With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Jacob Laskin: Ward Churchill--The Radical Who's Now Running Away from His Own Record

Jacob Laskin, at FrontPageMag.com (2-10-05):

Thanks in large measure to the impassioned public outcry prompted by his invitation to speak at Hamilton College, some of the disquieting aspects of Ward Churchill’s career are now common knowledge. He is, infamously, the tenured professor of “Ethnic Studies” at the University of Colorado who waxed rhapsodic about the September 11 terrorist attacks while vilifying its victims inside the World Trade Center “as little Eichmans.” Less well known is the fact that he has long advocated political violence—and has apparently practiced what he preached. He has also falsified his own personal history (apparently including his ethnicity and combat status) and twisted history to accuse white Americans of genocide.

Indeed, on at least two occasions, Churchill has been accused of throttling speech he does not endorse by violent means. In 1993, following his ouster from the radical group the American Indian Movement (AIM), Churchill reportedly retaliated by spitting in the face of AIM’s elderly leader, Carol Standing Elk, while a younger accomplice broke her wrist. In a less violent but equally offensive example of “direct action” ten years later, Churchill—who has repeatedly invoked his right to free speech as all-purpose defense against his critics—was acquitted on charges of obstructing the Columbus Day parade in Denver. Likeminded judges, it seems, accepted Churchill's protestations that a parade celebrating Columbus was tantamount to “hate speech.”

Further evidence of Churchill’s enthusiasm for violence is afforded by an interview he gave to the leftist Satya magazine. Asked to pass judgment between “animal activists” who prefer non-violent methods to protect animals and their more violent comrades—who favor breaking into laboratories and burning down property—Churchill endorsed the latter. Dismissing his questioner’s formulation as “absurd,” Churchill explained that the destruction of property was justified. “Defining violence in terms of property—that basically nullifies the whole notion that life is sacred. People who want to elevate property to the same level of importance as life are so absurd as to be self-nullifying.” Enlarging upon the message conveyed in his two spoken word CDs, as well as an expanded version of his notorious 9/11 essay called On The Justice of Roosting Chickens, Churchill told the same interviewer, “A fundamental understanding of the nature of their obligation to intervene to bring the kind of atrocities that I’ve described to a halt by whatever means are necessary.” (Emphasis added.)

In Ward Churchill's mind, violence is not only morally correct—it is an indispensable weapon against the U.S. government. “The predominating absurdity in American oppositional circles for the past 30 years is the notion that if one intervenes to halt a rape or a murder in progress, if you actually use physical force as necessary to prevent that act, somehow or other you’ve become morally the same as the perpetrator.” Churchill had no illusions as to the scope that the violence he prescribed should take: “One of the things I’ve suggested is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary. This seems like such a no-brainer that I hate to frame it in terms of actual transformation of consciousness.” Churchill put it still most starkly in his now-notorious essay. Lamenting that the terrorism of 9/11 had proved “insufficient to accomplish its purpose” of destroying the United States, Churchill shrugged, “What the hell? It was worth a try.”

As he declared in an August 2004 speech, “When I started out it was ‘U.S. out of Vietnam,’ and then that was changed and it became ‘U.S. out of Indochina,’ and then it became ‘U.S. out of Southern Africa,’ and it was ‘U.S. out of the Caribbean and Central America,’ and then it became ‘U.S. out of the Persian Gulf.’ I agreed with every one of those, but ultimately there's only one way that any of them will be possible and that is: US out of North America, U.S. off the planet, and take Canada with you when you go!” Taking shrewd care to dissociate himself from charges that he is a militant revolutionary, Churchill, a self-described Marxist, has nevertheless maintained that he is committed to the destruction of the American “empire.” “Ultimately,” Churchill explained in the same speech, “there is no alternative that has found itself in reform; there is only an alternative that founds itself—not in that fanciful word of revolution—but in the devolution, that is to say the dismantlement of Empire from the inside out.” Churchill again confessed to his appetite for destruction in an April, 2004, interview with the Brooklyn-based leftist magazine Satya, wherein he told his interviewer, “I want the state gone: transform the situation to U.S. out of North America. U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether.”

To be sure, the sudden pressure touched off by public scrutiny of his work has compelled Churchill to backtrack from some of his more extreme statements. In a recent statement, he has even denied supporting violence, stressing that while opposes the policies of the U.S. government, “This is not to say that I advocate violence; as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam I witnessed and participated in more violence than I ever wish to see. What I am saying is that if we want an end to violence, especially that perpetrated against civilians, we must take the responsibility for halting the slaughter perpetrated by the United States around the world.”

Unfortunately for Churchill, the statement does not survive serious scrutiny: First, there is no evidence that Churchill saw any combat in Vietnam; his military records indicate that he was moving heavy machinery during this period. Second, Churchill’s tendentious account of the U.S. role in global affairs quite apart, the statement is notable for its reluctance to renounce violence; instead, Churchill seems to be excusing violence as a logical response to the policies of the United States. This is his sole consistent message, however incomprehensibly he expresses it in his writings.

