Who's Your Daddy? Another Look at Joel Gilbert's Dreams from My Real Father

Barack Obama’s campaigns for national office have always centered on who he was, not what he’d done.

But who was he?

Professional journalists didn’t want to know, and didn’t want voters to know.

In Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, in a world where everything is incombustible, the job of firemen is to burn books.  Captain Beatty, the fire chief in Bradbury’s dystopia, became the role model for journalists in 2008.  Their job was not only not to investigate the Hope-and-Changer, but to turn their flamethrowers on those who were attempting to do so.

The internet is still fireproof, and so citizen journalists kept unraveling the layers of deception surrounding the multicultural paragon.  There were among them, of course, the “wingnuts” and “whackjobs” of leftist demonology.  But there were many serious researchers, some with Ph.D.s, some uncredentialed.

In 2012, Joel Gilbert released a film that fleshed out (pun intended) a theory that had long circulated online, and had been tentatively suggested in at least one book, Jack Cashill’s Obama Deconstructed.  Frank Marshall Davis, the Communist journalist and poet who had mentored young Barry Soetero in Hawaii, was in fact, Gilbert claimed, the boy’s real father.  Dreams from My Real Father tells the story from the point of view of Barack Obama, with a narrator fessing up to what really transpired.  The film sold well, got nearly 900 reviews on Amazon, and was distributed gratis to some four million voters.

Gilbert’s premise seems plausible in part because of his clever use of images.  Looking at something -- say, the Beirut airport in a 1950s photo -- has a slightly mesmerizing effect, and viewers are inclined to believe that, yes, maybe the Dunhams were there, even without Stan, Ann, and Madelyn being in the picture.  Gilbert is adroit at digging up interesting file footage.

But unfortunately, his thesis doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

What follows draws in part on the research of Loren Collins, an Atlanta attorney and conflict mediator, and author of Bullspotting.  Quotes not from Obama-Ayers’ Dreams from My Father (the author is referred to henceforth as “Obama”), if not otherwise identified, come from Janny Scott’s A Singular Woman

Gilbert’s is tale of two men.  Ann’s father Stanley Dunham plays nearly as important a role as Frank Davis.

Stanley Dunham

The story Gilbert tells hinges on “Gramps.”  He was not a furniture salesman, as everyone claims, but, according a Gilbert, a CIA agent.  Stanley signed on after originally serving in Air Force intelligence.  Initially sent to Beirut, he was transferred to Seattle to monitor communists at Boeing, then on to Hawaii, where he was responsible for recruiting visiting African exchange students.   His first protégé was Barack Obama, Sr.   As part of Stan’s job, he was to infiltrate leftist groups, and he wound up meeting Frank Marshall Davis and inviting the genial Stalinist to his home. 

This was not a good move, as the propagandist-poet-pornographer seduced his rebellious daughter.  When Ann became pregnant, Frank refused to divorce his wife and suggested that a marriage be arranged between his young lover and a willing black man.  This seemed like a good idea to Stan, and it occurred to him that he knew just the guy.   Barack Sr. agreed, on the condition that he not be listed as the father on the baby’s birth certificate, and thus have no financial liability for the future bi-racial reconciler.  Ten years later, when Punahou, the exclusive private school in Honolulu, made a fuss about giving Barry a full affirmative action scholarship -- and not having a birth certificate identifying the father -- Stan paid for Barack Sr. to return to Hawaii, meet his “son” for the first and last time, and verify that he was the dad.  The Kenyan was more than happy to take an all-expenses-paid month-long vacation in Hawaii. 

When young Barack was sent back to Hawaii, Ann instructed her dad to introduce him to Frank Marshall Davis, his real father.  The two developed a close relationship, especially after Barry, rummaging around in the attic, discovered his birth certificate and confronted his mother.

This portrait of Stanley Dunham doesn’t come close to meeting the sniff test.

