Birth of an Obsession
With her strong will, busy travel schedule and breathless blogging, Laguna Niguel dentist Orly Taitz has become the most controversial figure in the effort to prove that President Barack Obama is foreign-born
Before she addressed the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States on March 13, Dr. Orly Taitz thought about his son and her sons and nearly started to cry.
This was after she had woken up at 3 a.m., headed to Kinko’s in Laguna Niguel, photocopied hundreds of pages, gotten on Interstate 5 heading south, answered questions on her cell phone from a radio station, caught a flight in San Diego, sat for a few hours in Salt Lake City, caught another flight, landed in Spokane, picked up a rental car, driven two hours in falling snow along the Washington-Idaho border, parked, entered University Ballroom at the University of Idaho, and then taken a seat to listen to a speech from Chief Justice John Roberts.
“This is a man who has his priorities straight,” said the law-school faculty member who introduced Roberts, going on to describe how Roberts had skipped part of the pre-event reception to be at his son’s baseball game.
That got Taitz thinking. She has three sons: One’s a singer with an “Elvis Presley voice,” another is a tenth-grade AP student who loves math and basketball, and another is studying to be a doctor at an Ivy League school. Since November of last year, Taitz has been “criss-crossing the country”; talking with activists, law-enforcement officers and government officials; filing lawsuits and finding plaintiffs; and speaking at events. She has had to hire extra help at her two dental offices; she can count on one hand the number of times she has been able to sit down and watch TV; and, worst, she has missed awards ceremonies, sports tournaments and family dinners with her sons. Her mascara-rimmed eyes teared up as she thought about all the time she’s never getting back.
After Roberts gave his talk, he took questions from the audience. Taitz, in her black, turtleneck sweater and gold pendant, was the first person at the microphone. She explained that she was a lawyer who had come all the way from Southern California. She asked Roberts whether he was “aware of some illegal activity that is going on in the Supreme Court of the United States,” and then mentioned that she had printed out a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures asking for an investigation into the fact that “Barack Hussein Obama, a.k.a. Barry Soetoro, is totally ineligible to be president.” Audience members chuckled as she was interrupted by Roberts—“Thank you very much, ma’am”—and told that she could hand her suitcase full of documents to the security personnel in the room.
* * *
Outside the Santa Ana Courthouse in April, the day that disgraced ex-sheriff Mike Carona was to be sentenced for witness tampering, Taitz met with the Orange County press corps. The journalists had assembled to cover the ruling, but they instead found themselves being addressed by a woman with blond hair, long eyelashes, a low-cut blouse and hands full of binders. Taitz first approached the TV camera crews, but after a few moments of chatter, they directed her to the reporters a few feet away. “I know you,” she said to then-Los Angeles Times staff writer Christine Hanley—who, Taitz then implied, worked for Obama. As she handed out bound-and-laminated copies of her hundred-page legal pleadings to reporters, including the Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley, Taitz smiled and pontificated in her Eastern European accent about the clerks of the Supreme Court whom she believed had been sabotaging her lawsuits.
There’s a term some use for people like Taitz, and she doesn’t like it. It’s “birther”—or, if you want to be really mean, “birfer.” (The controversy was born on the Internet, so naturally the Internet gave it a goofy name.) While rumors about Obama’s background and citizenship simmered throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, after Election Day, those rumors coalesced into a near-religion for a group of true believers. To Taitz and the unknown number of people who agree with her, Barack Obama isn’t president and probably wasn’t even born in the U.S. Taitz, a Laguna Niguel dentist with a law degree from an online academy, has been awarded a few creative variations on the birther term: “The Queen Bee of Birferstan” is probably the best.
“That’s demeaning,” Taitz says. “I don’t call anybody names.”
This isn’t quite true. She calls Obama a “usurper” and an “arrogant jerk from Africa and Indonesia.” She called a judge an “idiot.” And she calls anyone who stands in her way an “Obama thug.” Taitz has built a sizable following on her blog; in the comments for each post at orlytaitzesq.com, you can read a few more names for people whom Taitz doesn’t like: “traitors,” “Muslims,” “terrorists.”
In the past eight months, Taitz’s face has become one of the most recognizable of what its adherents prefer to call the “eligibility” movement, and her actions have been some of the most controversial. Her end goal is simple—to remove Obama from office—but her methods have sometimes put her at odds with other anti-Obama activists. And that’s not to mention the legion of Obama supporters who have assembled evidence claiming that Taitz is, at best, a liar and, at worst, treasonous.
