Angry and unrepentant, the University of Colorado professor who compared victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to Nazis gave a fiery speech Tuesday night, chastising college officials, calling journalists “punks” and refusing to apologize for anything he had said.
“I’m not backing up an inch; I owe no one an apology!” declared Ward L. Churchill in an address to more than 1,000 mostly cheering students gathered at the university’s Boulder campus.
Churchill, 57, is under fire over a paper he wrote after the Sept. 11 attacks, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” in which he described those killed in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns,” comparing them to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi credited with devising the logistics for the Holocaust.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, has called for Churchill’s dismissal, and the college’s interim chancellor is reviewing his work to see if there are grounds for his termination.
“I do not work for the taxpayers of the state of Colorado. I do not work for Bill Owens. I work for you,” he said to the crowd. “I don’t answer to Bill Owens. I do not answer to the Board of Regents in the way they think I do. The regents should do their job and let me do mine.”
Some Native American groups are accusing the ethnic studies professor, who resigned his chairmanship of the department last week, of falsely claiming to be an American Indian. And other professors allege he has invented historical facts in some of his writings.
But Churchill, in his first speech since the controversy broke out, was on familiar ground Tuesday. Escorted into the university’s student union by an entourage of drum-beating Indians, Churchill was wildly applauded by students.
Indian activist and actor Russell Means introduced him and condemned those questioning his claims to be Native American.
“If you know your ancestry, then you are who you say you are,” Means said. “Are you telling me my leader is not an Indian because he is not properly registered? Ward is an Indian where it counts.”
Churchill said he was three-sixteenths Cherokee, but the band he claims membership in says they have no affiliation with him.
Churchill told the crowd his background had come up because his enemies couldn’t fight him on the merits of his arguments.
And those arguments, he said, were sound.
“What did I say? Why did I say it?” he asked. “Certain questions were posed to me the day I wrote this essay. I was watching [the 9/11 attacks] in real time and I heard someone say it was senseless. I said, ‘How can they positively know that? Do you really believe this operation had no purpose?’ ”
In his paper, Churchill spoke admiringly of the “combat teams” who hijacked the planes and killed nearly 3,000 men, women and children, while he also attacked America for economic sanctions against Iraq that Churchill said killed 500,000 Iraqi children.
He called for America to be “put out of existence” and said more attacks would be necessary for this country to finally behave by the rule of law.
Churchill didn’t back away Tuesday. He again clarified that he didn’t view the service workers and passersby in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns,” leaving out the stock brokers and traders who were killed. Those victims, he said, were at “the very heart of America’s global financial empire.”
“True enough, they were civilians of a sort,” he wrote. “But innocent? Gimme a break.”
Explaining his words, Churchill said he was employing a rhetorical device to get a larger point across -- namely that if America wanted attacks on it to end, it must obey the law.
For 45 minutes, Churchill, freed from the confines of the classroom, was once again the strident activist, pointing a finger at the United States for its treatment of Native Americans, the firebombing of Tokyo and the sanctions against Iraq.
“Why do they hate us?” he asked sarcastically, imitating an oft-heard comment after the attacks. “How can they not hate us? Every Palestinian child shot in the head by an Israeli for throwing a rock is killed with a rifle made in the U.S. There are millions of darker-skinned people piled up in heaps ultimately for the strategic interests of the U.S.”
He offered a brief acknowledgment of innocent Americans killed by terrorists. “But it’s not one whit more than I feel for the Iraqi children,” he said.
Churchill, who has tenure, said he planned to fight for his job and that he didn’t work for the taxpayers, he worked for the university.
“I’m staked out; there is not an inch to give,” he said.
Afterward, Egan Lohman, 26, a graduate student, said he agreed with most of what Churchill said. “American policy has always been to do what benefits us,” he said.
Churchill has criticized the media, saying they have taken his comments out of context. The organizers of the forum told reporters they were not allowed to ask questions.
The university initially canceled the speech Monday after students supporting Churchill said they had received death threats. But Tuesday, lawyers for Churchill sought a court ruling to let him make the address. Shortly after, college officials said the students “had retracted earlier reports of death threats” and the speech went forward.