That search showed that the first mention of the e-mail on the Internet had come more than a year earlier. A participant on the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com posted a copy of the e-mail on Jan. 8, 2007, and added this line at the end: "Don't know who the original author is, but this email should be sent out to family and friends."
There was no attempt to verify the claims and this is not a matter of intelligence or education but ideology. Even a scholar like Edward Luttwak can repeat the smears simply because he's an opponent of Obama. This doesn't take many people to be effective:
Poring over these early articles on the topic, Allen noticed what she thought was an important pattern. In each instance, someone had posted the articles on the Free Republic Web site, prompting a discussion involving the same handful of people, with several expressing a desire to spread the word about Obama's supposed faith.
Allen counted 23 freepers among those engaging in regular discussions about Obama's religion, and isolated a handful whom she began to suspect as having a role in the e-mail.
The WaPo provides a useful timeline of the smear and here's part of it:
August 10: Andy Martin — a former political opponent of Obama and now the publisher of an internet newspaper — posts an article saying that Obama has concealed his Muslim heritage. Martin says that under Islamic law Obama became a Muslim at birth due to his father's religion.
December 29: Ted Sampley, a former U.S. Army Green Beret and conservative political activist, publishes an article titled "Obama, Who is He?" The article quotes Martin, as well as others, who say Obama is a Muslim.
December 29: A first version of the "Who Is Barack Obama?" email is captured by Snopes.com, a Web site dedicated investigating rumors and myths that spread via the Internet.
January 2: Andrew Walden, the founder of an alternative Hawaiian newspaper, publishes an article with many of the same biographical details from the email, such as that Obama was "raised in Muslim lands and educated in Muslim schools."
January 8: A FreeRepublic.com reader using the name "Cedar" posts a version of the email, which associates Obama with radical Islam. His post garners only 13 replies.
January 15: Different versions of the email are posted on an "Urban Legends" page on About.com.
January 16: Three versions of the email show up on FreeRepublic.com, including the version that was earlier posted on the Web site Snopes.com.
January 17: Insight, a conservative Web magazine owned by the Unification Church, publishes a story that alleges the Clinton campaign is asking questions about Obama's background:
"Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage? This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama."
January 19: The Fox television network's morning program, "Fox & Friends" broadcasts a report based on the Insight story.
January 23: CNN runs a report refuting the Insight story. The network states that the school Obama attended in Indonesia was not a madrassa.
January 30: FreeRepublic.com reader FrouFrou posts the Ted Sampley article "Obama: Who Is He?"
February 10: Obama announces he will run for president.
August: CBS News asks voters in a poll what they think Obama's religion is. Seven percent think he is Protestant, 7 percent say Muslim, and 84 percent don't know or don't answer.
Mid-November: The Obama campaign posts a dossier on its Web site titled "Obama Has Never Been A Muslim, And Is a Committed Christian." It includes testimonials from religious leaders vouching for Obama's faith.
December 5: Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign acknowledges an Iowa volunteer forwarded a version of the email. "This was wholly unauthorized, and we were totally unaware of it," Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's campaign manager, tells The New York Times. "Let me be clear: No one should be engaging in this."