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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Eight Years of Trolling Obama

Some of the many false viral claims about Barack Obama's faith and citizenship.


Barack Obama will be succeeded as president of the United States by Donald Trump, who long challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by questioning whether Obama, the first African American president, was, in fact, born in America.

Trump wasn’t alone. For years, many of Obama’s fellow Americans questioned his citizenship.

But the so-called “birther” claims weren’t the only spurious rumors about Obama. Over his eight years in office, we have written about hundreds of viral claims about the president, his family and his policies. Perhaps no bogus claim has persisted more than the falsehood that Obama is an anti-Christian Muslim.

According to a 2015 CNN/ORC poll, 80 percent of Americans correctly believe that Obama was born in the U.S., but only a plurality, 39 percent, know that he is a Christian. Twenty-nine percent believe that he is a Muslim.

For the record, Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1961. He is also a self-proclaimed Christian who adopted that faith as an adult.

Below are some of the biggest whoppers we’ve addressed about Obama’s religion and background, as well as baseless claims that he is anti-America in general.


Not a Muslim

In a 2006 speech, Obama said that it “nagged” him in 2004, when Alan Keyes, his opponent in the Illinois U.S. Senate race, suggested that Obama wasn’t a “true Christian.”

And not long after Obama announced that he would run for president in 2007, the New York Times wrote an article detailing exactly how Obama, whose Kenyan father was born a Muslim, came to Christianity while attending church in Chicago.

Then, Obama told his own conversion story to those attending the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2009, just two weeks after he was sworn in as president.

Obama, Feb. 5, 2009: I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck — no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose — His purpose.

And Obama has talked about his faith annually at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast.

None of that has swayed those who continue to wrongly believe that Obama is not a Christian, but also that he is a Muslim. His middle name is “Hussein” after all.

A YouTube video titled “Obama Admits He Is A Muslim” has been viewed nearly 17 million times since April 2009. But it’s totally bogus and the result of deceptive editing.

For example, when Obama says “I am one of them,” he doesn’t mean that he is a Muslim. He was talking about being like others who either have Muslim relatives or have lived in countries with large Muslim populations. At other times, the video edits out the words “I’m a Christian” and “my Christian faith” from Obama’s quotes.

Truth on the Cutting Room Floor, Dec. 4, 2009

Obama also didn’t attend a radical “Wahabi” school in Indonesia, as a false viral email claimed. That rumor originated with an inaccurate 2007 Insight Magazine article that said Obama “was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage.” CNN interviewed the school’s deputy headmaster, Hardi Priyono, who said: “This is a public school. We don’t focus on religion.”

That same viral email also claimed that Obama was sworn in as a U.S. senator using a Koran. Wrong. Obama reportedly used his own Bible during his swearing-in ceremony in 2005. It was Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, who used a Koran for his own ceremony in 2007.

Sliming Obama, Jan. 10, 2008

President Barack Obama bows his head during the closing prayer at the Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House in 2015. Photo Credit: White House/Flickr

Year after year, concerned readers asked us if Obama had canceled the National Day of Prayer. Our answer was always no. The false rumor started in 2009 when Obama didn’t hold a public service in the White House as George W. Bush had done as president. However, Obama issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation in 2009 and every year after. The National Day of Prayer Task Force has also debunked the cancellation claim.

Prayer Day Still Not Cancelled, May 5, 2016

The Viral Spiral of 2010, Dec. 21, 2010

Not only did viral rumors claim that Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer, they also incorrectly faulted Obama for allowing a Muslim prayer event to take place on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. The permit for the event in September 2009 was issued by the U.S. Capitol Police, not the White House. Obama’s only connection to the event was that its chief organizer, Hassen Abdellah, said that he was inspired by the president’s inaugural address in January 2009 and a speech Obama gave in June that year.

Muslim Prayer Day Sept. 25, Sept. 21, 2009

And Obama didn’t issue a policy in 2009 preventing an Army veteran from speaking at a faith-based event, as an email claimed. The event in question was a fundraiser and had nothing to do with religion. A previously existing policy prohibited the veteran from participating in the fundraiser in an official capacity.

New Army Policy Against ‘Faith-Based’ Events?, June 10, 2009

Another viral email expressed outrage at the Obama administration for using “tax dollars to rebuild Muslim mosques around the world.” But the State Department’s program to preserve overseas cultural landmarks started funding projects under President Bush in 2001. And the program funds the rebuilding of historic churches and temples, too.

Funding Mosques Overseas, March 10, 2011

Obama also didn’t write that “I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction” in his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope.” We looked through the book and found that Obama actually said that he would stand with American immigrants from Pakistan or Arab countries should they be faced with something like the forced detention of Japanese American families in World War II.

Obama’s ‘Dreams of My Father,’ June 3, 2008

And Obama didn’t exempt Muslims from having to purchase health insurance as required by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Nor does Obama’s health care law mention the word “dhimmitude,” which is an academic concept, not a tenet of Muslim faith.

Dhimmitude’ and the Muslim Exemption, May 10, 2010

Another viral email misquoted Obama as saying that the U.S. is “no longer a Christian nation.” What he actually said was that “whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation — at least, not just.” Obama stumbled when he delivered the quote live, but his prepared remarks show that he had intended to say that “we are no longer just a Christian nation,” but a nation of many faiths.