The evidence for Stan being a “Company Man” (the title of Gilbert’s “Chapter 2”) consists of the following:

1.  A transcript from Berkeley showing the Stan took French for a year.

2.  A family picture that shows Ann, who looks about 9 or 10 years old, in a jumper with letters that appear to be “NDJ” on the left strap.  Gilbert identifies this as the school uniform of College de Notre Dame de Jamhour in Beirut.

Some obvious problems:

The transcript is flashed on the screen quickly and viewers may not have a chance to see that the aspiring spook got Cs in both of his French classes.  Stan was not a stellar student in his other classes either.  Apart from a B in Journalism and an A in his second semester of English, all his other grades were Cs and Ds.   As Obama puts it in Dreams with typical pretentiousness, at Berkeley “the classroom couldn’t contain his ambition.”  According to relatives, Madelyn wrote his term papers while Stan “sprawled on the couch reading murder mysteries.”  Plagiarism runs in the family.  Eventually Madelyn “pulled the plug on Berkeley.”  “’What can you do if your wife won’t support you to get an education?’” Stan whined more than once after the couple returned to Kansas.

The CIA in the late ’40s and ’50 was recruiting the best and the brightest from Ivy League colleges.  (John Updike once wrote an amusing story about a brainy Harvard classmate who was signed on.)  The CIA would have had zero interest in Stanley Dunham, who had earlier dropped out of high school not, as Obama tells it, because he punched the principal in the nose, but because, according to his brother, “he was not doing well academically.”  “His crude, ham-fisted manners” (as Obama describes them) would probably not have impressed interviewers.

Gilbert’s claim about the stints in Air Force intelligence depend entirely on the alleged proximity of bases to places the Dunhams lived.  In fact, they never lived in any of the towns that are home to the three bases in Oklahoma, the seven bases in Texas, or McConnell, the one base in Kansas.

As for the Lebanon sojourn, Gilbert offers no other evidence beside the jumper with NDJ.  Stan and Madelyn’s siblings would surely have noticed the Dunhams’ long absence.  They’d have been told he was working under whatever cover had been assigned him.  Nor did the Dunhams ever live anywhere near McLean, Virginia, where Stan might have received a little training, along with some remedial French.

Apparently, Gramps never mastered the parley-vous, and so was dispatched to Seattle.  But though there were and are turf wars between the CIA and FBI, monitoring communists at Boeing would obviously have been the FBI’s beat.  Madelyn had spent the war years happily working in a Boeing plant in Wichita, and this may have been the inspiration for the move to Seattle.

The assignment to Hawaii to mentor visiting Africans was not very cost-effective for the agency, since there was only one student the year the Dunhams relocated, Barack Sr., who arrived later in the summer of 1960. 

Dreams from My Real Father lingers over a photo that Gilbert claims shows Gramps welcoming Barack Sr. at Hickam Air Force base when he arrived in Hawaii.  In fact the picture, from CBS News, is of a party given for the Kenyan to celebrate his graduation from U. of Hawaii. 

With time on his hands, Stan was assigned by the CIA to poach once again on the FBI’s territory, according to Gilbert.  This is how he made the acquaintance of Frank Marshall Davis.  In fact, Gramps most likely met the Communist through contacts at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, where Barry attended Sunday school.  “You get five religions in one,” Stan exulted about Unitarianism.  In Honolulu, you also got atheism.  The Church boasts that its attic was at one time used by Madelyn Murray O’Hair as a “sanctuary.”

The NDJ emblem remains a mystery.  There was no private school with those initials anywhere the Dunhams lived, and they didn’t have the money to send Ann to one anyway.  It could have been picked up at a yard sale.  In any case, in the absence of any other evidence, it’s a wobbly peg on which to hang the CIA tale.

