Ward Churchill September 11 attacks essay controversy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Ward Churchill, former ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote an essay in September 2001 titled Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens about the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which he argued that American foreign policies provoked the attacks. He described what he called the "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns," i.e. as those who banally conduct their duties in the service of evil.

In response to 2005 publicity from the mass media and in weblogs, Churchill was both widely condemned and widely defended. Some defenders who did not agree with Churchill's analysis and/or with his inflammatory phrasing nonetheless felt that the attacks on Churchill represented efforts at intimidation against academic discourse and suppression of political dissent.

At the height of the controversy, the University ordered an inquiry into Churchill's research, and then fired him on July 24, 2007,[1] leading to a claim from some scholars that he was fired over the ideas he expressed.[2][3] Churchill filed a lawsuit against the University of Colorado for unlawful termination of employment. In April 2009 a Denver jury found that Churchill was wrongly fired, awarding him $1 in damages.[4][5] On July 7, 2009, Judge Larry Naves vacated the ruling and determined that the university does not have to rehire or pay Churchill. On September 11, 2012, Churchill lost his appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court against previous rulings that the university does not have to rehire him.[6] His lawyer filed a petition for a writ of certiorari[7] to Supreme Court of the United States on December 10, 2012 with a response due on January 11, 2013. The petition was denied.[8]

The essay[edit]

In "Some People Push Back," Churchill argued that the effects of decade-long economic sanctions on Iraqis, together with Lyndon Johnson's support of Israel's "dispossession/displacement of Palestinians" during the 1960s, and the history of Crusades against the Islamic world, had contributed to a climate in which 9/11 was what he called a "natural and inevitable response."[9][10]

The "Roosting Chickens" phrase comes from a 1963 Malcolm X speech[11] during which he refers to the John F. Kennedy assassination, saying that after Kennedy's "twiddling his thumbs" at the killings of Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu, he "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon."[12]

Most controversially Churchill referred to the "technocrats" working at the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns." This phrase is an allusion to Hannah Arendt's depiction of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann as an ordinary person promoting the activity of an evil system—a study she made in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem.[13] Churchill wrote, concerning statements that the attack had targeted "innocent civilians":

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . .

Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.[9]

Churchill compared the American people to the "good Germans" of Nazi Germany, claiming that the vast majority of Americans had ignored the civilian suffering caused by the UN sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s. Churchill characterized these sanctions as a policy of genocide that caused the deaths of 500,000 children.[9]

The essay was later expanded into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights gave Churchill's volume an honorable mention in December 2004.[14]

Public controversy[edit]

National attention was drawn to the essay in January 2005, when Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College as a panelist in a debate, "Limits of Dissent."

The text of the essay was quoted on the January 28, 2005, edition of the Fox News Channel program The O'Reilly Factor and commentator Bill O'Reilly subsequently discussed Churchill on a number of other segments as well. The January 31 edition of The O'Reilly Factor featured Paul Campos, a University of Colorado professor, who said he was appalled at Churchill's comments. At the end of the segment, O'Reilly suggested that viewers wishing to voice their opinions could contact Hamilton College or Hamilton's president, Joan Stewart;[15] Hamilton College subsequently received 6,000 e-mails concerning Churchill.[16] The lecture was changed to a larger venue, but was later canceled by Stewart, following what she described as "credible threats of violence." Churchill said that he received threats against his life as a consequence of his statements and the corresponding news coverage.[16] Fox News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor in particular, led the coverage of Churchill's scheduled appearance at Hamilton College. In the three weeks following the January 28, 2005 debut, FOX ran 16 stories on the Churchill story (9 on The O'Reilly Factor). By contrast, ABC aired no stories on Churchill, CBS aired one (on its morning newscast), NBC aired two (one on its morning broadcast, one on the nightly news,) and CNN aired four stories. Thus, FOX News aired more than twice as many stories on Ward Churchill than the other four news networks combined.[17]

In response to what he called "grossly inaccurate media coverage concerning [his] analysis of the September 11, 2001, attacks," Churchill clarified his views in a January 31, 2005 press release:

I am not a "defender" of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy. As Martin Luther King, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, said, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable."

— Ward Churchill , Statement to Rocky Mountain News

He continued:

It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage". If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when they are routinely applied to other people, they should not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

— Ward Churchill , Statement to Rocky Mountain News

Churchill clarified further in a February 2005 interview with Democracy Now![10]

If you want to avoid September 11s, if you want security in some actual form, then it's almost a biblical framing, you have to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As long as you're doing what the U.S. is doing in the world, you can anticipate a natural and inevitable response of the sort that occurred on 9/11. If you do not get the message out of 9/11, you're going to have to change, first of all, your perception of the value of those others who are consigned to domains, semantic domains like collateral damage, then you've really got no complaint when the rules you've imposed come back on you.

