David Barton is a terrible liar, but he’s still a very popular DM

David Barton is a terrible liar, but he’s still a very popular DM December 10, 2013

Hemant Mehta, Warren  Throckmorton and Kyle Mantyla all reported last week on the latest outrageous lie from outrageous liar David Barton. Their posts reminded me that I haven’t mentioned this after the fact. I discussed this lie before Barton told it, posting this late last month:

I try to make a habit here of highlighting these things as a kind of prophylactic against the lies habitually told by some of my fellow Christians who seem to think it’s their religious duty — or their vocation — to lie about black presidents. Here, then, is President Barack Obama’s 2013 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. And here’s his Thanksgiving-themed weekly address. That’s a public statement from the White House, so it’s not secret or obscure. And that’s Obama saying:

No matter our differences, we’re all part of one American family.  We are each other’s keeper.  We are one nation, under God.  That core tenet of our American experience has guided us from the earliest days of our founding – and it will guide us to a future that’s even brighter than today.

Thank you, God bless you, and from my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

Feel free to bookmark that page so you can refer back to it later when Mike Huckabee or The Liar Tony Perkins or Bryan Fischer or some other purportedly pious white dude says, yet again, that Obama never says such things.

And then, like clockwork, along came David Barton. Here, via Mantyla, is Barton’s exchange with right-wing Christianist radio host Andrew Wommack:

Barton: One of the unfortunate things, this is in the past several years, the Thanksgiving message out of the White House no longer even mentions God. When we give thanks, God’s not part of that.

Wommack: Part of that’s because of who is in the White House.

Barton: That’s a real problem. You check Thanksgiving proclamations of this president with the previous ones and it’s not the same.

The really audacious aspect of this lie is that last bit, where Barton tells listeners out in fundie-land to “check Thanksgiving proclamations of this president with the previous ones.” That’s really easy to do.

Click that Let Me Google That for You link and the first page of results is comical. The top link is to the text of Obama’s proclamation, quoted above. The fourth link down is to a Fox News article titled “Obama Leaves God Out of Thanksgiving Address.” The seventh and ninth links are to earlier iterations of that same lie by other right-wing “news” outlets — one from the National Review last year and one from the American Spectator in 2010. The sixth link also discusses Obama’s 2010 proclamation. It’s to a CNN Belief blog post on “Obama’s faithy Thanksgiving proclamation,” criticizing the president for overdoing the God-talk that year.

Mantyla and Mehta both include excerpts from all of Obama’s previous Thanksgiving proclamations, demonstrating that this lie is as obviously false as it is perennially irresistible to right-wing critics of the president. Warren Throckmorton only quotes from the 2013 proclamation in his post, but he also links back to his 2012 post responding to last year’s crop of this nonsense, in which he also cites some of the other “faithy” proclamations that are both: A) an indisputable matter of very public record, and B) still claimed not to exist by a vast array of white male Christianist critics of the president. Here’s Throckmorton last year:

In addition to his Thanksgiving proclamations, Obama issued three prayer related proclamations each year he has been president.  From 2009 through the present, Obama officially recognized the National Day of Prayer, the Memorial Day Prayer for Peace and the National Days of Prayers and Remembrance in September. His language in these proclamations is enough to make atheists cringe.

It seems silly and perverse, then, for David Barton to think he’s fooling anybody by repeating such blatant and easily refuted lies.

But here’s the very very important thing to understand: David Barton doesn’t think he is fooling anybody. He tells lies, but those lies are not intended to deceive his audience or to trick his fans into believing that something false is actually true. They all know it’s a lie.

Creative Commons photo by Moroboshi via Wikimedia.

The point of lies like this one is not to deceive others, but to invite them to participate in a deception — to support one another in the mutual indulgence of a flattering fantasy.

Here’s how this works. You’re a little kid and it’s the summer between third and fourth grade. It’s not even July yet, but already you’re bored. You and a friend are hanging out at the park, near the far end by the scraggly little span of trees that all the area kids call “The Woods.”

“What do you want to do?” your friend asks.

“I dunno,” you say. There’s nothing to do.

Your friend picks up a stick and says, “We could pretend these sticks are swords, and, I don’t know, pretend that willow tree is, like, a dragon or something.”