On top of everything, Stan seems awfully obtuse for a CIA agent.  As Gilbert tells it, it takes awhile for it to dawn on him that his career would be in jeopardy if his daughter were to marry the leading Communist on the Islands -- though we’ve already been told Frank has declined the honor.  It’s Frank, too, who comes up with the idea of finding a black guy who’ll agree to a sham marriage with Ann.  Then, when little Barry Soetero is sent back to Hawaii, Ann has to remind her dad who Frank is, as if he’d have forgotten after ten years who had knocked up his daughter.  She then requests that he introduce the boy to his real father, not something he’d be happy to do, one would think, under the circumstances.   A not-so-dim granddad might also have persuaded Punahou that Barry did indeed have an African or African-American father, despite a missing birth certificate (which didn’t trouble far more important people than the Punahou admissions officer), and that, after one look at Barry, it would not be necessary to see Barack Sr. in the flesh.

Frank Marshall Davis

The evidence for Davis’ paternity rests mostly on two sets of photos.  The first is of Davis himself.  Gilbert deftly juxtaposes them to photos of Obama, positioning the faces of each at the same angle and with the same expression.  There is a resemblance.  Collins claims that Gilbert could have picked any African-American. But while it’s no doubt true for Obama’s broad nose, there are other physical similarities that are striking, including the age spots that now dot the President’s face.  Once again, though, Gilbert reveals his indifference to evidence.  He claims the two men share the same height, 6’ 2”, and build.  But Obama is 6’ 1”, not 6’ 2.”  If Gilbert couldn’t be bothered to do a .027-second Google search on the President, I’m not sure I trust him on Davis’s height.  (Weirdly, the filmmaker also claims that Obama, a guy obsessed with his blackness and wanting to ingratiate himself to the African-American community in Chicago, at some point got a nose job, à la Michael Jackson.) 

So the physical similarities are intriguing but hardly conclusive.  In other photos of Davis, there’s not much resemblance.  And as Collins points out, Mark Obama Ndesanjo, the son of Barack Sr. and a white woman, Ruth Baker (and clearly someone who made his way in the world without the benefit of Affirmative Action), looks a lot more like the President than does another Mark, the son of Frank and his second wife Helen Canfield Davis, a white Chicago socialite eighteen years Frank’s junior.  The individual the President most closely resembles is Stan the Company Man, whose English, Irish, Swiss, and French genes dominated Obama’s African DNA. 

Speaking of dominate, the second set of photos is mostly of black-lingerie-clad and leather-booted models.  It was Gilbert who unearthed the dominatrixes.  In the original trio of photos, first posted by “The Astute Bloggers” in October 2008, the woman appears without any BDSM apparel. She’s wearing nothing but high heels and a pair of ball earrings, and glances coyly back at the photographer.  The model looks something like Ann Dunham.  There are Christmas presents on the floor, and Gilbert dates the photos to December 1960.

The filmmaker followed up by doing two things: 

1) Recognizing that the sequence of numbers and letters at the bottom of one of the photos came from a filing system used by pornographic magazines, Gilbert searched for other shots of the same woman.

2) He flew to Hawaii to inspect Frank Marshall Davis’s former home in an attempt to verify that this was indeed the setting for the photographs.

Unfortunately, both efforts yielded results that were, to say the least, not encouraging.  But undeterred, Gilbert soldiered on with his thesis.

1)  Gilbert claimed to have located seven issues of porno mags that featured Ann Dunham.  On the website promoting the video, obamasrealfather.com, one page shows covers of the issues. 

Doggedly, Collins hunted these down (not so difficult with Exotique, which were republished in a three-volume set).   In none of the issues displayed on the website is there a photo of the Ann look-alike.  And all but one, Collins discovered, were from the 1950s.  Exotique in fact ceased publication in 1959.  But then in another issue of this soft-core S&M mag, #23, he found one of the photos Gilbert claims to have been of Ann, the image displayed on the page linked above.  Unfortunately, #23 came out in 1958, when Ann was fifteen and two years before the Dunhams moved to Hawaii.  The woman, Gilbert claims, is the same as the model in the original three “Ann” photos, though she looks a little more menacing in black opera gloves and calf-high leather boots. 

Without delving further into the photo question, it’s obvious Gilbert was passing off as photos of Ann pictures of a woman who could not have been her.

