Ward Churchill was a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1990 until 2007, when he was fired for research misconduct. Churchill became a nationally known figure in January 2005, when public attention was drawn to a September 2001 essay he had written characterizing the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an instance of “chickens coming home to roost,” and vilifying the victims who had died in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.”
Churchill was born October 2, 1947 in Elmwood, Illinois. In the late 1960s he served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Vietnam War. Accounts vary as to the details of his military experience. In a 1987 article appearing in the Denver Post, it was reported that Churchill had attended paratrooper school and eventually volunteered for duty in Vietnam, where he served a 10-month tour as Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. A later Denver Post piece in 2005 reported that Churchill had been trained as a projectionist and light truck driver. Churchill’s own resume claims that he was drafted in 1966, and that he served as a public-information specialist who “wrote and edited the battalion newsletter and wrote news releases.”
The Denver Post has also reported that in the late 1960s Churchill became involved with the Students for a Democratic Society and its sister organization, the Weather Underground. The Post, quoting Churchill, stated that he briefly taught Weather Underground members how to make bombs and to fire weapons — “Which end does the bullet go, what are the ingredients, how do you time the damned thing.”
In the mid-1970s, Churchill attended Sangamon State University, an “experimental” school for student radicals in Illinois, which later became the University of Illinois at Springfield. There, Churchill received his B.A. in Technological Communications in 1974 and an M.A. in Communications Theory in 1975. By 1978, he had found employment as an affirmative action officer at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Beginning in 1983, Churchill became active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) of Colorado, a chapter of the AIM National. He also served a stint as the chapter’s co-director.
In April 1983, Churchill traveled to Tripoli and Benghazi as an AIM representative to attend a human rights conference on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council, a group formed by AIM to advocate for Indian rights at the international level. While there, he met with de facto dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi of Libya. As Westword.com subsequently reported: “Churchill caused a stir back in the United States by making the strange declaration that ‘AIM has not requested arms from the Libyan government.'”
In 1990 Churchill was hired as an associate professor at UC Boulder, though he lacked the proper credentials for the position. After being turned down by both the Sociology and Political Science departments, in 1991 he was granted early tenure in the Communications department on the basis of his claim to be a member of the Ketoowah Cherokee tribe. (Documents in Churchill’s University personnel file explain that he was granted tenure in a “special opportunity position,” with the intention of facilitating the recruitment of “a more diverse faculty.”)
At various times over the years, Churchill has claimed his Indian ancestry in different ways and by varying percentages. He once stated, “I am myself of Muscogee and Creek descent on my father’s side, Cherokee on my mother’s, and am an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.” On other occasions he has professed variously to be one-eighth Creek and one-sixteenth Cherokee; one-sixteenth Creek and Cherokee; and three-sixteenths Cherokee.
In a note in the online magazine Socialism and Democracy in the early 2000s, Churchill described himself in the following way: “Although I’m best known by my colonial name, Ward Churchill, the name I prefer is Kenis, an Ojibwe name bestowed by my [Native American] wife’s uncle.” In a 2005 speech in Vancouver, Churchill told his audience: “I have to say, I have to bring you greetings from the elders of the Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, my people.”
The United Keetoowah Band would later clarify that Churchill had never been an authentic member of the tribe, but that he was awarded an honorary associate membership in 1994, as were Bill Clinton and a number of other people. The Keetoowah Band further states that while it has never rescinded Churchill’s associate membership, it stopped recognizing such memberships in 1994.
In 2005 the Rocky Mountain News published a genealogy of Churchill, and reported “no evidence” that he had even “a single Indian ancestor.” A Denver Post genealogical investigation drew the same conclusion.
In 1993 Churchill broke away from the national American Indian Movement, claiming that all AIM chapters were autonomous.
In October 1993, Churchill was a featured speaker at the Midwest Radical Scholars & Activists Conference, held at Loyola University in Chicago.
Churchill was made a Professor of Ethnic Studies in 1996, was promoted to full professor in 1997, and finally became Chair of the department in 2002 — though he did not possess a Ph.D.
Professor Churchill’s academic career and academic oeuvre was built around the theory that the United States is a genocidal nation, worse than Nazi Germany because its genocides began with its settlement and have continued to the present. Churchill regards American history as one unbroken procession of genocidal tyranny, beginning in 1492, which “unleashed a process of conquest and colonization unparalleled in the history of humanity.” He routinely equates Columbus with Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler.
In 1997 Churchill published the book, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 through the Present. Other Churchill books similarly liken the United States to Nazi Germany. Among these are Fantasies of the Master Race (1992) and Colonization and Genocide in Native North America (1994).
Some of Churchill’s former UC Boulder students have reported that his conception of America as the newest rendition of the Third Reich invariably finds its way into his lectures, particularly in his undergraduate class titled “American Holocaust.”
On September 12, 2001, the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Churchill published a short essay titled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” which was later expanded into the book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: reflections on the consequences of U.S. imperial arrogance and criminality (2003). In the essay, Churchill disclosed his belief that the 9/11 attacks were reprisals for unjust U.S. foreign policy measures vis a vis the Middle East, and for the alleged ravages of global capitalism as spearheaded by America. In this regard, Churchill claimed that no U.S. citizen could be considered genuinely innocent. He wrote:
“As for those in the World Trade Center … Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire — the ‘mighty engine of profit’ to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved — and they did so both willingly and knowingly… 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.”
