WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Some say he really did it this time. Ward Churchill
enraged the nation last month when an essay he wrote three years ago about
the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center surfaced in
which he compared victims to Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi who helped implement
the extermination of the Jews.
Since then, the University of Colorado Ethnic Studies professor has been
thrust into the national spotlight, the subject of death threats and hate
mail and relentlessly hounded by the Denver media. Colorado Gov. Bill
Owens, FOX TV's "O'Reilly Factor" host Bill O'Reilly and others have called
for his immediate firing. A Denver radio talk show host has suggested
Churchill be executed for treason, and a campaign has been launched to
recall any regent who supports him.
His critics have accused him of stealing the work of other artists and
writers, inventing quotes in his published books and scholarly work,
issuing death threats to anyone who crosses him and of being a white man
masquerading as an Indian.
Late last week it appeared the national furor he caused might soon end,
when the university considered buying out his contract to end its
relationship with him, allegations of plagiarism arose.
Despite the fires raging around him, Churchill, when asked how he was doing
during a March 13 interview with Indian Country Today, seemed upbeat. "All
things considered - pretty fair," he remarked, noting he's been under FBI
surveillance for years. "Definitely an interesting ride here."
"What is the hardest thing about going through all this?" he was asked.
"Well look, I'm human like everyone else," he said. "When they say
obviously malicious falsehoods, I pay attention."
Churchill says he never thought he'd become "the poster boy for academic
freedom" nor have 6,000 e-mails from supporters and haters alike. "I only
look at the most recent [e-mails] now," he said. "There's still a couple
thousand I haven't seen." The entire situation was imposed upon him, he
said. "But, since it has been, either I crumble or take it on." He also
said he didn't realize his essay, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of
Roosting Chickens," would "completely pre-empt everything" he was doing.
In the midst of the national controversy, he received a card from the
mother of a fireman who died at the World Trade Center. "There's no pain
quite like it," Churchill said, reading the card. "I believe it deeply that
Iraqi and Palestinian women bear the same pain when their children are
"She got it. So that is what I was after. If the mother of one of the
victims can get it, God damn it, anybody can."
About the proposed contract buyout, he said: "I am not in this to make a
bunch of money. From my end, that is the least controversial part of it.
The tougher issues are vis-a-vis my academic freedom, [the] integrity of my
academic record and so forth. I never saw what they were going to do with
that so I can't really respond to what I think about the offer.
"Maybe they're calling it all off because they think this last round of
charges on plagiarism will give them a basis to get rid of me cost-free,"
Churchill said. "It ain't going to be that easy."
Whether he stays or goes, Churchill has been approached with offers. "There
have been nibbles and offers and stuff," he said. "Frankly, I haven't
really had time to consider them because I have my plate full dealing with
my present situation. There's interest expressed from several quarters. All
the usual [books , talk shows], it's not my goal in life to be a talk show
The media, he said, has been deliberately one-sided. "[It's] a solid wall
of spin," he said. "They haven't even pretended to be fair." Churchill said
one reporter confided in him that management has an editorial position
where "reporters are being required to adhere to the editorial line. It
means they've gotta shape their stories to a predetermined editorial
conclusion," he said.
"They want to put conclusions in my mouth for a particular purpose.
Finally, just now I got clear evidence that they've been doing this
deliberately - these plagiarism charges," he said, "so there will be some
legal action with the media in the Denver area in the coming weeks."
The "plagiarism charges are categorically false," he said. "I have solid
reason to believe, and I think I can prove, the reporters who may surface
these charges in the press knew there wasn't a basis for them." He never
even wrote the piece he is being accused of, he said, noting that in the
past six weeks, O'Reilly has provided viewers with almost daily updates on
"Anybody that says anything negative is automatically treated as a credible
source and printed in the paper," said Churchill.
One of the most serious charges against him is that he's not an American
Indian. Those researching this matter have been unable to locate any
identifiable American Indian ancestor in Churchill's lineage. Nevertheless,
Churchill, who once received an honorary enrollment with the United
Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, rejects the notion of tribal
"It's putting the feds in charge of determining who is or is not Indian, in
a way, and I reject that. I am who I am as I was before," he said, adding
that if the controversy continues, he "might resign my enrollment just to
spare the band any more grief. They're getting bombarded with questions on
a regular basis.
"I'll still be the same person if I resign [membership] ... that is not
ultimately what makes you who you are. You may recognize it in some formal
sense. But, it doesn't define it. My grandmother defined it. Her
grandmother defined it for her. That is how I thought it worked."
While Churchill fights for his academic life, the controversy has
endangered Ethnic Studies programs nation-wide. "They're upset about being
critical, being oppositional," he said. "The whole area of Asian studies,
Latino studies, queer studies. [Former Speaker of the House Newt] Gingrich
said they wanted to use this as a kick off for a nation-wide campaign to
roll up Ethnic Studies programs."
"All these allegations and uncorroborated [expletive deleted] and
contrivances are not going to hold up," he said. "The bottom line is: I
don't plagiarize people. And I don't invent sources. It doesn't mean I
always get my notes right; that would be true of anybody. There's not much
of a case to be made there."