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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sliming Obama

Dueling chain e-mails claim he's a radical Muslim or a 'racist' Christian. Both can't be right. We find both are false.


If these two nasty e-mail messages are any indication, the 2008 presidential campaign is becoming a very dirty one.

One claims that Obama is “certainly a racist” by virtue of belonging to Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, which it says “will accept only black parishoners” and espouses a commitment to Africa. Actually, a white theology professor says he’s been “welcomed enthusiastically” at the church, as have other non-blacks.

Another e-mail claims that Obama “is a Muslim,” attended a “Wahabi” school in Indonesia, took his Senate oath on the Koran, refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and is part of an Islamic plot to take over the U.S. Each of these statements is false.

These false appeals to bigotry and fear remind us of the infamous whispering campaign of eight years ago, when anonymous messages just before the South Carolina primary falsely accused Republican candidate John McCain of fathering an illegitimate child by a black woman.


We turn first to the most recent of these Internet whispering campaigns: a widely forwarded e-mail that says Barack Obama’s church, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is anti-American, will only accept black parishioners and tilts toward Africa at the expense of the United States. The e-mail claims Obama is therefore “certainly a racist” and “desires to rule over America while his loyalty is totally vested in a Black Africa.”

We’ve had scores of queries about the accuracy of this one. It’s bunk. For one thing, the church welcomes whites, according to a University of Chicago professor of divinity who says he has attended. And while its controversial pastor is a fiery advocate for blacks and liberal causes and a fierce critic of anti-black discrimination, we’ve seen no evidence that he preaches hatred of or discrimination against whites.

False E-Mail Sent to FactCheck.org Readers
Received Dec. 31, 2007

Subject: Obama’s church

Obama mentioned his church during his appearance with Oprah. It’s the Trinity Church of Christ. I found this interesting.

Obama’s church:
Please read and go to this church’s web site and read what is written there. It is very alarming.

Barack Obama is a member of this church and is running for President of the U.S. If you look at the first page of their web site, you will learn that this congregation has a non-negotiable commitment to Africa. No where is AMERICA even mentioned. Notice too, what color you will need to be if you should want to join Obama’s church…_ B-L-A-C-K!!!_ Doesn’t look like his choice of religion has improved much over his (former?) Muslim upbringing. Are you aware that Obama’s middle name is Mohammed? Strip away his nice looks, the big smile and smooth talk and what do you get? Certainly a racist, as plainly defined by the stated position of his church! And possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today. This guy desires to rule over America while his loyalty is totally vested in a Black Africa!

I cannot believe this has not been all over the TV and newspapers. This is why it is so important to pass this message along to all of our family & friends. To think that Obama has even the slightest chance in the run for the presidency, is really scary.

Click on the link below:
This is the web page for the church Barack Obama belongs to: www.tucc.org/about.htm

The first clue that this e-mail is the product of careless ignorance is that it claims that “Obama’s middle name is Mohammed,” which is false. His middle name is Hussein.

As for the accusations against his church, this e-mail is not the first place they have come up. Nearly a year ago conservative blogger Erik Rush called the church “cultish” and “separatist” in a Feb. 2007 interview on Fox News’ “Hannity and Colmes” and questioned whether its parishioners could consider themselves Americans or Christians.

Here are the facts: It is true that Trinity describes itself as “a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian” and which “does not apologize for its African roots.” The church’s Web site specifies a commitment to Africa and to “historical education of African people in diaspora.” The congregation is overwhelmingly black; few if any whites can be seen in the photographs and videos of the congregation posted on the church’s Web site. But none of that makes the church “racist” or anti-American.

And in fact, a professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Martin E. Marty, wrote this in April 2007, rebutting Rush’s claims on Fox News:

Prof. Marty: To those in range of Chicago TV I’d recommend a watching of Trinity’s Sunday services, and challenge you to find anything “cultic” or “sectarian” about them. More important, for Trinity, being “unashamedly black” does not mean being “anti-white.” My wife and I on occasion attend, and, like all other non-blacks, are enthusiastically welcomed.

Regarding this renewed attack on Trinity, Prof. Marty told FactCheck, “That kind of e-mail is vicious and lying, and makes my blood boil. … Many civic officials, public school teachers, etc. are members at Trinity; [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright has been on TV with his services for years, and no one found them racist – it’s smear politics.”