Ask about Taitz’s motivations, and she’ll tell you about her background. She immigrated to the United States from Israel in 1987; before Israel, she lived in what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia. She says it’s her upbringing that initially caused her to be suspicious of Obama. “I was just like any other mom; I didn’t do anything different from any other mother,” she says, her accent turning mother into muddah. “And it’s just during this last election, I became really concerned because I came from a communist country. I saw the things that Obama is saying that really did not make sense and that concerned me. One, of course, that had to do with the all-civilian army. And I saw footage of children dressed in uniforms, saluting Obama and doing drills. That reminded me of young communists.”
(Unsure what she’s referring to? Google “Obama civilian army” and “Obama children drills.” That’ll bring up the appropriate World Net Daily articles and FOX News clips.)
The mistrust turned into something stronger when Taitz received an e-mail claiming there was evidence that Obama wasn’t born in America. “At first, I thought it was a hoax,” she says. “I didn’t believe it.” But then, in October, she filled out the “contact” form on the California Secretary of State website, asking if the secretary verifies the eligibility of presidential candidates. The response was no. “I was shocked,” Taitz says.
She fired off a round of letters to the editors of local newspapers, arguing that Obama didn’t meet the constitutional requirements to be president. The only one to publish her words was the Westminster Herald. But that was enough. Someone read the letter in the newspaper and called Taitz at her dental office to invite her to speak at an upcoming meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform in Garden Grove, the far-right anti-immigrant group whose projects include a boycott of Mexico. There, she told the story of her own legal immigration to the United States, and afterward, she was approached by Buena Park radio pastor Wiley Drake (recently in the news because he publicly admitted to praying for Obama’s death). After chatting a little about immigration, the conversation turned to Obama’s birth certificate. Drake invited Taitz onto his radio show. On the air, the two discussed what they thought of the Usurper, and then Drake asked, “Well, what can we do?”
Taitz’s answer: “We can sue.”
This would not be the first lawsuit filed to challenge Obama. Pennsylvania lawyer Philip Berg made headlines in August 2008 by attempting to block the Democratic National Committee’s endorsement of Obama. Berg is a Democrat with history: He’d once served as Montgomery County Democratic Party chairman and as deputy attorney general in that state. He supported Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, but he insists his problem with Obama is constitutional, not political. He also had spent part of the past seven years suing the Bush administration to prove that 9/11 was an inside job. A judge threw out his first Obama suit for one reason: standing. Berg couldn’t prove he would be materially damaged by Obama’s presidency.
In Taitz’s mind, Drake’s being a vice-presidential candidate running on the American Independent ticket with Alan Keyes gave him standing. So Taitz filed her first eligibility lawsuit, Keyes v. Bowen, on Nov. 13, asking that California Secretary of State Debra Bowen investigate Obama (see Matt Coker’s “The Preacher vs. the President-elect,” Dec. 17, 2008).
But her real entrance onto the national stage came in early December. Political activist Robert Schulz is an engineer by trade, but he bills himself as a constitutional scholar. Others merely call him a tax cheat: A federal judge held him in contempt of court in May 2008 for refusing to comply with an earlier injunction ordering his We the People Foundation to stop teaching people how to “legally” avoid payroll taxes (it wasn’t legal). But later that year, his cause wasn’t taxes; it was Obama. Schulz took out two full-page ads in the Chicago Tribune asking President-elect Obama to hand over a number of documents at a press conference Schulz would be holding on Dec. 8.
Obama didn’t show up for the conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Schulz had rented out the room), but Taitz did. So did Berg and a number of other activists and lawyers agitating against Obama. Taitz, who was invited by Schulz, spoke for several dozen minutes about her legal actions against Obama. “She was interesting,” Schulz says. “I could tell she hadn’t been through press conferences before. Instead of good, short, powerful statements . . . God bless her, but she had a tendency to want to go through all the details. She’s passionate, no question about that.”
The conference earned Taitz mentions on Slate and Salon; the latter reported that “Taitz . . . kept making stranger and stranger assertions. At one point, she asked why the government had fined broadcasters for Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction,’ but didn’t intervene to force the media to report on Obama’s allegedly phony birth certificate.”