— Ward Churchill , Statement to Democracy Now

On January 31, 2005, Churchill resigned as chairman of the Ethnic Studies department at the University of Colorado.[18]

Former Colorado Republican governor Bill Owens and former Democratic governor Bill Ritter have publicly called for Churchill's dismissal.[19][20]

The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado, meeting in executive session on February 3, 2005, adopted a resolution apologizing to the American people for Churchill's statements, and ratifying interim chancellor Phil DiStefano's review of Churchill's actions. DiStefano was directed to investigate whether Churchill had overstepped his bounds as a faculty member and whether his actions were cause for dismissal. The university's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct agreed that his words were protected by the university's academic free-speech code, but agreed to investigate subsequent charges made against Churchill of plagiarism, falsification, fabrication and ethnic fraud (see below[dead link]). In May 2006, the University announced that its Research Misconduct Committee found that Churchill's publications demonstrate a pattern of research misconduct. On June 26, 2006, Chancellor Phil DiStefano recommended Churchill's dismissal to the Board of Regents, and relieved Churchill of his campus duties including teaching, service, and research. In August 2006, the CU student government passed a resolution to support the committee's recommendations to fire Churchill.[21]

Defense of Churchill[edit]

A number of academics and activists defended Churchill's essay, or argued that it was not grounds for firing him from his teaching job. One of Churchill's fellow professors in the Ethnic Studies department at the University of Colorado, Emma Perez, alleged that the attacks on Churchill were an organized "test case" by neo-conservatives to stifle liberal criticism of the War on Terror, and to undermine the funding of ethnic studies departments nationwide.[22] Betsy Hoffman, then the president of the University of Colorado, said of the attacks on Churchill, "We are in dangerous times. I'm very concerned. ... It's looking a lot like former CU President George Norlin being asked to fire all the Catholics and Jews of the McCarthy era."[23]

Several defenders of Churchill disagree with Churchill's comments and characterize Churchill and his intellectual abilities as lacking, but defend his right to speak:

Churchill may be fired from his faculty position at the University of Colorado for having written and spoken some of the most moronic nonsense ever to emanate from the mouth of an alleged academic. But he should not be punished for being a hack. The folks who hired him should.[24]

— Dahlia Lithwick , Slate, February 10, 2005

A number of other political commentators have analyzed the "Churchill Affair" in terms of a "witch hunt"; for example, Gilles d'Aymery, Fred Feldman, the Michigan Independent Media Center, Scott Richard Lyons (Native American Studies professor) and others.[25][26][27][28] Scholars, activists and organizations expressing concern over the firing include the ACLU, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Derrick Jensen, Drucilla Cornell, Bill Ayers and Immanuel Wallerstein.[29]

According to over 600 academics signing "An Open Letter from Concerned Academics":[30]

To be clear: the issues here have nothing to do with the quality of Ward Churchill’s scholarship or his professional credentials. However one views his choice of words or specific arguments, he is being put in the dock solely for his radical critique of U.S. history and present-day policy in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001. Apparently, 9/11 is now the third rail of American intellectual life: to critically probe into its causes and to interrogate the international role of the United States is treated as heresy; those inquiring can be denied forums, careers, and even personal safety. . .The Churchill case is not an isolated incident but a concentrated example of a well-orchestrated campaign launched in the name of “academic freedom” and “balance” which in fact aims to purge the universities of more radical thinkers and oppositional thought generally, and to create a climate of intimidation.

— An Open Letter from Concerned Academics

Two professors writing in defense of Churchill have questioned the politics motivating his accusers. Gary Witherspoon, an anthropologist and linguist, faults what he believes to be the inaccurate journalism and biased quality of the investigation that have marked the affair.[31] Similarly, sociologist Tom Mayer criticized what he believes to be the politically motivated tenor of the investigation of Churchill:[32]

The authors of the report on Ward Churchill present themselves as stalwart defenders of academic integrity [...] I see them as collaborators in the erosion of academic freedom, an erosion all too consonant with the wider assault upon civil liberties currently underway. The authors of the report claim to uphold the intellectual credibility of ethnic studies. I wonder how many ethnic studies scholars will see it that way. I certainly do not [...] I see committee members as gendarmes of methodological and interpretive orthodoxy, quite literally "warding" off a vigorous challenge to mainstream understandings of American history.

— Tom Mayer , Swans Commentary

On Oct. 15, 2001, about the same time Ward Churchill wrote his essay, Chalmers Johnson wrote an article in the Nation magazine, which has been noted to represent a similar argument.[33] Here is a passage:

"On the day of the disaster, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are 'a beacon for freedom,' and because the attackers were 'evil.' In his address to Congress on Sept. 20, he said, 'This is civilization's fight.'

"This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values - as a 'clash of civilizations,' in current post-cold war American jargon - is not only disingenuous, but also a way of evading responsibility for the 'blowback' that America's imperial projects have generated."

