Activist Russell Means joins Ward churchill to defend essay
Boulder – Met by wild applause Tuesday night from hundreds of supporters, controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill strongly attacked Gov. Bill Owens and the CU Board of Regents and said he would never back down from his comparison of some 9/11 victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Looking out on the mass of adoring supporters, with hundreds more listening outside in the cold, Churchill said loudly, “Bill Owens, do you get it now?”
“I do not work for the taxpayers of the state of Colorado. I do not work for Bill Owens. I work for you,” he told the CU audience.
“To the Board of Regents: The Board of Regents should do its job and let me do mine.”
More than 40 police officers and security guards were ready for a contentious meeting of the minds. But during the speech, there were no reported incidents of violence, officials said.
With an entourage of about a hundred, Churchill was introduced by American Indian activist Russell Means and Emma Perez, who replaced Churchill as ethnic-studies chair.
Churchill has come under a firestorm of controversy since his essay comparing victims of the World Trade Center attack to Eichmann, who helped implement the Nazi extermination of Jews, came to light.
“I’ve been told it was a bad rhetorical device. Well, I don’t think so,” he told the audience in the 1,100-seat University Memorial Center Glenn Miller Ballroom on the CU campus.
Churchill and others took biting swipes at the more than 100 reporters and photographers on hand.
“I am very proud to support my colleague Ward Churchill,” Perez said before introducing Churchill. “I want the media to look around and see what kind of support there is for Ward Churchill.”
Her comments were received by the loudest and most prolonged ovation of the night.
Churchill, as he has done before, defended his essay and his actions. He said he was making the point that oppressive U.S. policy brought on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some of the people working in the World Trade Center, he said, were the “technicians of empire.”
“I had every right and indeed the obligation” to say that, he said to loud applause. “I’m not backing up an inch. I owe no one an apology.”
Referring to criticism Churchill has received this week about his claims of Indian heritage, Means said, “We are the only ethnic group in the world that has to prove our blood like dogs.”
Owens has called on Churchill to resign from CU’s department of ethnic studies, something Churchill said he’ll never do. Churchill, however, did quit as chair of the department.
Last week, the regents apologized to all Americans for Churchill’s remarks and voted to review the speeches and writings of the professor.
But Churchill said he was proud of his work and had been told by a member of the Muskogee tribe many years ago to stand by his beliefs.
“He gave me an instruction at one point: ‘You understand our ways, you understand the values, you understand the issues. It’s your job to take that which the creator gave you. and you follow that path. You make your words your weapons, and … you never, ever back down,”‘ Churchill said.
Audience member Elisabet Lund-Bardi said she supported Churchill’s right to his own opinion and academic freedom.
“I will be embarrassed if the regents fire him for making an analogy that every student should understand,” she said. “I’m already embarrassed to be a student here.”
Others attended to make a decision about the man who has stirred up so much emotion.
“I want to hear what he has to say, from him,” said Judy Madsen. “I think some of what he has said has been distorted by the media.”
Chris Denham wanted to hear Churchill’s words as well but for different reasons.
“I just want to see if he’ll stand behind what he said,” Denham said. “I hope he keeps talking like he has and digs himself further into a hole. I kind of feel like the opposition is going to be overwhelmed here, so I wanted to show my support.”
Earlier in the day, CU officials gave their approval for Churchill to speak, after previously canceling the event because of security concerns.
Vice chancellor Ron Stump said the decision to allow the event to proceed came after school officials met with students “who retracted their earlier reports of death threats and urged us to allow the event to go forward.”
It also came just hours after Churchill, Means, and several groups representing students and faculty filed suit claiming CU had violated Churchill’s free- speech rights.
In the essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” Churchill wrote, “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.”
The 3-year-old comments were discovered by a professor at Hamilton College in upstate New York, where Churchill had been scheduled to take part in a forum last week.
The essay caused an uproar – particularly among families of Sept. 11 victims – that resulted in the cancellation of the panel Churchill was to appear on.
Churchill later said he wouldn’t take back his “little Eichmanns” statement. But on the day he resigned as chair of the school’s department of ethnic studies, he issued a statement in which he said he wasn’t comparing all the victims to Nazis, just the “technicians” who died in the attacks.
On Tuesday night, Churchill again emphasized that he was not blaming everyone in the towers for U.S. policies.
“No I did not call a bunch of food service workers, janitors, children, firefighters and random passers-by little Eichmanns,” he said. “The reference is to a technical core of empire – the technicians of empire … obviously I was not talking about these people.”