Pulse: Chatter: Crackpots: Suspicious Mind

Meet the man behind the Birthers. (Yep, he’s ours)

Phil Berg asks lots of convoluted questions: Was Barack Obama’s certification of live birth doctored? (Berg thinks yes.) Did Obama use an Indonesian passport at age 10? (Ditto.) And visit Pakistan in 1981? (Ditto again.) Berg is less sure whether Obama had people whacked for knowing too much. (“I don’t know if it’s connected.”) But he’s unequivocal about what to do once his questions are answered: Jail the foreigner-in-chief, then deport him. “It’s the biggest hoax in American history,” he says. “Bigger than 9/11."

Which raises another question, one about Berg himself: How did a man who once volunteered for Hubert Humphrey turn Lafayette Hill into ground zero of the
Birther movement?

The Germantown High grad’s CV is conventional enough: law school, a state job, then private practice. Drawn to politics, he led Montgomery County’s Democratic Committee and ran unsuccessfully for office. Colleagues remember the liberal’s gonzo flair: In 1990’s gubernatorial primary, Berg crisscrossed the state in a camper, winning 23 percent of Dem votes. (He suspects the gimmick inspired Bill Clinton’s bus tour two years later.) But by 2000, when Berg joined the Democrats’ Florida recount army, he’d been branded a perennial loser and distinct oddball. (Berg claims he discovered crooked ballots and was lucky to escape the Sunshine State alive.)

Then the terrorists attacked — or, per Berg, the government bombed — the Twin Towers. He joined the 9/11 Truth Movement, filing a RICO case against George W. and Dick Cheney. “Phil went off the deep end,” says county commissioner Joe Hoeffel. As conspiracy-watching ate up Berg’s time, his law practice foundered. Bankrupt, he lost his office building, moving to a rented room beneath an apartment complex.

With Bush’s departure — not, alas, in shackles — Berg switched targets. By summer 2008, he was  launching Obamacrimes.com. Of course, life’s different when you embrace a right-wing cause: Shunned by broadcast media after 9/11, he now has a third phone reserved for press calls, including ones from G. Gordon Liddy and Michael Savage. But finding love back home hasn’t been so easy. Last spring, he ran for Common Pleas judge, but wound up debating Obama’s citizenship. For some reason, Montco’s Dems declined to support him.

Still, at least one local icon is glad Berg has made Philly Birther HQ: Joey Vento. The proprietor of Geno’s Steaks famously doesn’t like illegal immigrants. And he thinks the President may be one of them. Vento’s one quibble is with Berg’s focus on Obama’s “real” birth documents. The feds, notes the cheesesteak king, could just fake the paperwork. “The government is very good at printing,” Vento says. “I’m with Phil, but I think that the end result is they’re going to make us look like we’re goofballs.”