The birthers who believe President Obama is a secret Muslim now have successors in bearders who think GOP House leader Paul Ryan is also a Muslim because of his newly sprouted facial hairs. This might be seen as a sign that the American right has finally crossed the border into looney-land. Yet this sort of paranoid conspiracy theory has a long history, ranging from those who argued that Abraham Lincoln was “part Negro” to the theory that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was Jewish.
But the use of Ryan’s physical appearance to argue for a covert identity suggests new avenues for conspiracy theorists. After all, why stop at Ryan? Maybe all five bearded American presidents (Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, and Harrison) were Muslims. Bill Clinton’s near vegan diet might be proof that he is closet Hindu? And what can we conclude from William Howard Taft’s legendary girth, so reminiscent of one tradition of Buddha statues.