That’s not a bad idea for a game. It’s got potential. But your friend did a lousy job in selling it and now it just seems kind of pathetic. The sticks are just sticks and the tree is just a tree. Neither one of you seems capable of supplying the one thing this game needs to make it work: conviction.

So rewind a bit. You and your friend are slouching through the park, a pair of bored and disgruntled not-yet fourth-graders. And then suddenly that weird, new kid Bobby comes bursting out of The Woods. He’s got the red vinyl cape from an old Superman costume around his neck and he’s waving a stick around in the air. “Hey Bobby,” you’re about to say, but before you can speak he bellows: “Ho there, travelers. I am Sir Robert, and I seek the aid of brave knights and adventurers to help me hunt and slay the dragon that has been carrying off the children of our kingdom!”

And now you’re in. You quickly find yourselves a couple of swords to lend to the cause and you’re off on a grand adventure with brave Sir Robert. The sticks are no longer just sticks and the willow tree will never again be just a willow tree. You don’t step back to analyze and fact-check the claims being made by your new friend the knight errant. That would just spoil the excitement of the game and you needed this game and this excitement.

Bobby is still the weirdest kid you know, but years later that will also make him the best Dungeon Master you ever met — after the same great game has moved indoors, trading the park and The Woods for a card table in the basement covered with hexagonal graph-paper, die-cast figurines and multi-sided dice. As a DM, Bobby never fails to conjure up new fantastic adventures and to present them with such conviction that you believe them — or, at least, that you want to believe them, which amounts to the same thing.

That’s the service that David Barton provides for his fans. He’s a charlatan and something of a con artist, yes, but most of his audience knows that. They’re not looking to him to provide them with truths that can withstand fact-checking, they’re turning to him for excitement — for a fantasy that makes them feel like heroes, bravely slaying monsters in a dangerous world.

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  • Ben English

    You’re the weird kid for still using 3e in the Year of Our Lord 2013, but otherwise that’s adorable. Which one is your daughter’s character?

  • I’m using 3e because I already own the books and know how to run it. (I could have pulled out Mouseguard or a variety of other things, but they wanted D&D). My kid is the half-elven wizard/fighter. With a hedgehog as a familiar, just because.

  • Isabel C.

    Hee! Yeah, my social circle tends to have multiple GMs–and a few ongoing games running at once. I’ve run in the past, and will again once I finish the novel.

  • Why not? Hitler practically laid out his game plan in Mein Kampf and almost nobody took him that seriously.

  • True, though this sensibility is itself a close relative of racism. The myth that every good American must instinctively default to political conservatism and fundamentalist Christianity gives them a sense of entitlement, of Exceptionalism, that overt claims to White supremacy can no longer provide. The belief that there is only one True American way of life and lifestyle allows them to ‘believe’ that the rest of us are villains knowingly hostile to the obvious true way, and therefore cannot be trusted to govern ourselves, let alone have power over the Good Respectable People. The conceit that they alone live and think in the only way that God has always intended for everyone allows them to believe that the comforts of their lives are cosmically deserved, instead of accepting that being born into the privileged class of the modern USA was a matter of pure luck, and that their comfort is no sign of being intrinsically better than the rough looking sorts of the inner city or the trailer park.

    Finally the idea that the golden age of The True Christian Founding Fathers is was of vast moral superiority to today requires more than a little obtuseness towards the history of race, gender relations etc. in the US. It requires, at best, a belief that Jim Crow was bad, but that gay marriage or single elitist hipsters like myself sleeping in on Sunday is far worse.

    It is a vision of US patriotism that requires hating some of our most long-established cultural tropes and a large majority of out people. To put it most simply it requires a constant hostility towards people different from themselves. So no, in spirit it is no way meaningfully different from bonafide Son of Ham racialism, for what its worth.

  • Catherine

    This: Barton knows he can say “look it up” because he knows they won’t. They are told something which fits with their beliefs, so of course it’s true.

  • rizzo

    No, the people that I know that listen to things like this actually do believe it. If you give them links to what was actually said, they tell you it’s false because it’s just something someone wrote on the internet. You respond with Snopes links to their mass emails 2 or 3 times and suddenly you don’t get them anymore, because you’re popping their belief bubble.

    There really are ‘True Believers’ in what this jackass and people like him spout, and those are people that believe they know everything they need to know already.