After Collins’ articles appeared, Gilbert added the current caption to the shot of the fetish mag covers, which notes that Davis’s photos were published in “men’s magazines throughout the 1960s.”  His parenthetical note below this, that the publication dates “in the 1998 Exotique retrospective collection are inconsistent with original magazines dates,” is true only in so far as the German publisher printed incorrect dates for the magazine’s lifespan on the title page -- 1951 to 1957.  Exotique was actually published between 1955 and 1959.

Readers willing to pay 2 pounds (just under $3) can verify for themselves the date of issue 23 at this site.


2.  Based on the setting for the photo shoots, Gilbert quixotically attempted to demonstrate that this was, indeed, Davis’s living room. 

He located a photo of an interview with Davis that took place on a couch in 1948, and claims in the film that this is the identical couch that the model is sitting on twelve years later.   This would have been the dominatrix in Exotique, as the three original “Anns” were posed on and in front of a chair.  Unfortunately, even in the low-resolution photos, it’s clear that these are two different sofas:  the one in the 1948 picture has separate cushions, while the one from Exotique has raised seams.   In interviews, Gilbert also inexplicably makes claims about the windows -- that they floor to ceiling “Tudor” windows -- that are clearly not borne out by the photos he shows.

Once in Hawaii, Gilbert, claiming to be doing a documentary on Davis’s poetry for the History Channel, was admitted to Davis’s former home, and took photos and measurements -- which made the owner suspicious.  The results, at best, were inconclusive, because Gilbert did not include any of this evidence in the film.  In interviews, however, he made dubious claims about discovering in a shed “plywood sheets” of the same floorboard in the photos.  As Collins points out, plywood comes in sheets, boards in boards, so even this far-fetched claim doesn’t make sense.

In the end, the only evidence presented in Dreams from My Real Father that the model was photographed in Davis’ home consists of a) the photo of the couch, which shows no such thing; b) a close-up of the woman’s shoes followed by a very quick close-up of the shoes Helen Davis is wearing in a photo.  Again, there’s no match.  And c) a close-up of the jazz albums on the floor behind the model.  Davis was a jazz aficionado.  But then so were millions of other Americans.

Equally dismaying is Gilbert’s use of Davis’s semi-autobiographical pornographic novel Sex Rebel, Black, published under the pseudonym Bob Greene.  The filmmaker quotes several sentences from the book, and displays them on the screen, to suggest that the narrator had a sexual relationship with Ann, thinly disguised as “Anne.”

Anne came up many times the next several weeks.
 She obtained a course in practical sex from experienced and considerate practitioners.
 I think we did her a favour, although the pleasure was mutual.
 I’m not one to go in for Lolitas.  Usually I'd rather not bed a babe under 20.
 But there are exceptions. I didn't want to disappoint the trusting child.

Collins hunted down a copy of the book (there only three in public libraries in the U.S., according to Worldcat) and discovered that the sentences, which are made to appear as one paragraph in Dreams from my Real Father, are pulled from separate pages.  The reason was obvious:  “Anne” is in fact a thirteen-year-old Jamaican girl and the affair takes place in Chicago in the late 1930s.  No way is this a veiled reference to Ann Dunham.

Joel Gilbert, like Bill Ayers, is something of a post-structuralist hoaxer, whether or not he’s read Derrida, Barthes, Foucault and Co.  His Atomic Jihad is a straightforward look at the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.  But two other movies, originally released as documentaries and described as such in interviews, were later repackaged as “mockumentary spoofs.”  These are Paul McCartney is Really Dead:  The Last Testament of George Harrison (2010) and Elvis Found Alive (2012).  Collins provides a detailed account of Gilbert’s disingenuousness. If nothing else, Gilbert’s walking back his original claims about the two films indicates a certain insouciance about data and evidence.

In interviews, Gilbert repeatedly doubled down on his deceptions.  At one point he claimed on Peter Boyle’s radio show that the handwriting (consisting of numbers and letters) at the bottom of the fetish photos matches Davis’s exactly, according to anonymous “handwriting experts.”   He also claimed, even more improbably, that he had in his possession photos of Davis and Dunham together, but he didn’t want to show them in the film because they were too racy.

