In a matter of days, the news of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release has gone from what the government hoped would be a triumphant story of an American POW’s safe return to a Homeland-esque tale that appears poised to become the next Benghazi. Bergdahl is still in a U.S. military hospital in Germany, but Republicans are already demanding an open hearing on the deal with the Taliban that led to his release. While the major issues raised by the trade — including Bergdahl’s alleged desertion, returning five Guantanamo detainees, and the president’s failure to consult Congress — are enough to fuel political debate through the next presidential election, conspiracy theorists have wasted no time in coming up with their own ideas. Here’s a primer on Bergdahl’s rumored affinities, his father’s ostensibly suspicious knowledge of Islam and Arabic, and the government’s potentially nefarious reasons for making the swap.
Bergdahl was released to distract us from the VA scandal
After The Hill noted on Sunday that Bergdahl bumped the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki from the headlines, conservatives on Twitter claimed that was the administration’s plan all along. “Exactly as intended, the story of the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has dominated news coverage, [making] the VA scandal yesterday’s news,” wrote the American Thinker, adding “we won’t forget our veterans, a group which Bergdahl, by the way, will soon be joining, in all likelihood.”
Bergdahl was released to distract us from new EPA regulations
Supposedly, the prisoner trade was also meant to knock Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants from the headlines, though the L.A. Times reports that the White House has launched a “campaign-style push” to promote the major shift in environmental policy. Conservative Byte suggests that the news was “conveniently timed” to coincide with the “disastrous regulations have the potential to send the US in another great depression.”
Bergdahl was a U.S. spy
While Bergdahl had been in captivity for five years, U.S. officials said they had to act quickly because his health and safety were suddenly in jeopardy. InfoWars suggests Bergdahl’s life was in danger because he was an undercover U.S. agent whose cover was blown when the White House accidentally released the name of the CIA’s highest-ranking spy in Afghanistan last week. “Bergdahl may have actually been an embedded intelligence asset who allowed himself to be captured in order to infiltrate the Haqqani network, yet was ultimately endangered by the Obama administration’s blunder,” according to the site.
Bergdahl is a Taliban sympathizer
After considering joining the French Foreign Legion or heading to a war-torn region of Africa to teach villagers self-defense, Bergdahl decided to join the Army so he could help the Afghan people. The late Michael Hastings reported in a 2012 Rolling Stone article that Bergdahl quickly became disillusioned, and wrote in his final email to his parents that he was disgusted with the American military. “In the US army you are cut down for being honest … but if you are a conceited brown nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do what ever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank,” he wrote. “The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.” Days later, he reportedly walked off base.
Unsurprisingly, those remarks are not playing well, particularly in the right-wing media. A post on Joe the Plumber’s website said the Taliban “might have sent us the Manchurian POW.” In an article titled “Did the Obama White House Trade Five Terrorists for a Taliban Sympathizer?” Breitbart noted that in 2010, the Taliban claimed that Bergdahl had converted to Islam and was teaching militants about bomb-making and ambushing convoys. “Bergdahl had also changed his name to Abdullah, the Taliban claimed, though the mainstream media largely ignored the story, seeing it as comparable to the tale of Sgt. Brody in the fictional Homeland television series on Showtime,” wrote Breitbart. The Department of Defense dismissed the report as propaganda.
On his website, former congressman Allen West suggested it’s fishy that Bergdahl is still alive. “Islamic jihadists don’t generally take US troops prisoner, they execute them, often in the primitively brutal manner of ritual disemboweling and beheading,” he wrote. “So why has the Haqqani network held SGT Bergdahl all these years?”
Bergdahl’s father is a Taliban sympathizer
Incredibly, while Bowe is an alleged deserter who denounced America in writing, his father Robert Bergdahl has managed to arouse far more suspicion among conspiracy theorists. The alarm was first raised after Robert said two sentences in Arabic at a White House press conference, explaining that after five years in captivity his son was having trouble remembering English. Or, as Megyn Kelly put it on Fox News, after taking the podium, Robert “gave thanks, and also praised Allah in the language of the Taliban.”
What Robert said was, “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.” It’s a common phrase that begins all but one chapter in the Koran, but according to a “bombshell” report from Allen West, a friend and “former CIA operations officer” told him that “by uttering these words on the grounds of the WH, Bergdahl (the father) sanctified the WH and claimed it for Islam. There is no question but POTUS knows this.”
Robert’s behavior “seems to point to the possibility that he also may have converted to Islam and has embraced radical elements,” Breitbart reported. Their evidence: While pleading for his son’s release in a 2011 video, Robert thanked Bowe’s captors for taking care of him. Then last week he tweeted, “I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen!” The tweet was quickly deleted. Also, Robert has a long beard, which “appears to be in accordance with traditional Islamic customs, and its scraggly and unkempt appearance is, while no sure sign of conversion, a noted trait in white converts.”
In Rolling Stone, Michael Hastings described Robert and his wife Jani as “devout Calvinists” who homeschooled Bowe and his sister and lived “nearly off the grid” on farmland in Idaho. Bob Henley, a former pastor at a Presbyterian church the Bergdahls attended, told the Washington Post on Monday that Robert taught himself Pashto and began studying Afghanistan after Bowe’s capture, telling friends he wanted to understand why his son was being held, and do whatever he could to ensure his release. He grew the beard to mark the time since Bowe was captured, and possibly to appear more sympathetic while appealing to the Taliban for his release.
Glenn Ferrell, another Presbyterian pastor and confidant, said at one point Robert tried writing a letter to the Taliban, begging them to spare Bowe and pointing out the similarities between their faith and his Christianity. While friends sometimes wondered if he had some form of Stockholm syndrome, Ferrell said of Robert, “He was a desperate father.”