Conservative conspiracy theorists have been obsessed with exposing what they see as a series of nefarious secrets hidden in President Obama's past. The idea that Obama has been hiding something has driven years of birth certificate conspiracies, and, most recently, Donald Trump making a very public fool of himself yesterday with his announcement that he was holding a charity donation ransom in exchange for Obama's college transcripts.
One of the more bizarre forms conservatives' sleuthing has taken is their ongoing quest to find Obama's "real" father. According to conservatives, alleged inconsistencies in Obama's biography prove that the elder Barack Obama is not the president's true father (they concede that Obama's mother was in fact Stanley Ann Dunham). Depending on whom you ask, Obama's "real" father could be Malcolm X, "some Indonesian," Frank Marshall Davis, or an unidentified "American black."
While all of these claims are outlandish and discrediting, their originators have nonetheless wielded outsized influence in the right-wing media and conservative movement at large.
Frank Marshall Davis
The theory that Frank Marshall Davis is Obama's real father has recently been popularized in Joel Gilbert's Dreams from My Real Father, a film that alleges Obama is a "red diaper baby" born to the communist writer and has concealed that fact for decades.
Much of Gilbert's argument hinges on his assertion that Obama very closely resembles Davis (he doesn't). At one point in the film, Gilbert suggests that Obama had a nose job before his 2004 senate run to help conceal his growing resemblance to Davis:
But Gilbert's actually not the first person to float this particular rumor.
In October 2008, litigious anti-Semite Andy Martin alleged that Obama's father was Frank Marshall Davis. In so doing, Martin recanted his previous claim that Obama was born a Muslim. According to CNN, they spoke to Martin for "close to an hour," and Martin had "absolutely no proof" for his allegation.
Gilbert's Frank Marshall Davis theory was promoted by Fox News contributor Monica Crowley on her radio show. Crowley occasionally guest hosts The O'Reilly Factor, the top-rated cable news program in the country.
Ten days before the 2008 election, prominent conservative blogger Pam Geller reprinted a meandering, 12000+ word email from a reader laying out the case that Obama was really the lovechild of Malcolm X and Obama's mother. Among the apparent evidence is the fact that Obama and Malcolm X are similar heights, and the author's observation that neither Obama nor Malcolm X "share common physical features of the Kenyan Luo tribe" to which Barack Obama Sr. belonged.
Geller has repeatedly lashed out at people who have criticized her for publishing the absurd screed, saying that she doesn't personally endorse the theory and merely posted it because the author "did a spectacular job documenting Obama's many connections with the Far Left." Nonetheless, the theory has been surprisingly durable, endorsed last year by WND columnist and occasional Hannity guest Erik Rush.
WND columnist and originator of the "Bill Ayers is the real author of Dreams from my Father" conspiracy Jack Cashill (more on him below) actually felt compelled to debunk the Malcolm X theory last year because he was getting a steady stream of emails asking about it. He declared that "the question is not as outlandish as it sounds" and conceded that Obama and Malcolm X "do look vaguely alike," but nonetheless found the theory untenable.
Geller has made regular media appearances in recent years, including appearing on Fox Business Network last year to parse a poster-sized version of Obama's birth certificate in order to determine whether it was "Photoshopped."
WND writer Jerome Corsi is basically a one-man clearinghouse for conspiracies about Obama (his recent work includes alleging that Obama wears a ring inscribed with secret Arabic letters and that Obama has been hiding the fact that he is gay since college). Corsi has penned several articles promoting Gilbert's Dreams from My Real Father for WorldNetDaily, but previously had a different hypothesis about Obama's "real" father.
Last year, during a presentation about Obama's birth certificate to an Arizona tea party group, Corsi was asked by an audience member if it "concern[s]" him that Obama "doesn't look a thing like Sr. -- Obama Sr. -- but he does look a lot like Malcolm X?"
Corsi responded by explaining that while there's "no proof" that Obama is Malcolm X's son, he offered his own theory that "the father was Indonesian." According to Corsi, Obama's "characteristics are more Indonesian," and Obama's mother "might have met some Indonesian" at a bar one night, and "that might be how it happened."
Jerome Corsi was the driving force behind the birther conspiracies that were eventually adopted by numerous prominent conservatives.
"A Black Guy"
WND writer Jack Cashill is also not convinced that the elder Barack Obama is the president's father. In a 2011 column, Cashill pointed to a photo taken of a smiling Ann Dunham's father standing next to Obama Sr. and decided it "didn't smell right at all," because he was "standing right next to the African guy who allegedly knocked up his 17-year-old daughter and is now abandoning them."
According to the theory Cashill laid out in his book Deconstructing Obama, Obama's real father was possibly a "black guy" from Seattle that impregnated Ann Dunham, and Obama's grandfather then bribed Barack Obama Sr. to pose as the father.
Cashill, imagining the sales pitch that Obama's grandfather gave to Barack Obama Sr., wrote that "a boy named Barack, the legitimate son of a Kenyan, could move through American life more seamlessly than a boy named, say, Johnny, the illegitimate son of an American black. It may not have been fair, but it was true. He tells Barack Sr. that he can make it worth his while."
Cashill popularized the theory that Bill Ayers actually wrote Obama's Dreams from my Father, which has been forwarded on Fox by Sarah Palin.