Clinton Campaign Started Obama Birther Claims in 2008-Truth! & Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
Hillary Clinton started the birther movement that questioned President Obama’s nationality during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign didn’t start the birther movement that followed President Obama throughout his two terms in office.
Clinton supporters did, however, bring the birther movement onto the national stage during the 2008 Democratic primaries by circulating emails and photos designed to raise questions about Obama’s religious beliefs and nationality.
The origin of the birther movement was called into question shortly after Donald Trump publicly dropped his years long birth crusade against Obama in September 2016. In an official campaign statement, Trump accused Hillary Clinton of starting the rumor in 2008 — which sent the internet into overdrive.
The Washington Post was one of the first publications to explore the origins of birtherism and claims about Obama being a “secret Muslim” in June 2008. The paper reported that rumors about Obama’s religion and nationality had been in wide circulation via forwarded emails since as early as January 2007. The paper found, however, that those claims could be traced back to a man named Andy Martin. Martin is an internet publisher who made the claim in August 2004 to “put some sizzle on the plate” because he was considering challenging Obama for a Senate seat:
Martin, a former political opponent of Obama’s, is the publisher of an Internet newspaper who sends e-mails to his mailing list almost daily. He said in an interview that he first began questioning Obama’s religious background after hearing his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In an Aug. 10, 2004, article, which he posted on Web sites and e-mailed to bloggers, he said that Obama had concealed his Muslim heritage. “I feel sad having to expose Barack Obama,” Martin wrote in an accompanying press release, “but the man is a complete fraud. The truth is going to surprise, and disappoint, and outrage many people who were drawn to him. He has lied to the American people, and he has sought to misrepresent his own heritage.” Martin’s article did not suggest an association between Obama and radical Islam.
Martin was trying to launch a Senate bid against Obama when he says he first ran the Democrat’s name by a contact in London. “They said he must be a Muslim. That was interesting to me because it was an angle that nobody had covered. We started looking. As a candidate you learn how to harness the Internet. You end up really learning how to work the street. I sort of picked this story up as a sideline.” Martin said the primary basis for his belief was simple — Obama’s father was a Muslim. In a defamation lawsuit he filed against the New York Times and others several months ago, Martin says that Obama “eventually became a Christian” but that “as a matter of Islamic law began life as a Muslim” due to his father’s religion.
From 2004 to 2007, birtherism gained momentum in a “whisper campaign.” Questions were posed and emails were circulated about Obama’s nationality and religious beliefs as he rose to prominence, even though the mainstream media didn’t cover the story.
That changed during the 2008 Democratic primaries that pitted Clinton against Obama. The Clinton campaign didn’t outright question Obama’s nationality or background, but staffers did strategically release photos and other tidbits that fed voter questions or suspicions about Obama’s background.
In December 2007, it was reported that two Clinton staffers were asked to resign due for circulating rumors about Obama being a Muslim. The fact that the staffers were asked to resign implies that Clinton herself did not approve of the tactic.
In February 2008, it was widely reported that Maggie Williams, a Clinton staffer, released a photo of Obama wearing traditional Somali garb in an apparent effort to fuel speculation or fears about his background:
In a statement, Williams didn’t deny releasing the photo and criticized Obama’s campaign for embracing the issue:
If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.
This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.
We will not be distracted.
So, rumors that Clinton personally started the birther movement are false. Its roots date back to August 2004, well before Clinton and Obama crossed paths. But Clinton staffers fueled speculation about Obama’s background that played into birtherism — it’s not clear whether or not Clinton was personally involved in those decisions. That’s why we’re calling this one “truth” and “fiction.”