  • MarkTemporis

    I never liked the idea of any one person being DM. Too close to a personality cult for my liking (granted, grocery store affiliation cards are also a little too close to a cult for my liking). All of my groups have rotated the role between us.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Respond to them if you think there’s a chance they’ll listen, or if you’re in a comment section somewhere for the sake of the lurkers.

    If it’s a lost cause, I don’t advocate banging your head against the wall unless it’s just your thing. Frustration is not healthy, and ruined days due to stupidity are not happytimes.

  • MarkTemporis

    On the other end, I have heard both Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins claim Obama is an atheist who knows better but is just playing the game.

  • Lorehead

    He supported amnesty for “the illegals!” Forgive those who trespass against us?

  • MarkTemporis

    More Palladium or Arduin, IMO — something that has the same veneer but is completely different under the hood.

  • Lorehead

    There are old-style rules for the grognards that streamline it but keep the feel.

  • Lorehead

    So what’s Mitt Romney’s %liar?

  • Lorehead

    One way of looking at it was that, since the end of World War II, the Oval Office had switched parties every eight years, except for the Republican win in 1980 (and the half-exception of the Democratic popular-vote victory in 2000).

    Another way to look at it was that if you started counting after the Democratic wins from 1932–1948 and 1960–1964, then handwaved 1976 as an anomaly and maybe pretended that Democrats cheated in 1960, that proved that Republicans always win presidential elections. There was a lock-in-the-electoral-college argument for this, too.

    Then Bill Clinton won, but even though both Truman and LBJ had been re-elected, because FDR and Kennedy had died in office, no Democratic president had been elected twice since FDR. Then Bill Clinton did that. But that was in a three-way race with a minority of the popular vote. Then Gore won the popular vote, but still no Democrat had won both the popular and the electoral vote until Obama did. Then that was a fluke because he was black, but it couldn’t happen again, and now either he must have cheated, or maybe the nation is doomed.

  • Last Friday, my wife and I had an hour-long discussion after the session about her character’s body issues – the character is very thin and frail because she’s half-air elemental and wishes she was stronger, and I just wanted to pulse-check to make sure this wasn’t her working out a personal issue in game.
    Turns out she has this whole backstory about how she was raised around farmers and workmen that she’s never told me about. Story fodder!

  • Yeah, Lord knows I’ve tried. I started DMing when I was nine with eighteen pages of the Fiend Folio and the Plume of the White Mountain adventure. We had to reverse engineer the rules and got them laughably wrong. Best birthday party ever.
    Since then, it’s just a role I gravitate to. I’m very collaborative with the players, which I think helps.

  • I once played YouTube clip from NBC showing Obama talking about his faith in God during the National Day of Prayer and was told it was “photoshopped.”

  • How do I get this forehead-shaped dent out of my desk?

  • Prayer.

  • Laurent Weppe

    Any suggestions on how we should respond to the Bartons of the world and their followers?

    Developing the social equivalent of herd immunity: so long as Barton & co’s follower believe they can convince some people that they are sincere, they’ll have an incentive to keep playacting. For the incentive to cease, it is necessary that the only response they’ll get is “You’re a liar, you do not believe the bullshit you’re spewing at me

  • Ann Coulter was on Bill Mahr’s show a few weeks ago, and she said, with a perfectly straight face (Admittedly, it is not clear to me that her species is physically capable of the same range of expression as a human being), that no republican ever EVER cast doubt on the president’s status as a natural-born US citizen — that EVERY SINGLE time anyone had done this, it was as a joke and their audiences all knew it. She went so far as to say that the only people who’d EVER made the claim in seriousness was the Hillary Clinton campaign.

  • Ben English


  • Lori

    At least they think that because they’d like to claim him rather than because they want to vilify him. But yeah, the power of wishful thinking is an amazing thing.

  • MarkTemporis

    I have to admit being a bit of a hypocrite over the entire ‘personality cult’ thing as I have awarded xp to players for doing my dishes which totally sounds like the sort of thing a cult leader would do (all my players were a bit too male for me to do the sex thing.)

  • MarkTemporis

    Bah. If there aren’t red skies and an Anti-Monitor it isn’t a proper crisis!

  • Albanaeon


    Just… wow.

