The Washington Post carries a feature about attempting to discover who started the Obama=Muslim smear which has anything up to 13% of Americans convinced.
Danielle Allen, a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study, soon discovered that it wouldn't be easy to source the emails but also that 'virality' takes serious work.
While Allen was already an expert on the mechanics of politics, she fast began to learn the mechanics of the Internet. She discovered, for instance, that the recipe for launching a chain e-mail attack is not as simple as typing it up and hitting the send button to a long list of recipients. It takes effort to seed a chain mail that spreads as widely as the Obama missive, explained Jeff Bedser, president of the Internet Crimes Group, a company that helps corporations battle such broadsides. "Lighting that fire, getting something to have momentum, takes work," he said.Obama's unusual background, blackness and name helped.
But Martin was a false lead, a 'seed', as were others.
Allen discovered that theories about Obama's religious background had circulated for many years on the Internet. And that the man who takes credit for posting the first article to assert that the Illinois senator was a Muslim is Andy Martin.
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.
Where Allen kept coming back to was a libertarian conservative website, based in California, Free Republic - who are already in full paranoia mode with Allen's analysis' publication.
To: plangent; Grampa Dave; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Dog; EternalVigilance; Congressman Billybob; ...Sifting through hundreds of postings, she began to piece together their identities.
And if Obama gets elected. FReeRepublic will be on their "Enemies List".
Another Free Republic participant who attracted Allen's interest went by the handle "Eva." She was one of the first to write on the site about Obama's religion -- in November 2006 she began repeating the phrase "Once a Muslim, always a Muslim," when discussing Obama.
With the help of Allen's biographical sketch, The Post located Eva in rural Washington state. She is Donna Shaw, 60, a teacher who said Obama's ability to captivate audiences made her deeply uneasy because his "tone and cadence" reminded her of the child revivalist con-man preacher Marjoe Gortner.
"What I've come to realize is, the labor of generating an e-mail smear is divided and distributed amongst parties whose identities are secret even to each other,"[Allen] says. A first group of people published articles that created the basis for the attack. A second group recirculated the claims from those articles without ever having been asked to do so. "No one coordinates the roles," Allen said. Instead the participants swim toward their goal like a school of fish -- moving on their own, but also in unison.
"Citizens and political scientists must face the fact that the Internet has enabled a new form of political organization that is just as influential on local and national elections as unions and political action committees," she says. "This kind of misinformation campaign short-circuits judgment. It also aggressively disregards the fundamental principle of free societies that one be able to debate one's accusers."
- Interview with Danielle Allen - recommended (RealAudio)
- If you want to see what this sort of stuff is like see the website Expose Obama, whose missives I've been watching for a while.