— Chalmers Johnson , The Nation

A documentary on the reactions to Churchill's essay, called When They Came For Ward Churchill was produced by the Free Speech Network.[34]

Churchill calls for the end of the existence of the state[edit]

Pursuing a similar line of thinking to that advanced in his "Some People Push Back" essay, in an April 2004 interview with Satya magazine, Churchill said:

If I defined the state as being the problem, just what happens to the state? I've never fashioned myself to be a revolutionary, but it's part and parcel of what I'm talking about. You can create through consciousness a situation of flux, perhaps, in which something better can replace it. In instability there's potential. That's about as far as I go with revolutionary consciousness. I'm actually a de-evolutionary. I do not want other people in charge of the apparatus of the state as the outcome of a socially transformative process that replicates oppression. I want the state gone: transform the situation to U.S. out of North America. U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether.[35]

— Ward Churchill , Dismantling the Politics of Comfort

Colorado governor Bill Owens called this comment "treasonous", arguing that "Churchill has clearly called for violence against the state, and no country is required to subsidize its own destruction. That's what we're doing with Ward Churchill." On February 6, 2005, the Denver Post reported that this comment would be included by the university in its review of Churchill's tenure.[36] Although there has been some suggestion that the constitutionally overturned Smith Act should be invoked in order to prosecute Churchill for his remarks[citation needed], the debate is mostly focused on whether the First Amendment protects the tenure of a professor of a public university.[citation needed] Many, including Governor Owens, argue that the University of Colorado (or any other public university) is not required to support faculty that support the overthrow of the government.[citation needed]

On June 23, 2005, Churchill told an audience in Portland, Oregon:[37]

For those of you who do, as a matter of principle, oppose war in any form, the idea of supporting a conscientious objector who's already been inducted in his combat service in Iraq might have a certain appeal. But let me ask you this: Would you render the same level of support to someone who had not conscientiously objected, but rather instead rolled a grenade under their line officer in order to neutralize the combat capacity of their unit? ... Conscientious objection removes a given piece of cannon fodder from the fray. Fragging an officer has a much more impactful effect.

— Ward Churchill , Statement at Portland OR talk

When asked by a member of the audience about the officers' families, Churchill responded, "how do you feel about Adolf Eichmann's family?"[38]

The CU Alumni Association Award[edit]

Teaching Recognition Awards are voted on annually by students at the University of Colorado; In 2005, more than 2,000 students voted. A plurality of students nominated Churchill for the award in the category for class sizes of 25 to 75. According to CU vice-president Clark Olroyd, Churchill received 54 nominations, with the second-place teacher in the same category receiving 30 to 40 nominations.[39] With the ongoing investigations by the Ethics Committee, the Alumni Association responsible for presenting the award has yet to present the award to Churchill. Clark Oldroyd, The vice president of the Alumni Association stated that "We're giving that committee time to complete its study" and also stated that, "It just seems like the prudent thing to do."[40]

Alumni Association President Kent Zimmerman told the campus Silver & Gold Record that the group is holding back the award until Churchill's "name has been cleared" by the committee. He compared it to withholding a student's grade on a final exam "if there were questions about the student's effort." Zimmerman is also quoted by the Denver Post as stating that Churchill's "award is being withheld, in part, due to his tendency to "antagonize and create enemies."[41] According to Churchill, "What Alumni Association President Kent Zimmerman is really saying—obviously—is that it would be really awkward for the institution to have to acknowledge the quality of my teaching in the midst of an effort to paint an exactly opposite portrait of me." Churchill's attorney David Lane contends, "They are punishing Ward Churchill for his free speech by withholding this award".[40]

Within the University of Colorado community, opinions on the Alumni Association's actions vary. Instructor Ann Ellis states "I think it's legitimate to withhold the award. I think the students voting on the award were trying to influence the investigation." Churchill is being evaluated, she said, "because the university has a responsibility to make sure that its faculty members are who they say they are." In contrast, graduate program assistant Mary Gregory said, "If it's a student award, and it has nothing to do with the review, then it should not be withheld."[41]

According to the website Indianz.com, which dedicates its resources to American Indian issues, "Students at the University of Colorado have overwhelmingly chosen Ward Churchill as their favorite professor but he will not be given the award because he is too controversial."[42] Churchill's fifty-four votes for the award were a plurality among all the faculty, but only a small percentage of CU's 28,000 students chose to participate. Given annually for 44 years, this is the first time the award was withheld from its winner.


