Obama conspiracy theory messages flood key US election states
Conservative groups are behind a bizarre film that claims the US president is the secret love child of Communist agitator
A flood of strident and increasingly bizarre anti-Obama material is flooding key states as the White House race enters the home stretch, including a mail-out DVD that claims the US president is the secret lovechild of a Communist Party activist.
Along the highway that connects the beach towns of Florida's east coast, giant billboards show the president, whom some on the far right have falsely accused of being Muslim, bowing to a Saudi king. Another blares "Stop Obama!" and shows a nuclear warhead with "Iran" painted on it aimed at Israel, a particularly potent message with this area's many Jewish voters.
More notable is the DVD dropping into voters' mailboxes claiming that the president is the result of an illicit relationship between his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party loyalist. Its makers claim to have distributed four million copies.
The DVD offers the latest example of how secretive forces outside the presidential campaigns can sweep into battleground states days before the election.
This summer, a group of well-financed conservative activists went to the unusual length of arranging a focus group to test a variety of anti-Obama films. Conducted by Frank Luntz, the well-known Republican research analyst, a 30-person focus group looked at three choices: Dinesh D'Souza's 2016: Obama's America, which theorises that the president's political beliefs were shaped by the radical "anticolonial" views of his Kenyan father; The Hope and the Change, a softer critique of the president that features interviews with disaffected former Obama supporters; and Dreams From My Real Father, which posits the implausible theory that the president's real father is Davis, who indoctrinated him with Marxist views early on. Those who commissioned Luntz's research, according to people with firsthand knowledge of their motives, wanted to determine whether any of these films would be worth backing. Luntz declined to say who commissioned his research.
The Hope and the Change, directed by Stephen Bannon and produced by Citizens United, the conservative political advocacy group, tested highest with focus groups and is now running on local cable stations
Many conservatives also loved D'Souza's film and wanted it to have wider distribution. It tested poorly, however, and Luntz warned his clients that it could undermine the support of the independents they hoped to woo.
Focus groups were revolted by Dreams From My Real Father, with its conspiracy theory paranoia and dubious evidence. It compares photos of the president and Davis, noting that they have similar noses and freckles. It also purports to have uncovered nude photos of Obama's mother, a doctor of anthropology, in a bondage magazine.
Luntz's clients were not surprised. "Their thinking was, 'I want to know if it's as bad as I think it is,'" Luntz said.
But even though no major Republican activists stepped forward to finance its distribution, voters in Ohio and Florida have reported receiving the Dreams DVD.
The film is the work of Joel Gilbert, whose previous claims include having tracked down Elvis Presley in the witness protection programme and discovering that Paul McCartney is in fact dead.
Gilbert will not say where he received the money to distribute his movie.
He claims to have sent out four million copies, including 1.5 million in Florida alone.
"It's a private company, so we don't disclose who's part of it," he said. He also blamed the mainstream media for not looking deeper into the story he uncovered, telling The New York Times, "I hope you're not angry or jealous that I beat you to it and might win the Pulitzer Prize."
One voter from Stuart, Florida, who received the Dreams From My Real Father DVD in the mail last week said she was appalled.
"I thought, well, I'll take a look and see what it is," said the voter, Judy Cindrick. "But then it got to the part about the president's mother, and I was like, this is just something a bunch of crackpots put together."