Have you ever wondered where Republicans come up with their absurd ideas about what President Obama intends to do? According to Mitt Romney, Obama wants to take “In God We Trust” off money. In The Wall Street Journal today, Michael Mukasey, who is advising the Romney campaign although the Journal does not disclose that, claims Obama might release Omar Abdel Rahman, mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Mukasey readily admits to having no real evidence for such a preposterous scenario. So where do these lies get invented? Often they come from the conservative underground echo chamber.
Liberals talk a lot about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media that are on the mainstream radar. But liberals and mainstream journalists tend to forget that there is a fever swamp of crazed conspiracy theories and shockingly offensive rhetoric that exists in obscure right-wing websites and viral e-mail chains. As David Frum recently noted on his Daily Beast blog, it is impossible to understand the dog whistles you hear on Fox News if you aren’t familiar with the viral e-mail smears their audience believes in. Specifically, Frum was referring to Fox host Greg Gutfield’s line that “Obama is now out of the closet.… he’s officially gay for class warfare.” That’s a reference to the conservative e-mail meme that Obama is gay. Frum writes:
Fox is only the most visible part of a vast alternative reality. Fox’s coverage of the news cannot be properly understood in isolation, but only in conjunction with the rest of that system—and especially the chain emails that do so much to shape the worldview of Fox viewers.
I have a friend from a small town in Washington state. She gets e-mails forwarded from her right-wing uncle, which have sometimes come to him as part of a group of recipients that includes local high school teachers and administrators. Frequently, they are bigoted jokes that incorrectly assume President Obama is a Muslim. Here’s a typical recent one:
Just wanted to let you know—today I received my 2012 Social Security Stimulus Package. It contained two tomato seeds, cornbread mix, a prayer rug, a machine to blow smoke up my ass, 2 discount coupons to KFC, an “Obama Hope & Change” bumper sticker, and a “Blame it on Bush” poster for the front yard. The directions were in Spanish.
This apparently started as a Facebook post on the page of the Rutland County, Vermont, Republican Party.
For another example of a vicious anti-Obama e-mail that mocks his falsely alleged Islamic faith, check out this e-mail from a Tea Party group in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which jokes about Obama being beaten up by the founding gathers in heaven. The kicker is that Obama, being a Muslim, was expecting to be greeted by seventy-two virgins in heaven, but was instead met by seventy-two Virginians, such as George Washington and James Madison.
Sometimes, the e-mails are more substantive and they repeat demonstrably false assertions about policy matters. They also seem to circulate for years without being updated. A recent one complained that the US is under the boot of a “shadow government” of Obama’s czars. It listed Richard Holbrooke, who was special adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan before he passed away in 2010, as “Afghanistan czar.” It inaccurately described Holbrooke, a politically moderate career foreign policy official, as, “Ultra liberal anti-gun former Governor Of New Mexico, Pro-Abortion and pro-drug legalization. Wants to dissolve the 2nd Amendment.” It’s not even clear with whom they have Holbrooke confused. Other e-mails repeat more common conservative lies, such as claiming that the Affordable Care Act will extend health insurance to undocumented immigrants.