Conservative pundit and author Dinesh D’Souza is not a birther. He has acknowledged, against the tide of some of his conspiracy-loving peers, that Barack Obama was born a U.S. citizen.
Yet in 2016, D’Souza offered a pardon of sorts to Donald Trump and others who, against all evidence, spent years embracing the racist fiction that the nation’s first black president was somehow a foreign-born usurper. The shelter D’Souza provided for the birthers came a day after Trump used a presidential debate to defend his years-long journey into the depths of the conspiracy theory.
“I was never a birther,” D’Souza wrote on Twitter, “but what's racist about asking where the son of a Kenyan foreign student visitor to America was actually born?”
I was never a birther but what's racist about asking where the son of a Kenyan foreign student visitor to America was actually born? pic.twitter.com/pbV23KmF49
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) September 27, 2016
While D’Souza’s pardon of the birthers at the time was rhetorical, the one he received from Trump on Thursday, May 31, was not.
Trump announced he was using his clemency powers for D’Souza for a 2014 federal conviction of violating campaign finance law. D’Souza pleaded guilty in a scheme to use straw donors to illegally give money to the 2012 campaign of a Republican running for U.S. Senate. D’Souza and his allies claimed Obama was using the Justice Department to go after one of the president’s critics. But the plea meant D’Souza was admitting wrongdoing. He avoided jail and was sentenced to five years of probation.
Trump, in announcing the pardon, appeared to buy into the theory that the criminal case against D’Souza was motivated by something other than justice.
“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today,” Trump said on Twitter. “He was treated very unfairly by our government!”
Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2018
D’Souza himself used the opportunity to claim, again, that he believed he had been unfairly targeted and wrote on Twitter that “Obama is responsible for the gangsterization of politics.” D’Souza also announced he’ll be premiering a “shocking new film” this summer. What timing.
His tweet defending the birthers in 2016 was similarly true to form for D’Souza. A naturalized U.S. citizen from India, he has frequently used his role as a conservative intellectual to dismiss or excuse racism from the right. He has declared that the Democratic Party “invented white nationalism” and repeatedly pointed to the party’s historical defense of slavery and Jim Crow laws to portray modern Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as running what he describes as a “plantation.”
The birther movement, which was primarily a product of the far-right, contended that Obama, who was born the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, had been secretly born in Africa and therefore was ineligible to become president
Although he avoided getting sucked into the birther movement, D’Souza managed to publish his own wild theories about Obama’s African heritage to describe the former president as an “existential threat to America.”
In a book called “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” D’Souza focused on Obama’s father, who was mostly absent from his son’s life. The author latched onto the idea that Obama had somehow “inherited” a secret and sinister ideology from his father. That ideology went against America’s founding ideals, D’Souza claimed.
The author’s website describes his book in unreal terms: “What really motivates Barack Obama is an inherited rage — an often masked, but profound rage that comes from his African father; an anticolonialist rage against Western dominance, and most especially against the wealth and power of the very nation Barack Obama now leads.”
In a piece published by Forbes magazine in 2010, D’Souza laid out the idea that the U.S. was being run by the “ghost” of Barack Obama Sr., or as the author described him, a “philandering, inebriated African socialist.”
But instead of readying us for the challenge, our President is trapped in his father's time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.
In some ways, D’Souza’s theory was even more dire than the one advanced by the birthers. For many of them, the nation’s first black president had illegally schemed his way into the Oval Office, setting up a potential constitutional crisis. For D’Souza, the Obama presidency could bring down the nation. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t.)
As for the current administration, D’Souza has been adamant that Trump is no racist. In an excerpt of his latest book, “The Big Lie,” D’Souza wrote about accusations of bigotry against Trump.
Before taking office, Trump spent years speculating that his predecessor may have “pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.” He claimed to have sent investigators to Hawaii, where Obama was born, to look into the president’s birth certificate. He tweeted that an “extremely credible source” had contacted his office to say that the birth certificate was “a fraud.”
Trump was eventually forced to acknowledge during his successful 2016 campaign that Obama was born in the U.S. However, that didn’t stop him from sympathizing with birthers. The first pardon of Trump’s presidency was for Joe Arpaio, a birther and former sheriff from Arizona, who had been convicted of criminal contempt of federal court. Arpaio used his final years in office to investigate whether Obama’s birth certificate was authentic.
None of that was mentioned in the excerpt of D’Souza’s book. Instead, D’Souza focused on other things that have been used as evidence of Trump’s bigotry. He brushed aside some of it with conclusions like, “what’s the big deal?” and “illegal aliens are not immigrants.”
D’Souza wrote that the “strongest” evidence against Trump is that he’d been supported by white nationalists like Richard Spencer, but he said that too was no sign of bigotry.
In D’Souza’s telling, any accusation against Trump can be explained away or ignored. It’s the same grace Trump gave to D’Souza with his pardon on Thursday and the kind that neither man offered the nation’s first black president.