Usurper in Chief?
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: December 14, 2010
He can’t handle the truth.
At least not while he’s facing the brig.
Lt. Col. Terry Lakin of the Army had a motley crew of frustrated Birthers at his court-martial here on Tuesday. The decorated Pentagon doctor from Colorado became the movement’s hero when he went on YouTube in March to brazenly urge President Obama to show “honesty and integrity” by releasing his “original signed birth certificate, if you have one.” He vowed to disobey what he called “illegal orders” to deploy to Afghanistan because he did not regard Obama as a legitimate commander in chief.
Originally, Colonel Lakin and his frenzied supporters had wanted to reveal the Ultimate Truth, what they consider the biggest hoax ever perpetrated — that a foreigner, a “Usurper in Chief,” had seized control of the Oval Office.
But then the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, denied a request for President Obama to testify and for his birth certificate to be entered into evidence.
So now the Birthers consider the court-martial part of the dastardly conspiracy. “This whole trial looks like a sham,” said Orly Taitz, a tall blonde California dentist, lawyer and leader in the Birther movement. “I was raised in the Soviet Union. This was worse than what I’ve seen in the Soviet Union.”
If Lakin ever envisioned his court-martial as the slingshot that could bring down a presidency and prove that the Birthers are heroes rather than loonies, he had given up that dream by the time he entered a guilty plea and backed up a not guilty plea with a technicality.
The balding, gray colonel may not have truly changed his beliefs. But he looked small and shaken as he admitted to disobeying orders from his boss, Gordon Roberts, a Medal of Honor recipient. He murmured “Yes, ma’am” over and over in a low voice as the precise Judge Lind pressed him on whether he understood that “the dictates of conscience do not justify disobeying a lawful order.”Sobered by the prospect of a dishonorable dismissal, losing his pension and serving hard time, as well as facing a panel of military superiors in dress uniforms, Colonel Lakin said the winter had been “a confusing time, a very emotional time for me.” His shoulders slumped, he offered excuses about how he had gotten conflicting advice from lawyers — his defense was underwritten by Birthers.
“I understand that it was my decision, and I made the wrong choice,” he told the judge.
His civilian lawyer, Neal Puckett, said Lakin is innocent of the charge of “missing a movement.” Simply because he missed U.S. Airways Flight 1123 on April 12, which was supposed to be the start of his journey to Fort Campbell, Ky., to join his unit, the lawyer argued, does not mean he couldn’t have gotten another flight or driven.
This was an attempt to get him off on a technicality because Lakin had stated back then that he had no intention of joining the unit at all.
In the voir dire, Puckett asked some colonels who were prospective panelists if they considered the Birther movement to be racist.
While disappointed there wasn’t a more full-throated trial of Obama’s provenance — unlike Lakin, the president is considered by Birthers to be guilty until he proves himself innocent — the Birthers, who had come from all over the country to the trial, stood by their man.
Literally, in the case of Kate Vandemoer, a 55-year-old blogger and hydrologist from North Dakota, who rose with Lakin when he offered his plea.
“I feel very close to him,” said Vandemoer. “This is a very serious national security matter.”
Some argued that whether Obama was born in Hawaii is not really the point; the point is, he’s not “a natural-born citizen.” “You must be born in the U.S. with two parents who are U.S. citizens,” they explained. Obama, they argued, has “a dual allegiance” that makes Americans “sitting ducks.”
“His father was a British Subject,” said a pamphlet passed out by Vandemoer. “He believes he is a Citizen of the world.”
Eldon Bell, a 76-year-old retired Air Force officer and doctor from Rapid City, S.D., said he “drove three days through a damn blizzard just to get here.” Comparing the president to Hitler, another “usurper,” he said “if he is not legitimate, our soldiers serving under him can be tried and hanged like the Nazis at Nuremberg.”
James Haven, a black preacher from New York, dismissed Obama as “the long-legged Mack Daddy, the president of all pimps.”
With the last three presidents, there has been an attempt to go beyond criticism to delegitimization, to paint them as not just wrong, but charlatans who have no right to the job. With Obama, the craziness is infused with biases about race and religion.But, in the end, the court-martial offers one big truth: President Obama doesn’t have to show Terry Lakin anything. The colonel should have followed orders.