Trinity would not comment to us for this article. Rev. Wright, however, appeared on Fox’s “Hannity and Colmes” on March 2, 2007, and responded at length to the claim made by Rush. He said in part:

Alan Colmes:  I want the public to understand where your church is coming from, because you’re being accused of being a black separatist church, and thus Obama is being accused by default of being a black separatist. Can you straighten that out for us, please?

Wright: OK. The African-centered point of view does not assume superiority, nor does it assume separatism. It assumes Africans speaking for themselves as subjects in history, not objects in history.

There’s no question that Wright has been a controversial figure, a passionate advocate for black self-help and to some, a radical. Jason Byassee, in a lengthy article on the church published in Christian Century magazine, said, “There is no denying … that a strand of radical black political theology influences Trinity.” He added, “Conservatives may find the Africentric church too political, and liberals may squirm over its revivalist emotion.” But he praised the church’s success in growing to more than 8,000 members, making this black congregation the largest single church in a predominately white United Church of Christ denomination, saying “the black church continues to makes converts in unlikely places, reflecting a God who makes a way where there is no way.”

Wherever we looked we found ample evidence that Obama’s church is pro-black, but we found none to support a claim that it is anti-white. Calling it “racist” is, in our judgment, a falsehood.

The Manchurian Islamic Candidate?

Readers have also asked us about an oft-forwarded e-mail falsely claiming that Obama is a Muslim and suggesting that he is part of an Islamic plot to take over the U.S. “from the inside out” with “one of their own.” This screed reads like the outline of a bad remake of the 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate, in which Frank Sinatra unravels a Communist plot to make “one of their own” the president.

There is little excuse for those who continue to circulate this one. The most audacious falsehood it contains (of several) is a claim near the top: “We checked this out on ‘snopes.com’. It is factual. Check for yourself.” Anyone who actually does that would quickly find that Snopes.com, the respected debunker of urban myths, judges the message to be “false.” And yet we continue to receive examples sent to our readers by others who either don’t take the time to check, or who don’t care that they are repeating false and damaging statements.

False E-Mail Sent to FactCheck.org Readers
Received January 6, 2008

Who is Barack Obama?

Very interesting and something that should be considered in your choice.

If you do not ever forward anything else, please forward this to all your contacts…this is very scary to think of what lies ahead of us here in our own United States…better heed this and pray about it and share it.

We checked this out on “snopes.com”. It is factual. Check for yourself.

Who is Barack Obama?

Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black MUSLIM from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white ATHEIST from Wichita, Kansas.

Obama’s parents met at the University of Hawaii. When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. Hi s father returned to Kenya. His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a RADICAL Muslim from Indonesia.?
When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocate to Indonesia. Obama attended a MUSLIM school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school.

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim.
He is quick to point out that, “He was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school.”

Obama’s political handlers are attempting to make it appear that
that he is not a radical.

Obama’s introduction to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best. In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce, and never again had any direct influence over his son’s education.

Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, introduced his stepson to Islam. Obama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta.

Wahabism is the RADICAL teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world. Since it is politically expedient to be a CHRISTIAN when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background. ALSO, keep in mind that when he was sworn into office he DID NOT use the Holy Bible, but instead the Koran.

Barack Hussein Obama will NOT recite the Pledge of Allegiance nor will he show any reverence for our flag. While others place their hands over their hearts, Obama turns his back to the flag and slouches.

Let us all remain alert concerning Obama’s expected presidential candidacy.
The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the US from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level – through the President of the United States, one of their own!!!!

Please forward to everyone you know. Would you want this man leading our country?…… NOT ME!!!

This claim, and others similar to it, originated with a Jan. 2007 Insight Magazine article – a publication owned by News World Communications, which also owns the conservative Washington Times newspaper:

Insight: Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?

This article, citing anonymous sources, claimed that “Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.” But this allegation was quickly shown to be false. Days after the article appeared, CNN sent reporter John Vause to Jakarta, Indonesia, to visit the school. He reported:

CNN: I came here to Barack Obama’s elementary school in Jakarta looking for what some are calling an Islamic madrassa … like the ones that teach hate and violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. … I’ve been to those madrassas in Pakistan … this school is nothing like that.

CNN interviewed the school’s deputy headmaster, Hardi Priyono, who said: “This is a public school. We don’t focus on religion.”

That same day, Obama’s Senate office issued a press release saying the claims in the magazine story were false and citing CNN and other reports. Subsequent news stories in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune found no merit in the madrassa claim. Obama’s childhood in Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, is not something he has attempted to hide. He dedicates pages in his best-selling book “Dreams from My Father” to his life overseas.