Churchill's unrelenting hatred stems from his belief that the United States is a genocidal state. In support of this argument, Churchill has gone so far as to falsely contend that, in the 1830s, the U.S. Army dispersed smallpox-infected blankets to Indians in a bid to exterminate them. Historians have stated this is fraud.

Churchill regards American history as one unbroken procession of genocidal tyranny, beginning in 1492. In accordance with this view, he condemns the arrival of Christopher Columbus as a “mistaken landfall,” that “unleashed a process of conquest and colonization unparalleled in the history of humanity.” The explorer is a frequent object of Churchill’s venom. Ever eager to draw scurrilous parallels with Nazism, Churchill also routinely equates Columbus with Nazi Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler. Churchill’s 1997 book makes the point more starkly; it is called, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 through the Present. Other Churchill books, among them Fantasies of the Master Race (1992) and Colonization and Genocide in Native North America (1994), place the United States on par with Nazi Germany. Past students at the University of Colorado have reported that Churchill’s conception of America as the newest rendition of the Third Reich invariably finds its way into his lectures, particularly in the undergraduate class he teaches entitled “American Holocaust.”

Churchill also subscribes to an insane view of contemporary race relations. The pseudo-Indian has stated, “By the early 1950s, the U.S. internal colonial system was functioning.” In a 1996 article for the leftist monthly Z Magazine, Churchill wrote of “internally colonized ‘minorities’ of the United States—most especially blacks, Chicanos, and Puertorriquenos (both on the mainland and in their externally colonized island homeland), but also other groups, including Appalachian whites.” Similarly, he has argued that, in America, “you’ve got things like the internal diasporic population of African Americans in internal colonies that have been established by the imposition of labor patterns upon them. You’ve got Appalachian whites. Since the U.S. unilaterally violated its treaty obligations, it forfeits its rights—or presumption of rights—under international law.”

But most of all, his alleged American Indian brethren have suffered the indignities this nation embodies. In the introduction Churchill penned for a 2003 analogy of his works, titled Acts of Rebellion: A Ward Churchill Reader, Churchill claimed, “So long as Native North America remains internally colonized, subject to racial codes, unindemnified for the genocide and massive expropriations we've suffered—and continue to suffer—genocide, colonialism, racism and wholesale theft will remain the signal attributes of American mentality and behavior.”

This hatred has led him to reject his own name. “The truth is,” he has said, “although I’m best known by my colonial name, Ward Churchill, the name I prefer is Kenis, an Ojibwe name bestowed by my [Native American] wife’s uncle.” No great powers of imagination are necessary to see why Churchill prefers the Cherokee name. Posturing as a “Native American,” in addition to making him vastly more employable, exempts Churchill from criticism in the world of academia. He is a minority, which lends undue credence to his radicalism. Far-Left presses have obligingly released books by the “Keetowah Cherokee” activist.

Churchill draws attention to his supposed heritage at every opportunity. Reviewing the movie Smoke Signals in 1998, Churchill praised the film, seemingly without irony, for its accurate representation of Native Americans. “Whatever its shortcomings, then, one cannot reasonably avoid concluding that Smoke Sig­nals is a singularly important movie, not just a milestone but a pivot point for Native North America in terms of our long and sorry (mis)representation on the silver screen,” Churchill wrote. A frequent speaker, Churchill habitually introduces himself as a representative of the Keetoowah Cherokee. For instance, in one recent speech in Vancouver, Churchill announced himself with these words: “I have to say, I have to bring you greetings from the elders of the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, my people, and from the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement of which I am a part.”

Besides furnishing convenient cover for his attacks on the United States, Churchill’s counterfeit ancestry has served him well in his academic career. Examined closely, Churchill’s academic credentials do not recommend him as an authority on Native American history: Not a Phd., Churchill has a BA and MA in Communications from Sangamon State, an “experimental” school for student radicals that has since become the University of Illinois-Springfield. These conspicuous lacunas in his curriculum vitae have been overlooked by the University of Colorado, of whose faculty Churchill has called himself a member since 1981. Besides being a tenured professor in the field of American Indian studies at CU, a position for which he has no evident qualifications, Churchill has, until the recent controversy, served as the head of the university’s Department of Ethnic Studies, a position that came with a $115,000 annual salary.

Despite Churchill’s claims, his supposed Cherokee ancestry has not withstood the revelations of the Keetoowah themselves. Ernestine Berry, a Keetowah Cherokee who served on the tribe's enrollment committee, recently described Churchill as a fraud. In an interview with the Denver Post, Berry noted that even as he trumpeted his Cherokee roots, Churchill had failed to prove his Cherokee lineage, and was thus never accorded more than as associate membership in the tribe. “After he received his associate card, we never heard from him again,” Berry said.

Leftist writer Derrick Jensen, who frequently makes appearances with Churchill, recently offered the following tribute to the embattled professor: “One of the things I love about sharing the stage with Ward [Churchill] is that...[i]t's really fun to not be the most radical and militant person in the room for once.”

He's right: few are more radical—nor more worthy of contempt—than Ward Churchill.