From the earliest days of his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has been smeared as a radical Muslim with terrorist leanings. Such attacks have taken their toll on his image and the truth, and now only a third of Republicans think that the president was born in the U.S., and a sharply increasing number of Americans believe that he is a Muslim. A common tactic has been to associate Obama with Osama bin Laden. However, with bin Laden's death, the imagery may be shifting in a positive direction for Obama. Click through to the end to see what we mean.
Captions by Omar Wasow. Follow him on Twitter.
As early as November of 2007, one CafePress vendor was selling anti-Obama bumper stickers that conflated the future president with America's Most Wanted.
On Jan. 10, 2008, a blogger at Klein Verzet had this to say about the up-and-coming candidate: "His name Obama sound[s] quite like Usama and to make matters worse his name is actually Barack Hussein Obama. But although this all sounds very Muslim, he denies actually being one. But now there is proof that at least he was a practicing Muslim."
Though most of the Obama-Osama mash-ups are amateurish, this fake poster craftily invokes the design of Obama's official campaign materials while changing his name to Osama and recasting him as some sort of Arab Manchurian candidate.
Jeff Dunetz, in February 2008, highlighted a half-dozen similarities he saw between President Obama and Osama bin Laden before asking, "Have you EVER seen Obama and Osama in the same place at the same time."
This crude merging of President Obama's face with Osama bin Laden's head wrap and beard is just one example of dozens that float around the Web.
Though the images differ in small ways, each attempts to mobilize bigotry and fears about terrorism, Islam and bin Laden to delegitimize Obama as an American, a patriot and a president.
Though an attempt at parody, this July 2008 New Yorker cover was widely criticized for reinforcing, rather than critiquing, anti-Obama bigotry. At FreeRepublic.com, one user with the screen name "NOBAMA in 08" commented: "All Freepers! If you go to THE NEW YORKER STORE, you can purchase boxes of 20 5x7 Note cards with this Obama Cover Cartoon on the front of each note card (price is $29.95). They are PRICELESS! Perfect to send to friends and associates! My order is already in."
Andrew Lopez, who uploaded this photo in August 2008, titled it "F—k Obama / Osama" and gave it the following caption: "How you can vote for a coke snorting, anti-american, black muslim with no political experience to run this country, is something I cannot fathom."
The sentence "The difference between Obama and Osama is just a little B.S." is also widespread on images and T-shirts. The blogger at Third World County wrote in August 2008 of the slogan and image: "(Yeh, yeh, I know it's not accurate and perhaps even slanderous to equate Osama bin Laden's honest, open, above-board declaration of intent to destroy America with The Obamassiah's disingenuous, sneaky, underhanded campaign to do the same thing via other means. My apologies to Osama bin Laden.)"
Judging from the number of items available for sale at sites like CafePress and Zazzle, there appears to be a robust market for goods that link President Obama to Osama bin Laden — presumably with a discount for misspellings.
One Zazzle store called "Obamanation" offers a variety of Obama and terrorism-related T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers, including this "Jokerized" sticker and others with pictures of Obama and text like "Born Again Terrorist."
This bumper sticker is sold through CafePress by the AntiObamaStore.com.
On July 9, 2009, Motifake — a site offering "fake motivational posters" — offered this incendiary image of the White House.
The Photoshop-contest site FreakingNews.com hosts dozens of retouched images of Obama. Couched in the style of a "demotivational poster," this image presents an apocalyptic vision of an Obama presidency.
Although the retouching of images has been common in politics for decades, digital media and photo-editing tools have made the practice much more common. On Jan. 29, 2010, a blogger with the handle the Rogue Jew used this widely circulated fake image to accompany his comment that "Osama bin Laden has finally endorsed the Democrats Agenda on Global Warming. Rumor has it that Obama is thrilled that the Islamic Terror leader and him have more in common then [sic] their hatred of America."
This doctored image from FreakingNews.com underscores the perception by some that President Obama is dangerously soft on terrorism, to the point of masochistic desire. "Nobel Peace Award Winner hugs the most wanted terrorist, each other need the most indeed [sic]," says the commentary below it.
Since President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, a new type of imagery linking the two men has surfaced, such as the play on words on this bumper sticker for sale online.
News of bin Laden's demise spurred more images in which the association between Obama and bin Laden put the president in a positive light and capitalized on the military victory.
Overnight, a new global image of Obama in relation to bin Laden — that of conqueror of terrorists — was born. In Naples, Italy, a craftsman sculpted a figurine showing Obama holding the head of the al-Qaida leader.
While the negative images will almost certainly persist in some quarters, for now, at least, Obama's image is increasingly depicted as quintessentially American — more Marlboro Man than Manchurian candidate.
While bigots will continue to propagate malicious lies and images as a means to discount Obama's presidency, on the night of May 1, amid a spontaneous celebration at Ground Zero, the score was clear.
Captions by Omar Wasow. Follow him on Twitter.