This e-mail cobbles together some other false claims that have been circulating for months.

Swore on Koran?  The e-mail says “when he was sworn into office he DID NOT use the Holy Bible, but instead the Koran” – bunk yet again. Obama did not place his hand on the Koran when he was sworn into the U.S. Senate. This claim confuses Obama with the first and only Muslim member of Congress, Democratic House member Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Obama was sworn in using his own Bible, as widely reported in newspaper accounts and pictured above. That’s his wife holding the Bible with Vice President Dick Cheney swearing him in. (Under the Constitution, the vice president serves as president of the Senate.)

Pledge of Allegiance? The slime doesn’t stop there. The e-mail also claims Obama “will NOT recite the Pledge of Allegiance nor will he show any reverence for our flag” and that “while others place their hands over their hearts, Obama turns his back to the flag and slouches.” These e-mails usually come with this photo, seen here as it appears on Time.com’s Web site:

The photograph was taken during a “steak-fry” for Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa on Sept. 16, 2007. What is pictured is the singing of the national anthem, not a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. For proof, see this video taken by ABC News during the event.

And for proof that Obama has no problem reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, check this video of C-SPAN’s recording of the Senate’s morning business, with Obama presiding, on June 21, 2007. Or this one from Feb. 1, 2007. A point not raised in this e-mail: Some have complained that Obama should have placed his hand over his heart during the singing of the anthem, as pictured in the Time photo.

It is true that the U.S. Code states that “all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.” But the word “should” rather than “shall” makes that a recommendation and not a legal requirement. To confirm, we spoke with Anne Garside, director of communication for the Maryland Historical Society – home of the original manuscript of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and asked if anyone could be punished for not placing their hands over their hearts during the national anthem.  She quickly replied, “Oh, of course not,” adding that “there is no obligation to put your hand over your heart.” Garside told us she has been asked numerous times about this rumor and finds the controversy to have “gotten a little bit ridiculous.”

The ‘Black Baby’ Smear

Scurrilous smears like those contained in these two e-mails can have a damaging effect. Before the South Carolina primary in 2000, for example, phone calls were made to voters in which the callers claimed to be taking a poll, asking: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” McCain had done no such thing. He and his wife had adopted their daughter Bridget, who has dark skin, as a baby from Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh. A professor at Bob Jones University also had sent an e-mail message telling South Carolinians that McCain had “chosen to sire children without marriage,” which wasn’t true. McCain lost the 2000 primary, and the Republican nomination, to George W. Bush.

Such attacks usually can be disproved with less effort than it takes to forward them to others. The statement that Snopes endorsed the false claim that Obama is a Muslim radical is an example. So we find it disappointing that they continue to circulate. But we expect to see more of them as the election year wears on, and we’ll do our best to expose them when readers bring them to our attention.

– by Jess Henig and Emi Kolawole

Correction, Jan. 11: In our original article, we inadvertently dropped the word “United” from one reference to Obama’s church. It is the United Church of Christ, which is different from the Church of Christ.

Correction: We misspelled Mother Teresa in our original article.


Obama’s Pastor: Rev. Jeremiah Wright.” FoxNews.com interview archive, 2 Mar. 2007.

Byassee, Jason. “Africentric church: a visit to Chicago’s Trinity UCC.”
Christian Century, 29 May 2007.

Fiore, Faye. “He’s the Hill’s King for a Day, but Senate Has Other Plans.” The Los Angeles Times, 5 Jan. 2005.

Adair, Bill. “E-Mail Assailing Obama’s Patriotism Misses Mark.” St. Petersburg Times, 9 Nov. 2007.

Coleman, Francis. “Stop the mass e-mails before it’s too late.” Mobile Register, 11 Nov. 2007.

Kurtz, Howard. “Campaign Allegation A Source of Vexation.” The Washington Post, 22 Jan. 2007.

Drobnic Holan, Angie. “Obama attended an Indonesian public school.” PolitiFact.com, 10 Jan. 2008.

Beacon Jr., Perry. “Foes Use Obama’s Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him.” The Washington Post, 29 Nov. 2007.

Davis, Richard H. “The anatomy of a smear campaign,” The Boston Globe, 21 Mar. 2004.

Steinhauer, Jennifer. “Confronting Ghosts of 2000 in South Carolina.” New York Times, 19 Oct. 2007.