  • redsixwing

    … there’s a game for Mouseguard?

    Oh my. XD

  • redsixwing

    That sounds super cool!

    I’ve played a tiny bit of Pathfinder, and it feels like 3.5 with all the good house rules put in. XD I just have to get familiar enough with the changes to run it.

  • Derrick

    Technical point: One cannot be lying if there is no intent to deceive. Without the intent to deceive, it’s either being mistaken or storytelling.

  • And in this case, a lot of their racism isn’t the simple “They hate him because he is black”, but the harder-to-understand (and easier to obfuscare) “They don’t care that the way they are attacking him is also harming an entire race as collateral damage”

  • Nick

    Wow, that is one of best analogies for this sort of behavior I have ever encountered.

  • Nick

    Vampire: The Masquerade

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Not that weird; when 4e reverse-engineered WoW, they ended up breaking the D20 system chain (like Traveller between Mega and TNE); those of us that didn’t want to go “Just like WoW, except Manual” went sideways to Pathfinder, AKA 3.75e.

  • This week’s GOP headline: After years of courting racists, Republican pundits shocked, shocked when some of their fans turn out to be racists.

  • That’s a pretty accurate description.

  • Ben English

    ….Please don’t start an edition war here, I’m not interested in your important opinions on why 4E is WOW on paper because I’ve literally heard all of them enough to build a bingo board out of it.

    I only thought Mike using 3E was weird because it was abandoned ten years ago for 3.5, and I was mostly just teasing. It’s a similar reaction to learning that someone is getting back into Windows Vista this long after the launch of Windows 7 and 8.

  • That is … quite extraordinary.


  • chris`

    “You quickly find yourselves a couple of swords to lend to the cause and you’re off on a grand adventure with .”

    If this isn’t a slightly-tweaked reference to Holy Grail, I am very much misled.

  • Oh yeah – Mouseguard RPG is pretty excellent. I recommend the deluxe set, it’s well worth it.

  • I, uh, I just upgraded the desktop from XP to 7 this weekend…

  • Jared James

    And the nature of the game is such that most of us will probably never know whether we demanded the President lie to us, and he did, or he expressed his genuine faith, and we didn’t believe him.

  • derbs

    Largely racism ?? What evidence do you have for this claim?

  • Well, for one thing if you read comment threads at out and proud racist sites–sites for groups like Stormfront, for example, you will find exactly the same jokes and insults as on regular right wing sites.

    Racism isn’t some unknown feature of American life, you know–some grenade attack that comes out of nowhere. Racism, and specifically anti-black imagery–date back to before the Civil War and its imagery and content remains startlingly the same. You could take lots of the cartoons and insults that have been lobbed at Obama and Mrs Obama and strip out the dates and you would have something appropriate to attacks on black leaders in Haiti, or during the reconstruction period. Really, you should read some history. Begin with Capital Men, the book about the first (and for a long time last) ex slaves who served in the US congress during reconstruction. There is nothing that was said about them qua savages that hasn’t been said about Obama on right wing sites. This is not some kind of secret.

  • While I’m at it, here you go, from the NYPost’s coverage of Obama sitting next to a white woman, the Danish Prime Minister:

    The Kenyan’s mother owes the United States an apology for laying down & spreading her legs for the gorilla known as Barry’s daddy.

  • derbs

    your examples are a minority of folks. The masses who disagree with BO, do so because of his politics and vision for the country, not his skin color..sorry, I know its an inconvenient truth

  • You have no way of knowing that at all. And, of course, many of these extremely ugly racist tropes have been circulated by officials of the Republican party on official stationary and using government resources. A few have even publicly been chastised and resigned for it. These are by no means outliers, though it may be embarrassing for you to admit it. I agree that the current republican party is so highly partisan that it would (and did) say extremely ugly and demeaning things about any Democratic President and certainly they attacked Clinton with a lot of hyperbole, accusations that he was a murderer, etc… But to argue that the ugliness directed at Obama and his administration isn’t racist simply is not respectful of the facts. The Republican party since Nixon’s southern strategy is literally and figuratively a neo-confederate party.

  • derbs

    to be clear, its accurate to assign racism to ugly, overt racist comments…I agree. but on a larger scale, the 49% who disapprove of BO’s job performance, these folks must be racist ? Really ?