A few days earlier, the California Supreme Court had dismissed Taitz’s lawsuit asking for an emergency order to halt certification of the election results on behalf of Gail Lightfoot, the Libertarian vice-presidential candidate who had been on Ron Paul’s ticket in California. The dismissal just led Taitz to refile in the United States Supreme Court on Dec. 12. But on the day after the presidential inauguration came an event that seemed to shake Taitz to her core: She says her case inexplicably “disappeared” from the court’s online docket. It was only after “hundreds” of phone calls from Taitz and her supporters that, a day later, the case reappeared. Workers in the Supreme Court’s office told her it was due to a computer glitch that affected multiple cases. To Taitz, the whole thing smacked of foul play.
“I don’t know if it was hacking from outside, or whether it was hacking from inside, or if it was someone who works within the Supreme Court did it in order to show there are no challenges to Obama’s eligibility, but this is a serious issue,” Taitz says. “I think this is more of a scandal than many other issues. This, actually, might be another Watergate.”
On Jan. 26, the court declined to hear that case. Taitz thought she should try to find out why. She showed up at a lecture being given by Justice Antonin Scalia in Los Angeles and asked, during the Q&A session, whether he would hear her lawsuit. “He said, ‘Bring the case,’” she recalls. “So I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you hear the previous case, Lightfoot v. Bowen? And he kept saying, ‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. I don’t know.’” During the book-signing after Scalia’s talk, Taitz made sure she was the last person in line. When she got face-to-face with the justice, she had him sign two books—including a tome costing more than $100—to have more time to grill him about Lightfoot. The answers she got, Taitz says, were troubling: The court’s clerks must have prevented him from reading her pleadings and those of other eligibility lawsuits. To her, that’s the only plausible reason why he wouldn’t remember.
* * *
It’s difficult to estimate how many people believe that Obama isn’t eligible to be president. Berg claims the number is around 15 million (he’d like to see awareness reach 75 million, at least). World Net Daily, a right-wing news site that publishes a steady stream of Obama-slamming stories, reportedly has gathered 380,000 signatures for its petition related to the matter. But, as with any online petition, there’s no way to know how many of those are duplicates or fakes. Taitz has been able to direct her readers to flood government officials with so many e-mails, phone messages and letters that they eventually return her phone calls.
What isn’t difficult is understanding why someone would buy the eligibility idea. Taitz, even with her tendency to misuse pronouns and mispronounce words, can put together an explanation in a few minutes that actually sounds compelling.
It goes like this:
Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the president of the United States must be, among other things, a “natural-born citizen.” There’s disagreement as to what that means (more on that later), but there’s no dispute that it requires a president to have been an American citizen at the time of his or her birth. Obama says he was born in Honolulu in 1961, but he has never publicly produced his original birth certificate—that piece of paper parents get when they have a new child, which features the name of the hospital as well as the name of the attending physician. Responding to rumors that Obama’s middle name is “Muhammad,” the Obama campaign in June 2008 published a scanned image of his Certificate of Live Birth (COLB), a short-form printout that doesn’t list hospital or doctor.
Taitz and others say they have reason to doubt the veracity of Obama’s COLB. Forensic experts have set up web pages and signed affidavits saying it’s a forgery. There’s a law on the books in Hawaii that allows foreign-born children to obtain a Hawaiian COLB. And the information on a late-registered COLB doesn’t need to be verified by anyone; it’s based solely on the testimony of one parent. On top of all that, there’s a recording and transcript of Obama’s Kenyan grandmother telling an interviewer that she was present when Barack Obama was born in Africa. And in 1981, Obama traveled to Pakistan; at the time, though, there was a ban on American passport holders entering that country.
In light of all these and other facts, Taitz argues that Obama should be forced to release his entire hospital-birthing file, passport information and college records.
The problem is most of the above facts aren’t true.
For starters, the Pakistan “travel ban” is a complete fabrication based on zero evidence and completely contradicted by State Department records and a 1981 New York Times article. The full transcript from Obama’s grandmother shows that she never said he was born in Kenya—in fact, she repeatedly said he was born in Hawaii. The law allowing foreign-born children to obtain Hawaiian COLBs didn’t exist until 20 years after Obama was born, while Obama’s published COLB says his birth information was recorded four days after his birth in 1961. And those “forensic experts” who say Obama’s document is phony? There have only been three of them: Two haven’t published their real names or any verifiable credentials (one went by the moniker “TechDude”), and the other merely said that she can’t make a determination of a document’s authenticity based solely on a JPEG.
