Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 9, 2005

The Persecution of Ward Churchill

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:51 am

(This article can be read in its entirety at: http://ghadar.insaf.net/April2005/MainPages/persecution.htm)

After the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture at Hamilton College extended an invitation to Ward Churchill to speak on February 3rd about American Indians and the prison system, Hamilton political science professor Theodore Eismeier googled “Ward Churchill” and discovered that he had referred to some 9/11 victims as “little Eichmanns.” This led to a controversy that has not yet been resolved. It should come as no surprise that the case has highlighted differences across the American political spectrum that can be seen on a range of issues, from the war in Iraq to the genocide against the American Indian.

The Kirkland Project was a lightning rod for the ultra right even before an invitation had been extended to Ward Churchill, as is evidenced by the case of Susan Rosenberg. Rosenberg was a 1960s radical who had spent 16 years in prison for her role in Brinks armored car hijacking that left two cops dead. In prison, Rosenberg became a respected prisoner-rights activist and writer.

In 2001, President Clinton granted her clemency just before leaving office. After she was released from prison, Rosenberg was hired by the Kirkland Project to teach a one-month course on memoir writing. After rightwing elements on and off campus began protesting her hiring, she backed out, citing “the atmosphere of such organized right-wing intimidation from a small group of students and faculty.” So the campus was primed like a stick of dynamite for Ward Churchill’s appearance.

After Eismeier alerted a student named Ian Mandel about the “little Eichmanns” article, he began an email campaign that caught fire. Supposedly, Mandel (a Young Democrat, for what that’s worth) was already worked up over Rosenberg ‘s hiring because Nyack, his home town, was home to the two cops killed in the Brinks hijacking. Nyack was a convenient excuse for hounding Ward Churchill as well. Why? Mandel told the Rocky Mountain News, a paper that has been in the forefront of the movement to get Ward Churchill fired, “I grew up 18 miles away from the city and I could smell the burning buildings from my home.” As a Manhattan resident myself, I actually found much of Churchill’s article to be of some value, despite questionable formulations–more about which in a moment.

Another casualty of the rightwing vendetta was Kirkland Project director Nancy Rabinowitz, a Hamilton professor who is the daughter-in-law of legendary leftist attorney Victor Rabinowitz. She resigned about a week after the furor began over Ward Churchill.

Even after the school caved into pressure and cancelled Ward Churchill’s appearance, the rightwing’s appetite was not whetted. They were out for blood. News of the controversy spilled over into cable TV and AM radio talk shows–the preferred outlet for conservatives–as well as the network of blogs that feed off of material from David Horowitz’s FrontPage website. Politicians got into the act as well. NY governor George Pataki stated that ”There’s a difference between freedom of speech and inviting a bigoted terrorist supporter.” Colorado ‘s governor Bill Owens upped the ante and demanded that Churchill resign from his tenured post.

Bill Owens is no ordinary Republican governor. He is a leader of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an outfit launched by Lynn Cheney, the vice-president’s wife. The NY Times reported on November 24, 2001 that ACTA had compiled a list of 117 “anti-American” statements heard on college campuses after 9/11. Jesse Jackson was included for telling a Harvard Law School audience that America should “build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls.” Joel Beinin, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Stanford University was also included for stating that “If Osama bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.” Wasima Alikhan of the Islamic Academy of Las Vegas was on the list for uttering the inflammatory words: “Ignorance breeds hate.” If you could get on ACTA’s list for saying things like this, you can imagine the pent-up fury that Bill Owens was ready to direct against Ward Churchill.

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