Larry Martin owns Frontera Bar and Grill, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. He imports mesquite charcoal from San Francisco and, he says, "serves peace love and American hegemony, one plate of tacos at a time" to Malaysian customers. In his spare time, he writes a semi-anonymous blog, An American Expat in Southeast Asia, on which he rails against mainstream American media, multiculturalism and Barack Obama. And that is how Martin has come to the attention of a broader audience. His blog is repeatedly cited as a source in Jerome R. Corsi's best-selling anti-Obama book, Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality.
Corsi's publisher Simon & Schuster has touted Obama Nation which currently sits atop the New York Times' best-seller list as "thoroughly researched and documented." Indeed, the book's 680 footnotes seem to support that claim. But misstatements and inaccuracies including at least eight major errors in the first 50 pages have thrown considerable doubt on the book's credibility. So has the author's dependence on less-than-authoritative sources, among them Martin's blog.
The first mention of Martin's blog comes on Page 52 of Obama Nation, when it is cited as the source for Corsi's assertion that when Obama's Muslim stepfather registered him at a Catholic school in Indonesia, Obama's religion was recorded as "Islam." No one disputes that. In fact, Martin is not the only one who reported the information; on Jan. 25, 2007, the same day that Martin posted it on his blog, the Associated Press reported the same information, from the Fransiskus Assisi Catholic school, and ran a photograph of the document. Martin says he got the information independently, having traveled to Obama's former school himself in January 2007 to view the documents. "They had it in a book and I just looked in a book," he says. "I just happened to say, 'Hey, I'm a blogger, can I see [the documents]?' and they said, 'Yeah no problem.' " Martin says the AP photo "vindicates" his research.
Neither Martin nor Corsi, however, report the response from Obama's friends and associates, both in the U.S. and Indonesia, who have pointed out that children at the school were often classified under the religion of their father. Although Lolo Soetero, Obama's stepfather, was nominally a Muslim, Obama (then known as Barry Soetoro), studied Catholic catechism at the school.
Nevertheless, Corsi returns again and again to Martin as a supposed authority on Obama's religion. At one point in Obama Nation, the author refers to the blogger's translation of a televised Indonesian news report: "The blog comments, 'The emphasis here is that even though Barry was a Muslim and was in the mosque and was wearing Islamic clothes, that he was only "playing" and not "praying." I suppose you can interpret that any way you wish.' " Yet Martin's original blog post described the news video as saying only that the young Obama "lived his life in the middle of Muslims." Corsi has extrapolated from that to infer that Obama was a Muslim.
Corsi repeatedly relies on Martin's accounts of Indonesian news reports to bolster his case for Obama's connections to Islam. For example, in a translated article about a secular school that Obama later attended, Martin writes: "Each Friday, all the school childen [sic] must wear Muslim clothes and that also includes children who are non-muslim [sic]." But that line does not appear in the original news report. What was Martin's source for his repeated insistence that Obama's former school requires students to dress in traditional Muslim attire on Fridays? "I've lived [in Southeast Asia] for 20 years; I go to schools all the time," he says. However, he admits that he never visited Obama's former school on a Friday.
In a 2007 post, Martin also claims that the Indonesian title of Obama's book The Audacity of Hope Menerjang Harapan means "Jihad." This, says Martin, is what Indonesians see when they encounter Obama's book. However, his translation is a distortion of the Indonesian phrase, which in English is literally "To Challenge Hope.")
Martin unabashedly admits that he has a political agenda and likens the idea of a President Obama to electing a German or Japanese sympathizer during World War II. "Imagine if you will that in 1945 a war-weary America had elected Harry S. Yamamoto as president," he writes on his blog. "What would be the reaction in Japan?" When asked about this, Martin explains, "We are at war with fanatical Muslims. So what do you do, do you elect a guy with a Muslim name? That's ridiculous."
Corsi has been criticized for the veracity of his reporting ever since he co-authored the 2004 book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, which was instrumental in destabilizing the campaign of the then Democratic presidential candidate. Corsi did not respond to TIME's e-mails and phone calls about his use of material from Martin's blog. During an Aug. 4 appearance on the radio show The Alex Jones Show, Corsi said he translated the Indonesian news reports himself, although in the book he quotes directly from Martin's blog. The Obama campaign has issued a 41-page rebuttal of Corsi's claims.
As for Larry Martin, he remains at his restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. He tells stories about Malaysian patrons who have never seen refried beans and who try to eat tacos with a fork. He likes writing on his blog and investigating Obama. Martin says he had never heard of Corsi and was unaware that he was going to be a source until just before the book was published. "[Corsi] sent me an e-mail about a month before the book came out, and then we talked on the phone. He said he would send me an autographed copy, although we'll see if that actually happens," he says. In any case, Martin thinks he might like to write a book himself one day. "Or maybe," he says, "I'll get a job at a think tank."
With reporting by Jason Tedjasukmana and Zamira Loebis / Jakarta