Still, the question remains: Where’s the birth certificate? In fact, there’s an electronic billboard in Buena Park, off Interstate 5 near Beach Boulevard, asking that very question. It’s owned by World Net Daily; one of its reporters, Les Kinsolving, brought the issue up at a White House press briefing on May 27. “It’s on the Internet,” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs chuckled. “I certainly hope by the fourth year of our administration that we’ll have dealt with this burgeoning birth controversy.”
Aside from World Net Daily, more traditional conservative media sources—not to mention politicians—have condemned the birth-certificate question as a waste of time. In January, talk-show host Michael Medved classified Taitz and the other eligibility attorneys as “crazy, nutburger, demagogue, money-hungry, exploitive, irresponsible, filthy conservative imposters.” Taitz sent him a letter demanding a retraction.
Even if Obama’s long-form, original birth certificate were to be made public, though, the questions from Taitz and others wouldn’t stop. Because there’s a second argument: that there’s no way that Obama could fit the definition of a “natural-born citizen.” By turning to Swiss philosophy texts read by the Founding Fathers, citing the infamous Scott v. Sanford Supreme Court decision as precedent (which denied citizenship to former slave Dred Scott and was later overturned) and disqualifying the presidency of Chester A. Arthur, Taitz is able to claim that a baby can only be a natural-born citizen if both parents were American citizens at the time of the baby’s birth. Obama’s Kenyan father was a British subject.
While mainstream news sources such as Politifact and FactCheck.org have tried to debunk the bulk of the eligibility argument, the best place to see all the evidence is at the coterie of “anti-birther” websites that have sprung up. ObamaConspiracy.org, for example, meticulously examines each and every eligibility claim, almost wholly relying on original research and primary documents. NativeBornCitizen.wordpress.com goes through eligibility lawsuits and argues with them, point by point.
It sometimes seems as though the “anti-birther” community is just as obsessed as the people it keeps an eye on. On Politijab.com, there’s an entire forum devoted to Taitz, complete with topics such as “Orly’s Facebook Page” and “How Long Until Orly’s Breakdown?” At YesToDemocracy.com, bloggers provide regular updates on the latest birther activities, with some choice digs at the “nitrous-huffing,” “cavity creep” that is Orly Taitz.
“It’s just fascinating,” says Bob Haggard, a frequent poster on Politijab’s Orly Taitz forum. “She runs around the country doing things that amount to absolutely nothing. She tells her followers that she ‘files’ all sorts of documents, but she never files anything. She drops stuff off.”
Patrick McKinnion of Yes to Democracy puts it a different way: “There’s a certain amount of fascination with unbridled insanity, and that’s what you’re seeing with the birthers: a level of hatred that borders, if not absolutely pole-vaults, into insanity.”
* * *
Orly Taitz owes any fame she has to the Internet, so when her blogs started acting strangely, she got upset. In the first months of 2009, she posted updates about her legal cases on both drorly.blogspot.com and defendourfreedoms.us. But they would become unavailable without notice, and users would face porn pop-ups and warnings that they were entering a site that could damage their computer. Worse, the PayPal account she used to raise donations wouldn’t accept new contributions. Like any law-abiding citizen would, she sent complaints about these “cyber-crimes” to the local police, the FBI and the Supreme Court of the United States.
While Taitz believed she had been hacked—possibly by Obama thugs—her New Jersey-based webmaster, Lisa Ostella, wasn’t so sure. If Taitz’s site had been hacked, that would mean the security of all of Ostella’s clients was compromised. So, in March, she asked Taitz to rescind her complaint to the FBI and stop making unsubstantiated claims about hacking, or else find a new webmaster. Taitz opted for the latter.
It’s not totally clear what happened, but defendourfreedoms.us ended up in Ostella’s hands, and Taitz says that a commenter using the handle “Agent 88” started posting nasty things about her. To Taitz, there was no doubt: This was Lisa Liberi, a paralegal working for Philip Berg, the Pennsylvania eligibility attorney. Weeks earlier, someone had told Taitz that Liberi had a criminal record, so she investigated. She found that a woman named Lisa Liberi had a long rap sheet of fraud, forgery and theft in San Bernardino. Taitz sent Berg a “Ceize and Desist” [sic] letter, telling Berg to investigate Liberi (she also accused him of plagiarizing her legal pleadings, an accusation he has in turn leveled at her). Then she sent out “Dossier #6” (Taitz has a habit of sending out “dossiers” of Obama-related miscellanea to government officials) to, supposedly, 26,000 media outlets. In the dossier: Liberi’s home address, phone number and full Social Security number.
