Did you hear that the birthers, led by Laguna Niguel's Dr. Orly Taitz, have a new accusation against President Barack Obama, involving his social security number?
|Trevor Keen / OC Weekly|
|Like the blob, Taitz's theories change shape.|
Well that's wrong. Despite the headlines at sites like the Week
and the LA Times
's Brand X blog
, this accusation, based on speculation and suspect evidence, is quite old.
Though she only recently took out a newspaper ad focusing on it, Taitz has been harping on this theory for nearly two years. In her voluminous lawsuit complaints, she usually attaches "affidavits" from two private investigators she hired, who both say that searches of social-security number databases turn up dozens of numbers and addresses for Obama.
They're right, in a way. For example: I just typed the president's name into a public-records search field using LexisNexis, and got back more than 20 results, each supposedly representing a different person.
The thing is, though, even databases as comprehensive as LexisNexis are plastered with warnings that the results have not been verified. They're often generated from paperwork filled out from across the country; someone who jokingly submitted a credit-card application posing as the president's might turn up in one of these things. Sure enough, there's an entry that lists Obama as living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, also known as the White House. His supposed age? Twenty.
Interestingly, though, Taitz and her minions may have found one legitimate social security number for the president. At the beginning of this year, she posted an e-mail
(warning: mal-ware at that link) from a supporter saying that if you type a certain number into the government's Selective Service look-up tool,
along with the last name "Obama" and his date of birth--August 4, 1961--you get confirmation that Barack Obama's selective-service registration is active. When I tried it back in January, this indeed worked, suggesting that the number that had been posted was actually Obama's. Try it now, though, and you get the message that "you have exceeded the daily limit for the verification of these credentials," probably born of too many birthers trying to look up the same entry.
That number began with 042, which is a Social Security Administration's geographic code for Connecticut. Part of the conspiracy theory is that the number's fraudulent because Obama never lived in Connecticut. There's a few non-conspiracy explanations for how this came about--it may have simply been that Obama applied for a social security number while living abroad and his application was processed in a Connecticut office--but it's also helpful to keep in mind the disclaimer on the SSA's website archives
Note: One should not make too much of the "geographical code." It is not meant to be any kind of useable geographical information. The numbering scheme was designed in 1936 (before computers) to make it easier for SSA to store the applications in our files in Baltimore since the files were organized by regions as well as alphabetically. It was really just a bookkeeping device for our own internal use and was never intended to be anything more than that.
Obama's "fraudulent" social security numbers aren't merely part of a tossed-off tangent to Taitz's main theory about the president's birth certificate. Rather, they're almost the centerpiece of her stump speech. My theory is that Taitz feels more comfortable talking about the social-security number conspiracy than the birthplace conspiracy because it hasn't received as much attention; Anderson Cooper
, for example, hasn't devoted a segment to it
, and the governor of Hawaii
hasn't denounced it
. For most people, the claim that Obama has fraudulently used dozens of social security numbers is a novel one. The average person doesn't have ready counter-arguments against it, nor do they have evidence that's as clear an convincing as the Hawaiian health department's statement that Obama was "born in Hawai'i and is a natural-born citizen."
But the Obama social-security number conspiracy theory, while built on flimsy evidence, is perhaps more insidious than claims about his citizenship. You can almost imagine that a Kenyan-born, Hawaiian-raised person could slip through the cracks for the entirety of his life and attain the White House through a fluke, innocently fudging the facts surrounding his birth (to be clear, all the evidence suggests this is not the case). But with the social security numbers, the birthers posit Obama as a willing, longtime con-man, a flat-out criminal and identity thief. Along with the baseless charge that Obama forged his certification of live birth, it might just be their most unhinged theory yet.