When the word got out that University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill had called the 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns" who deserved to die, two liberal northeastern schools-Hamilton College and Wheaton College (in Massachusetts, not the evangelical college in Illinois)-canceled his scheduled speaking engagements.
But not the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a school of 10,000 students in a small rural town in the Midwest. Mr. Churchill, an Indian-rights activist, had been invited to be a speaker for the annual Native Pride Week months before the controversy broke out. Despite pressure to cancel his appearance-including a 67 to 31 vote on a resolution to do so in the state legislature-Chancellor Jack Miller allowed the talk to go on in the name of free speech.
Not that Mr. Churchill's speech was free. He charged $4,000. But Mr. Miller said that no tax dollars would go for the event, just private funds and compulsory student-activity fees. Thus, UW-Whitewater, with its biggest draw an award-winning business program, had its business students pay for Mr. Churchill to say how the accountants, MBAs, and executives who died at the World Trade Center were part of the "technocratic core of empire" who deserved what they got.
On March 1, the evening of Mr. Churchill's talk, a group of Hochunk Indians demonstrated against him, carrying signs that read "Turtle Natives Against Hate," "Do Not Attend," and the post-9/11 rallying cry "United We Stand." "We are real natives," Miriam Whiteagle told WORLD, alluding to Mr. Churchill's false claim of being an Indian. "He doesn't speak for us."
As the 400 people who snatched up the tickets for the student-only event stood in line to enter the auditorium, 9-year-old Manner Whiteagle regaled them with a chant of "Stop Hate!" while his grandmother Marlys lectured them on the Constitution.
To counter Mr. Churchill's talk, the College Republicans sponsored a candlelight prayer vigil in memory of the 9/11 victims. "We asked the university to reconsider sponsoring Ward Churchill's speech," the president of the group, Steve Maio, told WORLD, "but we are not trying to stop it. We are exercising our free speech."
The College Democrats were invited to join them in the vigil, but declined. Instead, they joined with the Green Party and held a "free speech" march down the main street of Whitewater (pop. 12,000).
At the prayer vigil, some 150 students stood in the snow and the bone-chilling Wisconsin cold, listening to speeches and holding candles. About a dozen pro-Churchill demonstrators showed up too, holding signs: "Capitalism Is Terrorism," "End Imperialism of the People," and "Agents of Repression."
An elderly gentleman held a sign that read, "If only the guilty get killed then there won't be any more right wing government in the U.S.A." WORLD asked him, do you really think right wingers should be killed? "I'm just stating a hypothetical," he replied. "There is all this talk about the innocent being killed. I think we should think about the guilty being killed." Do you agree with what Ward Churchill said about the 9/11 victims? "Oh, yes," he said, identifying himself as George Adams, an English professor at UW-Whitewater.
As the vigil went on, the pro-Churchill protesters started chanting slogans, such as "No blood for oil!," drowning out the speakers. During the prayer, they used a bullhorn. During the moment of silence, they blared out obscenities.
The emcee, talk-radio show host and author Charles Sykes, underscored how the leftists were showing their true colors and noted the irony: Supposed free-speech advocates were trying to shut down free speech.
Inside, Mr. Churchill's delivery was like a hellfire-and-damnation preacher with no belief in salvation. He spoke without a text, rambling and sometimes shouting. He got some laughs with sarcasm against his critics. He yelled at the large media contingent-101 press passes were issued-for not telling the truth about him and for ignoring him up until now.
The students in the audience were hushed at his tirade on the evils of their country. Many seemed stunned. About two-thirds of the crowd broke out into applause sometimes and gave him a standing ovation. The rest were polite but silent.
Mr. Churchill was supposed to speak on the topic "Racism against the American Indian," but instead he defended-and even extended-what he said about the 9/11 victims. He said that he had not "justified" or "advocated" the terrorist attacks, but just drew attention to a natural fact. "What you put out, you will get back." America has been doing this sort of thing to other people throughout its history, he said. "The American public thinks if it's done to us, it's an atrocity." He said that "if you do it to others, you can't complain when they do it to you."