And that’s how Taitz ended up being sued by Berg, Ostella, Liberi and others in federal court in Pennsylvania. On May 17, Berg posted on his website, ObamaCrimes.com:
I regretfully advise you that I had to file a lawsuit against Orly Taitz, Esquire, as she has gone too far. Months ago, I advised Orly that I would not work with her because our legal styles were so different.
However, I decided not to bad mouth her.
Well, Orly decided to take me down and she states through my very able paralegal, Lisa [sic]. I cannot understand why she would want to take me down unless she’s working for Obama.
Ostella declined to comment for this story. For Berg, the lawsuit—for slander, privacy violations and harassment—offered a chance for him to finally say what he’d been thinking about Taitz: She’s a menace and possibly an Obama plant. “When you really look at what she has accomplished over the past couple of months, I think it’s nothing,” Berg says. “She’s hurt the cause. I suggest she goes back to practicing dentistry.” Berg says the headlines she generates, about ambushing Supreme Court justices and allegations of government-perpetrated hacking, only serve to make the eligibility movement look nuts. “And we’re not nuts,” Berg says.
Taitz maintains that she was only spreading information that was already public about Liberi, and she has speculated that Berg might be the one working for Obama. But the lawsuit has divided the eligibility community of online-radio hosts and bloggers into two camps: for Taitz and against her. A few people who previously worked with Taitz no longer will speak on the record about her, for fear of her posting their personal information on her blog and directing her followers to harass them. And in the past month or so, a 30-page document purporting to be an anonymous complaint to the State Bar of California about Taitz has circulated on the Web. The Bar doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations; Taitz says she hasn’t been contacted about the complaint. Still, it’s a fairly exhaustive document of all the ways that Taitz may have crossed the line as a lawyer, from her out-of-court communications with judges to not-so-veiled calls for armed insurrection if the legal process doesn’t eventually get Obama removed. (In February, for example, the complaint alleges she posted, “The simple fact is that we are long overdue for another Rebellion in this nation, and I heartily endorse the idea of having one again very soon, preferably starting THIS year!”)
On that last charge, Orly-watchers are nervous. “In my opinion, Orly herself is not dangerous in the sense that she would pull the trigger on the president,” says Haggard. “She is dangerous in that she attracts people who might.”
But Taitz’s following still appears to be strong, possibly because she’s the most omnivorous eligibility activist around: She simultaneously makes demands for Obama’s birth certificate while also arguing for a narrow reading of “natural-born citizen.” In addition to her lawsuits on behalf of failed presidential candidates, she says, she has rounded up more than 100 military officers—many of whom are retired—to sign on to her quo warranto legal pleadings that challenge the president (the argument being that a military officer has a right to know if the commander in chief is legit). And she has participated in quasi-legal activities, such as the “citizen grand juries” that trace their legal authority back to the Magna Carta’s rules about lords and barons.
“She’s a tiger,” says Gail Lightfoot. “She’s relentless. She’s not going to let go of this. She absolutely is not going to give up.”
Taitz admits it gets hard sometimes. Her husband objects to all the time spent away from home, late-night phone calls and money spent flying across the country. Taitz wishes she could see her sons more. And she’s increasingly convinced her life is in danger, most likely because of personal attention from Obama. Two weeks ago, her husband’s car went to the shop with mechanical problems. Then her car had a fuel leak.
And then she got this blog comment: “Did you know that if you tried your citizens’ arrest bullshit and tried to forcibly remove the president, I and millions of others would shoot you on spot and burn your body for the world to see???????? YOU LITTLE FUCK.” After filing a report with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, she traced the commenter’s IP address to Everett, Washington. Suddenly, everything clicked. “I’m wondering if it’s someone who knows Obama,” she says, “because his mother, Anne Dunham, used to study at the University of Seattle, Washington. This person is at Everett, Washington, which is very close to Seattle.”
She’s currently looking for volunteers to investigate the matter in Washington. And, if she needs to, Taitz will go there herself.
More about and from Orly Taitz can be found on Navel Gazing.