalists. This group accepts the birth certificate as proof that Obama was born where and when he claims. But that doesn’t matter, they argue. And the birth certificate actually proves that President Obama’s father was not a citizen of the United States at the time of his birth. Ergo, seemingly based on no existing constitutional argument, Obama himself is not a ‘natural born’ citizen although he is a ‘native born’ citizen. Even within the RBT category, there appears to be a division between those who say Obama isn’t natural born because his dad was not a US citizen and those who claim that Obama is actual a dual-citizen of the British Empire, based on his father’s birth, and thus not capable of being President.

Those seem to be the three broad categories — Ryan Reilly has more details about the different permutations here. And further complicating the story is that many people, Corsi being one, seem to be both in the Forensic Denialist camp and the Racialist Birther Triumphalist camp.

I’m still working on limning the contours of the long form birther era. If you’ve got more subgroups or details or suggested revisions, please let me know.

Late Update: TPM Reader JL notes an important subgroup within ‘Fine, Whatever! Post-Birtherism.’ That is ‘Fine, you’re still black so how’d you get into Harvard’ post-birtherism most associated with Donald Trump.

Later Update: I’d neglected to note another subgrouping within Racialist Birther Triumphalists, though this one possibly might even be another genus. That’s the ‘Renouncers‘. Phil Berg for instance argues that a school boy Obama renounced his US citizenship and took Indonesian citizenship when he lived there as a child.

The TPM Journalism Fund: A New Way To Support TPM
We're launching the TPM Journalism Fund as an additional way for readers and members to support TPM. Every dollar contributed goes toward:
  • -Hiring More Journalists
  • -Providing free memberships to those who cannot afford them
  • -Supporting independent, non-corporate journalism
Are you experiencing financial hardship?
Apply for a free community-supported membership
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: