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Bishop Ron McRae of the Anabaptist Church of North America calls Sarah Onyango Obama, presidential candidate Barack Obama’s elderly step-grandmother. McRae, in Pennsylvania, speaks to Mrs. Obama in Kenya over a garbled and troubled telephone connection; Mrs. Obama uses at least one translator, Vitalis Akech Ogombe (a cousin of Obama’s and the grandson of Sarah Obama), because she speaks Luo and Swahili. (Apparently some, if not all, of the conversation is translated between English, Swahili, Luo, then back to Swahili, and then into English.) Additionally, the conversation takes place during a riotous celebration, and on the Kenyan side is being heard through a speakerphone. McRae set the conversation up through a contact, Kweli Shuhubia, a Kenyan Christian evangelist McRae knows as “Brother Tom,” and who, in an exchange of emails, apparently demanded money and goods for setting up the “operation,” as he and McRae call it. The telephone conversation lasts 14 minutes, and McRae apparently does not inform the Kenyans that they are being recorded. The resulting audiotape creates a firestorm of controversy over President Obama’s supposed birth in Kenya, because it appears that Mrs. Obama says she saw him born in Kenya. McRae quickly makes an edited portion of the audiotape available on the Internet. It says in part:
McRae: - “Could I ask her about his actual birthplace? I would like to see his birthplace when I come to visit Kenya in December. Was she present when he was born in Kenya?”
Ogombe: - “She says yes she was. She was present when Obama was born.”
The edited version does not contain the next portion:
McRae: - “Okay, when I come in December, I would like to go by the place, the hospital where he was born. Could you tell me where he was born? Was he born in Mombasa?”
Ogombe: - “No. Obama was not born in Mombasa. He was born in America.”
McRae: - “Whereabouts was he born? I thought he was born in Kenya.”
Ogombe: - “He was born in America, not in Mombasa.”
McRae: - “Do you know where he was born? I thought he was born in Kenya. I was gonna go by and see where he was born.”
Ogombe: - “Hawaii. She says he was born in Hawaii. In the state of Hawaii, where his father, his father was also learning there. The state of Hawaii.”
McRae: - “I thought she said she was present. Was she able to see him being born in Hawaii?”
Translator: - “No, no.… She was not… she was here in Kenya. Obama was born in America.… Because the grandmother was back in Kenya and Obama was born in America, where he is from, where his father was learning, learning in America, the United States.”
Instead of posting the entire audiotape, McRae will continue to insist that Sarah Obama confirmed Obama’s Kenyan birth. McRae submits an affidavit that states in part: “Though some few younger relatives, including Mr. Ogombe (one of the translators), have obviously been versed to counter such facts with the common purported information from the American news media that Obama was born in Hawaii, Ms. Sarah Hussein Obama was very adamant that her grandson, Senator Barack Hussein Obama, was born in Kenya, and that she was present and witnessed his birth in Kenya, not the United States. When Mr. Ogombe attempted to counter Sarah Obama’s clear responses to the question, verifying the birth of Senator Obama in Kenya, I asked Mr. Ogombe how she could be present at Barack Obama’s birth if the senator was born in Hawaii, but Ogombe would not answer the question, instead he repeatedly tried to insert that, ‘No, no, no. He was born in the United States!’” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, notes that a March 2007 story in the Chicago Tribune featured a quote from reporter Tim Jones, who spoke with Sarah Obama and quoted her as saying that she received a letter announcing Obama’s birth and she “was so happy to have a grandchild in the US.” PolitiFact concludes that the audiotape as presented was “tightly… edited” to give a false impression that Mrs. Obama had seen Barack Obama being born in a Kenyan hospital. (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 ; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 3/6/2009; St. Petersburg Times 4/7/2011) McRae will release his edited audiotape in the last week of October 2008, in an apparent attempt to influence the upcoming presidential election. (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 )
Explanation of Hoax - Investigative blogger Greg Doudna, who later obtains a copy of the unedited audiotape and makes it, and a transcript, available on the Internet, explains McRae’s reasoning behind the hoax. “In this conversation McRae sought to obtain evidence on tape in support of a conspiracy theory circulating in certain right-wing circles in America, namely, that Barack Obama Jr. was not born in Hawaii in 1961 as represented, but actually was secretly born in Kenya. According to this theory, Obama’s mother, then-18-year-old Ann Dunham, waited until about seven or eight months into her pregnancy to take a grueling transcontinental flight halfway across the world to Kenya, there to discover that because of her pregnancy she was not allowed by an airline to get on the plane back to the US, and so was forced to have her baby—the future president of the United States—in a hospital in Kenya. Motivated by a desire to ensure that her child would be regarded as a US citizen with all rights thereof, she or fellow-conspirator family members plotted to have [Obama’s] birth recorded in Hawaii as if it happened in Hawaii, including placing a notice in a Hololulu newspaper of the birth, which was published a few days later (see July 2008). The plot succeeded (so the story goes), and the secret of the true circumstances of Barack Obama Jr.‘s birth in Kenya was closely held by the family, so much so that neither Ann Dunham nor any other family member ever spoke of a trip of Ann Dunham to Kenya in all the years since.” The “conspiracy” would have worked, Doudna writes, had Obama not decided to run for president. “No witness, document, evidence, or testimony has been produced which locates Ann Dunham anywhere outside the United States at any time in her life prior to 1967, when she and young Barack Jr. went to live for several years in Indonesia. Neither the outgoing Bush administration, the Republican Party, the McCain campaign, nor any of Obama’s earlier rivals for the Democratic nomination disclosed any awareness of evidence that Obama was born in Kenya, or in any other way ineligible to be president. Yet the notion is fervently believed, like an urban legend that will not die.” (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 )
Audiotape Used in Lawsuit - The edited audiotape will be presented as “evidence” of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship in a lawsuit (see August 21-24, 2008).
Robert L. Schulz, a wealthy anti-tax activist from upstate New York and the chairman of the We the People Foundation, takes out the second of two ads in the Chicago Tribune questioning whether President Barack Obama is a “natural born citizen” and thusly eligible to be president. Schulz confirms that his non-profit foundation spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on the ads. The ads echo long-debunked claims that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is fraudulent (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). Cases challenging Obama’s citizenship have been thrown out of numerous state courts (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and the State of Hawaii has vouched for the authenticity of the Obama birth certificate, which by state law is locked in a state government vault with all other such “long form birth certificates” issued by Hawaiian officials (see July 1, 2009). Schulz’s ad raises the following claims:
The birth form released by Obama was “an unsigned, forged, and thoroughly discredited” live birth form, Schulz says. Digital and real copies of Obama’s birth certificate have been examined by experts, including members of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and pronounced real (see August 21, 2008).
According to Schulz, “Hawaiian officials will not confirm” that Obama was born in their state. Hawaiian officials initially did resist releasing a copy of the certificate, citing state privacy laws. However, Hawaii’s health director and head of vital statistics reviewed Obama’s birth certificate in the department’s vault and vouched for its authenticity (see October 30, 2008).
Schulz says that legal affidavits state Obama was born in Kenya. Those affidavits were filed by challengers to Obama’s citizenship, and those challenges have been dismissed by a variety of courts (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
Obama’s paternal grandmother is recorded on tape saying she attended Obama’s birth in Kenya, Schulz says. Schulz is referring to claims by street preacher Ron McRae who interviewed the second wife of Obama’s grandfather, Sarah Obama, via long-distance telephone (see October 16, 2008 and After). The audiotape clearly shows that the assembled Obama relatives, and the translator who spoke to McRae, repeatedly stated that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Schulz says that “US law in effect in 1961 [the year of Obama’s birth] denied citizenship to any child born in Kenya if the father was Kenyan and the mother was not yet 19 years of age.” Schulz is incorrect. US law states that any child born in the US is a legitimate citizen regardless of his parents’ nationalities and/or citizenships. Obama’s father had dual Kenyan/British citizenship, and his mother was a US citizen. Had Obama been born outside of US territory and his mother Ann Dunham been under 19 years of age, which she was, Obama would indeed not have been a citizen at the time of his birth, though the provisions of this law were subsequently loosened and made retroactive for government employees serving abroad and their families. The point is moot, because Obama was born in a hospital in Honolulu.
Schulz says that in 1965, Obama’s mother relinquished whatever Kenyan or US citizenship she and Obama had by marrying an Indonesian and becoming a naturalized Indonesian citizen. Schulz has produced no evidence to back this claim; Dunham did not file any of the documentation required to renounce one’s US citizenship, and even so, would not have jeopardized Obama’s citizenship in doing so. Obama and his mother moved to Indonesia in 1968, and returned to Hawaii while Obama was still in grade school. Schulz provides a reproduced Indonesian school document that states Obama’s citizenship at the time as “Indonesian,” but the same document lists Obama’s birthplace as “Honolulu, Hawaii.” (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008)
Schulz claims his challenges to Obama are not motivated by political partisanship. “We never get involved in politics,” he says of We The People. “We avoid it like the plague.” However, Schulz has done battle with local and state authorities for years; in 2007, a federal judge ordered him to shutter his Web site because he and his organization were, in the words of the Justice Department’s tax division, using the site to promote “a nationwide tax-fraud scheme.” Schulz now says he is being targeted by government operatives who are attempting to silence him. He says his group attempted to buy a similar ad in USA Today, but could not afford the cost. (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008; Koppelman 12/5/2008)
Right-wing talk show host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see March 23, 1974) claims to have evidence that President Obama was born in Kenya and not in the US. MSNBC host Chris Matthews interviews Liddy about the claim, which rests on long-discredited statements purporting to be from Obama’s “grandmother” Sarah Obama. Liddy says that Sarah Obama, who is not Obama’s biological grandmother but the second wife of Obama’s grandfather and a woman the president calls “Granny Sarah,” filed “a deposition, which is a sworn statement, from the step-grandmother, who says, ‘I was present and saw him born in Mombasa, Kenya.’” The “deposition” claim comes from street preacher Ron McRae, who interviewed Sarah Obama in her Kenyan home via telephone. Through a translator, Vitalis Akech Ogombe, Sarah Obama apparently misspoke and told McRae that she saw Barack Obama born in Mombasa; when McRae pressed for details, Ogombe and other family members present quickly corrected Sarah Obama’s error and repeatedly affirmed Obama’s birth in Hawaii. McRae, however, continued to press for what he considered a blurted-out truth the family was trying to hide (see October 16, 2008 and After). Salon columnist Alex Koppelman writes: “No matter, though, because people who believe in a conspiracy theory simply hear what they want to hear. So some birther sites have posted transcripts and YouTube clips that end abruptly with the mistranslation and don’t include the corrections. McRae, for his part, included the full translation in his affidavit—he thinks it’s all just part of the conspiracy.” McRae then filed a deposition claiming that Ogombe and the other family members he interviewed “have obviously been versed to counter such facts with the common purported information from the American news media that Obama was born in Hawaii.” Though Matthews attempts to elicit this material during his interview with Liddy, the radio host will continue to promulgate the claim that “Obama’s grandmother” watched his birth in a Mombasa hospital. (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008; Koppelman 7/23/2009) Obama’s presidential campaign released a verified copy of Obama’s birth certificate (see June 13, 2008), and a number of non-partisan organizations have subsequently verified its validity (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008).
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