Friday, February 04, 2005

The Ward Churchill Story

Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest has an extended investigative post on Ward Churchill, the professor of ethnic studies who made controversial remarks characterizing those who died in the 9/11 attack as 'little Eichmanns'. Those statements, while outrageous to some, were probably widely shared in the circles he frequented. For example, the Boiling Frog Catalogue sells a VHS tape called US Off the Planet whose contents are described as:

An inspiring meeting of revolutionary minds. Ward Churchill and Chellis Glendenning came together for the first time in Eugene OR on June 17th, 2001 where they shared their insights during a celebration of two local anarchist rebellions. US Off the Planet presents a radical discussion of colonialism, imperialism, genocide and resistance, underscoring the confluence of interests between revolutionists who are struggling for a bio-centric future, and indigenous people struggling to preserve their cultures, histories, and way of life.

The tape, priced at $20, must have appealed to some sort of audience. And there is probably a market for Satyamag, where readers could read the writings of someone described as "one of the most provocative thinkers around. A Creek and enrolled Keetoowah Band Cherokee, Churchill is a longtime Native rights activist. He has been heavily involved in the American Indian Movement and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. He is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado and has served as a delegate to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations."

The book publisher AK Press which describes itself as a "distributor organized around anarchist principles" thought highly enough of Ward to publish On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, in which the 'little Eichmanns' remark appears.

Churchill got around internationally; for example, he spoke at London's University of Western Ontario, where recalling his days "as a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) security team at the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota in the early 1970's, " he shared his war stories. "I speak with a harsh voice," he said, "but I speak in truth." He went to conferences as far as Norway representing himself as a Cherokee, one among many oppressed minorities in attendance, most of whom could pass for Norwegian. American Digest calls into question at least the American Indian Movement part of Churchill's history. Mr. Van der Leun quotes documents available the AIM Council on Security and Intelligence web page explicitly denouncing Churchill as a fake and poseur.

But in a week which featured the State of the Nation Address, the release of the Volcker report and news that action figure Cody was held hostage by terrorists, the attention lavished on a relatively obscure academic recalls the inordinate power of the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson cases to put more newsworthy subjects into the shade. The fascination may not be with Ward Churchill himself but with the Leftist demimonde glimpsed briefly through him. Churchill, Peterson and Jackson are, besides being themselves, gateways into worlds in which the incomprehensible is merely ordinary. It is not that the worlds of the radical Left, the scumbag and high-class pervert are the same; they are different in every particular and yet are somehow identical in a elusive way. The common description I came near to supplying is 'fantasy', though it is not quite that; because deep down those worlds concern themselves with practical gratification. I think the right term is 'sad'; reprehensible yes; disgusting yes; and sad.