Obama and the ‘Christian Nation’ Quote, Aug. 26, 2008

Yet another viral email wrongly accused Obama of creating a postage stamp commemorating the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. But Obama had nothing to do with the stamp, which was originally announced in 2001 when Bush was president. The stamp has been reissued in different designs several times whenever the postage rate has increased.

Muslim Stamp, Sept. 24, 2009

And while we’re on holidays, Obama’s White House never stopped referring to the “White House Christmas Tree” as just that. The zombie claim about the White House “holiday tree” was first proved wrong in 2009, but has circulated online annually during the holiday season.

‘Holiday Tree’ Hooey, Oct. 14, 2009

We Repeat, Still a Christmas Tree, Nov. 10, 2011

Not an Immigrant

President-elect Trump acknowledged last year that Obama was born in the U.S. and not in Kenya. But many Americans still haven’t accepted that fact about Obama. It hasn’t helped that some have gone out of their way to spread false information about the soon-to-be former president’s background.

A widely shared graphic promoted the falsehood that many of Obama’s early records are “sealed,” including his “original birth certificate.” That’s nonsense. Obama released a copy of his short-form certification of live birth in 2008 — which FactCheck.org staffers examined and photographed — and then released a copy of his long-form certificate of live birth in 2011. Both versions were validated by state health officials in Hawaii who have said repeatedly that Obama was born there.

Obama’s college records aren’t sealed, either, as the graphic claimed. It’s simply illegal under federal law for Occidental College, Columbia University or Harvard Law School to release Obama’s records to the press or the public without Obama’s written permission. Presidential candidates almost never voluntarily release such information.

Obama’s ‘Sealed’ Records, July 31, 2012

That viral email on Obama’s “sealed” records was mostly a rehash of one we had debunked long before. The earlier version, from a so-called “Colombo,” also repeated the fanciful “birther” claim that Obama traveled to Pakistan in 1981 with a non-U.S. passport. According to the theory, U.S. citizens were barred from traveling there at the time, so Obama must have done so with a foreign passport, proving that he wasn’t a citizen. Hogwash. Americans traveled to Pakistan with no problem, as shown by a travel piece that appeared in the New York Times in June 1981.

Clueless ‘Columbo,’ Jan. 18, 2010

More ‘Birther’ Nonsense: Obama’s 1981 Pakistan Trip, June 5, 2009

In addition, an April Fools’ Day hoax tricked some into believing that the Associated Press reported that Obama attended Occidental on a Fulbright scholarship for foreign students, proving that he isn’t a U.S. citizen. Not so. The AP confirmed to FactCheck.org that the story attributed to the news agency was a fake.

We received an email asking about Obama’s Fulbright scholarship as recently as May 2016, seven years after we first debunked the claim. So the April Fools’ joke is still fooling some people.

Was Obama Born in the USA?, May 7, 2009

April Fools’… Still, April 1, 2010

And another viral email questioning what we know about Obama suggested that he didn’t attend Columbia University, calling it “very, very strange” that “no one ever came forward” to say that they knew Obama in school. Not only does the university proudly claim Obama as one of its own, but the New York Times wrote about Phil Boerner, who knew Obama in 1979 when they both attended Occidental, and then roomed with Obama after they both transferred to Columbia in 1981. Boerner wrote an article for the university’s student magazine in 2009, describing how he and Obama met and what it was like living with Obama in New York.

Obama at Columbia University, Feb. 16, 2010

Not Anti-America

We also have seen false claims purporting to show Obama doesn’t respect or like the country much.

Obama didn’t say, as an email claimed, that he wouldn’t wear a U.S. flag pin because “I don’t want to be perceived as taking sides.” Nor did he suggest changing the lyrics of the national anthem because the current version “conveys a war-like message.” Those fake quotes were written as a joke by satirist John Semmens for his “semi-news” column.

Obama and the National Anthem, April 22, 2008

And Obama didn’t tell his supporters that “we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world” and then ask them to “join with me as we try to change it.” That quote, too, was intended as a joke, according to former National Review contributor Mark Steyn, who said it was sent to him by a reader as “an all-purpose stump speech for the 2008 campaign.”

Obama Quote Rumors, Aug. 6, 2008

Obama also didn’t ban the Pledge of Allegiance in U.S. public schools. That was a claim from yet another satirical article on a fake news website. But long before we wrote about that, there was the equally fictitious claim that Obama wouldn’t even recite the pledge. The support for that one? A 2007 photo of Obama without his hand over his heart during the national anthem, not the Pledge of Allegiance.

Did Not Ban the Pledge, Sept. 2, 2016

Sliming Obama, Jan. 10, 2008

And if Obama wasn’t actively being anti-America, he was reading about it, according to another off-base email. The anonymous author of that viral message jumped to the wrong conclusion after seeing a photo of Obama carrying a popular book by journalist Fareed Zakaria. The book, “The Post-American World,” is about America’s role in a new global era. It isn’t an apocalyptic vision of a world “after America,” as the email claimed.

Obama’s Reading Material, Oct. 1, 2009

This is just a sampling, really, of the bogus claims that have been made up about Obama over eight years. He also didn’t create the “Obamaphone,” call for a “new world order,” criminalize free speech, create a “private army,” or attempt to declare martial law.

In all, we’ve written close to 200 Ask FactCheck articles about Obama and the first family, including Bo, the dog. But the attacks on Obama’s religion and patriotism stand out — not for what they purported to say about Obama, but for what they say about the biases of people who write and spread such nonsense.