Far-right and QAnon trolls have used Twitter, YouTube, and other online platforms to spread the baseless claim that presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) heritage makes her ineligible to be president even though she was born in Oakland, CA. The false claim, which has since been picked up by far-right troll Jacob Wohl, was first amplified by a birther who has previously challenged former President Barack Obama’s citizenship.
As early as July 2017, a user behind an anonymous Twitter account falsely claimed that Harris is ineligible to run for president because her parents were “foreign-born.”
Charles Kerchner, a former military officer who unsuccessfully appealed a challenge to Obama’s citizenship status to the Supreme Court in 2010, published a blog and a document on Scribd pushing the absurd smear against Harris in August 2018. Soon after, fellow birther Sharon Rondeau wrote a blog post that cited Kerchner to suggest that Harris was not eligible for the presidency.
In the following months, far-right accounts on Twitter and users of the white supremacist hotspot Gab amplified both Kerchner’s PDF and Rondeau's blog. The false claim was picked up by YouTube users and posters on the anonymous message board 4chan, and a discussion on Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit cited Rondeau’s blog explicitly.
Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have also played a significant role in amplifying the baseless smear. In December, an online radio host picked up one QAnon believer’s Twitter thread citing Rondeau. And in the hours following Harris’ announcement of her candidacy on January 21, widely followed QAnon account @WeAreOne_Q tweeted the baseless claim, which “r/The_Donald” users also picked up. Another major QAnon account tweeted the false claim and linked to Kershner’s PDF later that day. And on the morning of January 22, Wohl -- the QAnon-amplifying troll behind a sloppy scheme to smear special counsel Robert Mueller -- tweeted the false claim using similar language to @WeAreOne_Q’s tweet.
BuzzFeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy, noting Wohl’s tweet, pointed out that the smear had been sent to her previously in what appears to be a clear effort to give it oxygen:
Making birther attacks on Obama with the aid of Fox News was key to President Donald Trump’s political rise. Media should now be ready to nip similar smears in the bud. But CNN’s Chris Cuomo used the opportunity presented by the smear against Harris to tweet, “The longer there is no proof either way, the deeper the effect.” Cuomo subsequently deleted his original tweet and clarified that Harris “has no duty to justify any such accusation.”