Of course, it’s not impossible that Frank Marshall Davis was Obama’s father, but not on the evidence Gilbert -- or anyone else -- has so far presented.

The claim is central to the movie.  This is unfortunate, because later “chapters” take a close look at other sinister figures who influenced Obama, as Davis indisputably did.  Drawing on two books that are invaluable for understanding the Confidence Man, Stanley Kurtz’s Radical-in-Chief and Jack Cashill’s Deconstructing Obama, Gilbert documents Obama’s debts to both Tom and Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, and (literally) Tony Rezko, and describes his fatal attraction to hard left dogma, so carefully kept under wraps during the 2008 campaign.  Gilbert explores this in greater depth than did Dinesh D’Souza’s much slicker Obama’s America:  2016.  (If Dinesh had subsidized straw voters for the Dems instead of the GOP, he’d now be Ambassador to Belgium instead of a convicted felon.)  Obama’s America, which focuses on Obama’s anti-colonial legacy from his absent father, and includes jaunts to Indonesia and Kenya, was nonetheless a compelling documentary, and it’s not D’Souza’s fault that Mitt Romney lost.


Dreams from My Real Father is, first and foremost, an attempt to explain the birth certificate conundrum.  Why would a candidate proclaiming the need for “transparency” so resolutely, and at such great expense, resist a simple appeal to release his birth certificate?  Why, when he finally posted a PDF of the long form online in 2011, did it raise the suspicions of experts who had not entered the debate previously and had no axes to grind?  For those who want a trip down memory lane, some of the best articles at American Thinker by skeptics are here, here, and here.

Parts 2 and 3 of a 4-part presentation by Lord Monckton provide an entertaining summary of the case that the document the White House released was a forgery.

Nonetheless, the idea that Obama was born in Kenya was implausible from the start.  Why would middle-class white American parents permit their eighteen-year-old daughter to travel to a backward country in East Africa to give birth?  The grad student on a fellowship who had complained about the high cost of living in Hawaii didn’t have the wherewithal to finance a trip even if he’d wanted to.  And with a wife and children in Nairobi, he’d have no reason to want to.

Despite being wrong about Frank Davis, Joel Gilbert may have been on to something about the birth certificate.  The date and place were correct, but what was problematic was possibly the space above “father’s name.”  This may have been either left blank or contained the words “father unknown,” as Gilbert claims.  Or Ann may have signed with her maiden name. 

For Gilbert, no father is identified on the birth certificate because this was part of the deal with Barack Sr.  He would marry Ann, he agreed, but his name would not go on the certificate so that he would have no legal obligations to the baby. 

But was there even a marriage?

As Obama concedes in Dreams:

In fact, how and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky, a bill of particulars that I’ve never quite had the courage to explore.  There’s no record of a real wedding, a cake, a ring, a giving away of the bride.  No families were in attendance; it’s not even clear that people back in Kansas were fully informed.  Just a small civil ceremony, a justice of the peace.  The whole thing seems so fragile in retrospect, so haphazard.

He later describes himself coming across, of all things, his birth certificate, along with vaccination papers and an article from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.   Wouldn’t his parents’ marriage license have been among these papers?  This is certainly something Ann would have wanted to hang onto.

What Obama has to say about the clipping is of interest:

It’s a short piece, with a photograph of him.  No mention is made of my mother or me, and I’m left to wonder whether the omission was intentional on my father’s part, in anticipation of his long departure.  Perhaps the reporter failed to ask personal questions, intimidated by my father’s imperious manner; or perhaps it was an editorial decision, not part of the simple story that they were looking for.  I wonder, too, whether the omission caused a fight between my parents.

Obama is, as usual, being evasive.  There were actually two articles about Barack Sr.  The longer one, with a picture, was in the Honolulu Advertiser.  It was clearly a human-interest story.  What could have been more heart-warming than a paragraph on the African student’s lovely American wife and one-year-old son, who would rejoin him in Cambridge or Kenya?

