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Orly Taitz's Crusade to Challenge President Obama's Legitimacy

At a minimum, organizations who monitor extremist groups say that the fantasy of Obama's ineligibility is now a central tenet. "The birther conspiracy itself is now totally widespread among military and paramilitary [militia] groups and new, what we would call quote-unquote 'patriot' groups, which are groups that are virulently anti-government," says Heidi Beirich, director of research at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Beirich says that a popular conspiracy theory among such groups is that the government is going to round up citizens and put them in camps operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

And sure enough, no conversation with Taitz is complete without a reference to the "600" camps that she believes FEMA has constructed to keep dissident citizens corralled. FEMA camps are only one of her anxieties. Communist and totalitarian regimes are another. "It is extremely important to ensure that the people of this country don't lose their freedoms, because if they do, this country will turn into a dictatorship, just like the communist Soviet Union, just like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, or Saddam Hussein's Iraq, or Kim Jong Il's North Korea."

"You're sounding awfully political right now," warns Lincoln at one point. This is the sort of talk that judges could criticize her for. "And I think that's a dangerous way to go."

But repressive regimes are a conversational well into which she keeps dipping. In her early 20s, Taitz, who says she is of Jewish heritage, emigrated to Israel and lived there for several years. The man who would become her husband, visiting from the United States, asked her to marry him on their second date, something that didn't surprise her -- she says, blushing -- because "he wasn't the first one" who had asked. Some observers believe the animating cause of her crusade is an anti-Muslim bias. She disagrees, saying "I have nothing against any religion." But some of her remarks help fuel such criticisms, as when she mentions hearing rumors of a purported video in which "Obama has made statements that were anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and very pro-Palestinian, pro-Arabic." She says she also heard an Internet rumor that the royal family of Saudi Arabia helped support Obama's education. "I'm questioning: Are there any strings attached? I don't know."

Ultimately, her rhetoric is laced with a suspicion that Obama may be an agent for a foreign power, a modern Manchurian candidate. This is why she wants not only his vital records but his academic ones. "Would you be willing to go with me to Obama and ask him . . . [to] release all of the proper records, your school records, your enrollment records from all those college applications, and financial aid records, which would show whether he was enrolled as a foreign exchange student from Indonesia or Kenya?"

There are those who say that even if Obama were to provide every last record down to dry-cleaning receipts, no proof could satisfy birther proponents. In Taitz's case, there's what she calls "a two-prong test." Bucking the common view that "natural born citizen" -- the constitutional requirement for a U.S. president -- means, generally speaking, born on American soil, she argues that to be president a person must not only be born here but must also be the child of parents who were both U.S. citizens at the time of his birth. She allows that her decidedly non-mainstream interpretation would knock out her two older sons, born when she had only a green card, before she became a U.S. citizen.

One might argue that her extra super-duper burden of proof has a racial dimension to it, and Taitz herself says she has been accused of racism. She says there is no basis to the charge. "Just because he happens to be African American, he does not get a free pass."

She also dismisses the concern that this president might be uniquely vulnerable to violent extremism. "There's no reason to believe that that's going to happen," she says. "There is a lot of protection -- the Secret Service. I think there is a much higher chance of violence against me than against" the president.

Violence against me.

That last answer may offer some insight into why Orly Taitz is in this fight. Up to now, she says, she was "never really politically active" and her community involvement consisted of volunteering as a teacher's helper, supporting the arts and serving as an officer of a homeowner association.

The motivation for her zeal could be, as she suggests, residual trauma from growing up in a totalitarian regime where, as she often points out, judges were "puppets" of the state. It could be the PayPal button at the top of her Web site, which does bring in contributions, Taitz says, though not enough to cover her expenses. It could be a combination of naivete, true belief and the willful credulity that leads a person to prefer wild and interesting Internet rumors over mundane truths. It could be that she is a rabble-rouser by nature. As a preschooler, she says, she organized a "borscht riot" among classmates after noticing that the teachers were getting more sour cream than the children in their beet soup.

* * *

Back at the office, things are still busy: Dentists have been faxing résumés all day, there are patients in the waiting room, and Charles Lincoln is printing out a court pleading.

The phone keeps ringing. It's not just dentists, but also journalists and sympathizers and concerned citizens. That might also be an explanation: the calls, the adrenaline rush of speeches and media engagements, the fact that at one court hearing, Taitz marvels, people applauded. She is in the limelight. And although she criticizes the mainstream media, she calls after the interview to see when this article will run. So she can flag it on her Web site.

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