Drawing on his animist worldview, Mr. Churchill said that on the hijacked airplanes were "not just guys with boxcutters" but "the ghosts and spirits of ancestors."
"Maybe it had something to do with the spirits of the half-million Iraqi children who died because of the sanctions," he said, and the Palestinian children shot for throwing rocks. And the victims of the CIA in Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. And the 3.2 million Indochinese killed due to the Vietnam war. And the Korean civilians killed in the Korean conflict. And the Japanese incinerated by the atomic bomb. And the Moros in the Philippines due to American colonialism. And, finally getting around to the topic of the evening, the extermination and "endless series of massacres" of American Indians.
He threw out undocumented charges such as the claim that in colonial days New Amsterdam children played kickball with the heads of slaughtered Indians on the site of the World Trade Center. And that the "wall" in "Wall Street" refers to the wall of a slave market, with slavery proving "essential to the development" of America's economy. They were all, he said, "among the ghosts who went into the World Trade Center." It is all about "the slaughter of the brown-skinned 'other' that characterizes American history from the beginning."
He reaffirmed his Eichmann comments, saying that the Nazi in charge of transporting Jews to the death camps was supported by lots of "little Eichmanns," who "just did their jobs well" to make the Holocaust possible. They were "not bad people, any more than the people at the World Trade Center were bad," but they all shared responsibility for the atrocities committed by the evil system in which they played their parts. Believing in corporate guilt, Mr. Churchill said that all Americans are complicit. Those who pay taxes have killed people.
But what about the good things America has contributed? What about freedom? You only think you are free. What about the authoritarian regimes of the world that kill their own people? America has either started or propped up most of those authoritarian regimes.
Given a world of total depravity, Mr. Churchill can find many examples in his litany of American crimes. But he mixes truths, half-truths, and untruths-facts, exaggerations, lies, and conspiracy theories-to conclude, with much of the contemporary left, that America is intrinsically evil.
Mr. Churchill bitterly complains that instead of paying attention to what he says, his critics are attacking him. It is true that his new celebrity has brought him under intense scrutiny. He began his talk with greetings from the "Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, my people." And yet, while he claims to be one-sixteenth Indian, no one can identify any Indian ancestors in his family tree. In the 1990s, the Ketoowahs were giving out honorary tribal memberships, and he-along with Bill Clinton-received one, but the band denies that Mr. Churchill is of Indian descent.
Yet, he identified himself as a Native American on affirmative action forms at the University of Colorado. He had no doctorate, only a master's degree in communications, but he was made a professor and then chair of the department of ethnic studies. When he indicated that he would be offered a job at California State University-Northridge-even though the school now says he was never seriously considered-his administration sought for a department to give him tenure. Finally, the Department of Communications was pressured to do so, in the words of its chairman, as a way of "making our own contribution to increasing the cultural diversity on campus."
He is also being accused of plagiarism in both his writings and his paintings. As for his scholarship, according to University of Massachusetts political scientist Guenter Lewy, "He just makes things up." He was arrested for trying to stop a Columbus Day parade in Denver; that is, trying to prevent other people's freedom of speech.
The University of Colorado is currently investigating his background. Though he stepped down as chair of his department, the governor of Colorado wants him fired. With out-of-state applications dropping 19 percent and the school's reputation taking a beating, the university is trying to buy out Mr. Churchill's contract to avoid a protracted legal battle over firing him.
There was a time when the left based its ideology on economic or political theories. Now, the left's solutions are wholly mystical, with Mr. Churchill saying that the only solution is a "transformation of consciousness." Mr. Churchill embodies the radical left and its status on today's campuses, constructing his identity and his facts, claiming that American culture is nothing more than oppressive acts of power, turning the ideology of victimhood into sheer hatred for his own country.
At the conclusion of Mr. Churchill's Whitewater talk, a student made an announcement: Next month, the university will be hosting the 1970s revolutionary Angela Davis.