Psychologists and detectives are familiar with the phenomenon of someone confessing in copious detail to a smaller crime or embarrassing moment in order to cover up a larger one.   Was it the birth certificate rather than the article that disturbed Obama?

Did the couple agree to the Maui charade merely to deceive Stan and Madelyn, and never go through with the marriage?  Did Ann have a change of heart on Maui after she learned Barack Sr. had a wife and children back in Kenya?  Did he tell her about Kezia and the kids in the expectation that this is exactly what would happen?

The couple never lived together, and Barack Sr. certainly didn’t act as if he were married.  In April 1961, the U. of Hawaii Foreign Student Advisor, Mrs. McCabe, was concerned enough about his behavior to call the INS to warn about the Kenyan’s “playboy ways.”  She told the officer that he “has been running around with several girls since he arrived here last summer.”   When McCabe questioned Barack Sr. about this, he assured her he was divorced from Kezia Obama:  all a husband needed to do was tell the wife they were divorced “and that constitutes a legal divorce.”  McCabe was clearly unaware that the twenty-five-year-old lothario had married again three months earlier, and that this quaint Islamic custom could not have been resorted to a second time, as his new wife was not a Muslim.

Neil Abercrombie, who would go on to become Governor of Hawaii, was a buddy of Barack Sr.’s at U. of Hawaii, and visited his friend in Nairobi in 1968.  Abercrombie had stayed in touch with Ann and Barry and was shocked when Obama never once asked about his wife and son.

Nonetheless, there’s is one document, and apparently only one document, that suggests that the Kenyan and Kansan did marry -- apart from the divorce papers filed in March 1964.  This is an entry in “Marriage Index 1960-1965” issued by Hawaii’s Department of Health.   The couples are listed as “bride” and “groom” and it’s hard to imagine where the information would have come from if not from the state’s marriage registry.

It was unearthed by Nick Chase, and it was he who suggested that Ann signed the birth certificate with her maiden name.  Why would she do this?

Throughout her life, Ann was headstrong and impulsive.   A few years earlier, she drove with a friend from Seattle to San Francisco on the spur of the moment.   Stan had to fly down to collect her.  By August 1961 she had already made plans to return with her infant son to U. of Washington.  When Jeremiah Wright landed Obama in hot water during the 2008 campaign and refused a $150,000 bribe to stay mum, the candidate visited him to plead in person.  “You know what your problem is?”  he asked the Rev.  “You have to tell the truth.”  This is little scary, given the “truths” Wright shouted to his congregation from the pulpit, but it is no less true of Ann Dunham.

Ann was a feisty feminist avant la lettre, and she may in the end have rejected the squalid bargain she’d made with her parents, and bravely declared on the birth certificate that the baby was hers and hers alone.

So when Michelle Obama told an audience on July 10, 2008 that Ann “was very young and very single when she had him,” she may have been confessing what was figuratively true, whatever may have happened on Maui.

If Ann Dunham did sign with her maiden name and/or the husband was listed as “unknown” or the space left blank, this would of course demolish the great multicultural myth that underlay the whole Obama crusade -- the sacred union of the ex-goat-herder from Kenya and the all-American girl from Kansas, he “black as coal,” she “white as milk.”

Why are Gilbert’s peccadillos relevant now? 

Because candor is important.  Those of us who migrated rightward from the left did so because at some point we became disillusioned with the lies, distortions, and evasions.  In my case, these were originally about a pretty trivial issue, the “standard of living debate” among historians of 19th century Britain.  The left will continue to hemorrhage support from young people with curiosity, common sense, skepticism, good taste, and a sense of irony -- as long as we tell the truth, and as long as we are careful not to go beyond the evidence.

A few journalists may already be among the disenchanted.  Despite his training, fireman Guy Montag, in Farenheit 451, begins secretly to read and collect books.  When Captain Beatty comes to arrest him, the renegade fireman turns his flamethrower on the enforcer of political correctness.

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