  1. ^ Berny Morson (2007-07-25). "CU regents fire Ward Churchill". Rocky Mountain News. 
  2. ^ Deming, David. "Conservative professor: Ward Churchill firing a travesty". Colorado Daily. Retrieved 2009-02-18. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Scholar's Statement in Support of Professor Ward Churchill, April 28, 2007" (PDF). www.wardchurchill.net. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  4. ^ Johnson, Kirk & Seelye, Katharine Q. (April 3, 2009). "Jury Says Professor Wrongly Fired". N.Y. Times. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  5. ^ John, Aguilar (April 2, 2009). "Churchill wins his case, awarded $1 in damages Reinstatement at CU to be decided at future hearing". Daily Camera. Retrieved April 3, 2009. [dead link]
  6. ^ Cotton, Anthony (9/11/2012). "Fired Colorado professor Ward Churchill loses high court appeal". Denver Post. Retrieved 5 January 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ "Certiorari". 
  8. ^ "Petition for a writ of certiorari". 
  9. ^ a b c Ward Churchill (September 2001). ""Some People Push Back": On the Justice of Roosting Chickens". Pockets of Resistance 20. 
  10. ^ a b The Justice of Roosting Chickens: Ward Churchill Speaks, Democracy Now, February 18, 2005
  11. ^ "God's Judgement of White America (The Chickens Come Home to Roost)", December 4, 1963, Malcolm X.
  12. ^ "Malcolm X Scores U.S. and Kennedy". The New York Times. December 2, 1963. p. 21. Retrieved July 28, 2008. 
  13. ^ Paula Zhan Interview with Ward Churchill CNN Transcripts; February 4, 2005
  14. ^ "2004 Gustavus Myers Book Awards: Honorable Mention". Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. December 2004. 
  15. ^ More Controversy Over Univ. of Colorado Professor Churchill, Fox News, February 1, 2005
  16. ^ a b Healy, Patrick (February 2, 2005). "College Cancels Speech Over 9/11 Remarks". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2010. 
  17. ^ Carveth, Rodney; Christine Hirsch; Claire Ferraris; Ron Sandwina (2006-08-11). "The Ward Churchill Controversy and the Agenda-Building Process". Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. p. 21. Retrieved 2009-03-30. 
  18. ^ Ward Churchill Resigns Administrative Post, University of Colorado at Boulder News Center, January 31, 2005
  19. ^ Churchill to remain at Colorado, Badger Herald, April 1, 2005. The Colorado House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution condemning Churchill's statements: Colorado lawmakers approve resolution on controversy surrounding CU professor, KUSA
  20. ^ Osher, Christopher N. (May 30, 2007). "Churchill part of bigger fight - The Denver Post". Denverpost.com. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  21. ^ Denver Post daily events; Colorado Daily on upcoming resolution
  22. ^ A Neocon Test Case for Academic Purges: The Attacks on Ward Churchill, CounterPunch, February 28, 2005
  23. ^ Jefferson Dodge. "Hoffman speaks candidly to BFA on controversies". University of Colorado. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  24. ^ Lithwick, Dahlia. Stupdity As A Firing Offense, Slate, February 10, 2005
  25. ^ Another Witch Hunt Story: Ward Churchill, Swans Commentary, February 14, 2005
  26. ^ Lynching Ward Chuchill: Witchhunts to the Right; Witchhunts to the Left, CounterPunch, February 24, 2005
  27. ^ Michigan Independent Media Center Shut Down January 26, 2006
  28. ^ The termination and removal of Ward Churchill, Kersplebedeb blog, February 17, 2005
  29. ^ "Statements in support of Ward Churchill". 2007-10-17. Archived from the original on 2007-12-25. 
  30. ^ URGENT ALERT! JULY '06, D E F E N D: Dissent and critical thinking on campus, July 2006
  31. ^ Witherspoon 2007, Personal web site
  32. ^ Mayer 2006, Swans Commentary
  33. ^ http://www.kersplebedeb.com/mystuff/s11/churchill_not_alone.html
  34. ^ When They Came For Ward Churchill, Freespeech, February 20, 2005
  35. ^ Dismantling the Politics of Comfort: The Satya Interview with Ward Churchill, Satya, April 2004
  36. ^ Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~53~2693730,00.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  37. ^ Partial Transcript of Churchill's Portland Remarks, Pirate Ballerina, July 2005[dead link]
  38. ^ Jim Kirksey and Amy Herdy (30 June 2005). "CU prof defends military remarks". Denver Post. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  39. ^ Brian Newsome. "CU alumni group withholds award". The Gazette (May 27, 2005). Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 20, 2006. . According to CU vice-president Clark Olroyd, Churchill received 54 nominations, with the second-place teacher in the same category receiving 30 to 40 nominations.
  40. ^ a b Churchill's award withheld: Alumni group will not give Ward Churchill his teaching honor, Daily Camera, May 27, 2005
  41. ^ a b CU students vote favors Churchill, but award withheld, University of Tennessee, Office of Information Technology - listserver, June 1, 2005
  42. ^ Students name Churchill their favorite professor, Indianz.com, May 27, 2005

External links[edit]