On another occasion, Churchill also said the following about the 9/11 hijackers: “[H]onest interrogators might ask why did it take them so long to arrive, and why, under the circumstances, do they conduct themselves with such obvious and admirable restraint?” Years later, when Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked Churchill about that quote, Churchill defiantly and unapologetically replied that he had made the statement “to show you [Americans] what it feels like” for people in “most of the rest of the world” when they hear Americans lauding the exploits of their own military personnel. “[T]he stuff that’s coming out from the United States official sources and media pundits,” Churchill elaborated, causes people overseas to “thin[k] we’re lunatics, homicidal lunatics.”
In the April 2004 interview with Satya Magazine — a monthly publication “focusing on vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice” — Churchill said:
“One of the things I’ve suggested is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary. This seems like such a no-brainer that I hate to frame it in terms of actual transformation of consciousness — Hey those brown-skinned folks dying in the millions in order to maintain this way of life, they can wait forever for those who purport to be the opposition here to find some personally comfortable and pure manner of affecting the kind of transformation that brings not just lethal but genocidal processes to a halt. They have no obligation — moral, ethical, legal or otherwise — to sit on their thumbs while the opposition here dithers about doing anything to change the system. So it’s removing the sense of — and right to — impunity from the American opposition…. I want the state gone: transform the situation to U.S. out of North America. U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether.”
In 2003 Churchill and his political allies attempted to obstruct a Columbus Day Parade in Denver. He was acquitted by likeminded judges who accepted his claim that a parade celebrating Columbus was tantamount to “hate speech.”
“When I started out it was ‘U.S. out of Vietnam,'” Churchill declared in an August 2004 speech, “and then that was changed and it became ‘U.S. out of Indochina,’ and then it became ‘U.S. out of Southern Africa,’ and it was ‘U.S. out of the Caribbean and Central America,’ and then it became ‘U.S. out of the Persian Gulf.’ I agreed with every one of those, but ultimately there’s only one way that any of them will be possible and that is: US out of North America, U.S. off the planet, and take Canada with you when you go!”
As with his claims of his Indian ancestry, imposture is likewise a distinguishing feature of Churchill’s academic work. In 2004 the Rocky Mountain News conducted a two-month investigation of the professor’s scholarly portfolio and found that Churchill had a long history of inventing historical facts to suit his polemical purposes, and that on numerous occasions he had passed off the work of others as his own. Among the paper’s findings: (a) Churchill baselessly accused the U.S. army of spreading smallpox among Missouri Indians in 1837, inexplicably citing sources that expressly contradict his claims; (b) Churchill published a 1992 essay taken almost verbatim from the work of Canadian professor Fay Cohen, over Cohen’s objections. (c) On at least four other occasions, he had claimed credit for the work of others.
Churchill could produce no evidence to disprove the News’ findings. Instead, he sought to explain away his serial plagiarism as harmless creative editing — not dissimilar, according to Churchill, to the efforts of a “rewrite man” at a newspaper who edits articles as he sees fit.
In January 2005, Churchill resigned from his post as Ethnic Studies Chair At Colorado University, though he remained a professor there.
In June 2006, a UC Boulder academic committee confirmed that Churchill “has committed serious, repeated and deliberate research misconduct.” Of the committee’s ten voting members, six voted to dismiss Churchill, two voted to suspend him without pay for five years, and one voted for suspension without pay for two years (one other member was absent).
In an 8 to 1 vote, the University of Colorado Board of Regents elected to fire Churchill from the Ethnic Studies Department in July 2007, as school President Hank Brown had recommended. After the decision was announced to the public, Churchill, reluctant to vacate his high-paying position, declared: “I am going nowhere. This is not about break, this is not about bend, this is not about compromise.”
In December 2006, Churchill gave a lecture at the New School University in New York, where he condemned Israel for its alleged atrocities against Palestinians, and he suggested that U.S. aid to Israel was a major cause of anti-Americanism in the Middle East. He said:
“Maybe it has something to do with 12- and 13-year-old Palestinian kids getting shot down in the street for the egregious offense of throwing a rock at an IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] soldier? There’s that little thing which is pretty well known about Israel being the 51st state in terms of funding and support. There’s that little thing about when that bullet strikes that Palestinian kid, the bullet was manufactured in Massachusetts at the Springfield Armory. There’s that little thing about where these helicopters come from, where those mini-guns come from, where those rockets come from.”
In May 2007, UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union (MSU) sponsored a talk by Churchill in which he characterized Israel as a terrorist state and urged MSU students to go to the pro-Israel booth near the lecture hall, take a slice of cake, and eat Israel symbolically.
During his years as a tenured Ethnic Studies professor, Churchill had received a $115,000 annual salary (for teaching three hours per week), apart from benefits and speaking fees.
On July 25, 2007, Churchill filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the University of Colorado, seeking reinstatement of his faculty position and an unspecified amount of money.
He thereafter established the Ward Churchill Solidarity Network, which characterized “the attacks on Ward Churchill not only as retaliation for constitutionally protected speech, but as part of a larger movement to suppress critical thinking, dismantle ethnic and gender studies programs, and eliminate the perspectives of indigenous peoples from mainstream education and scholarship.” The Network solicited donations to cover Churchill’s legal expenses, as well as volunteers to undertake legal, educational, and fundraising efforts.
After Churchill’s ouster from the UC Boulder faculty, a number of notable individuals and organizations voiced support for him, including: Gil Anidjar, Molefi Kete Asante, Bill Ayers, Brett de Bary, Derrick Bell, Noam Chomsky, Dana Cloud, Kathleen Cleaver, Hamid Dabashi, Richard Falk, Mumia Abu Jamal, Robert Jensen, Peter Kirstein, Dean Saitta, Howard Zinn, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In April 2009 a Denver jury ruled that Churchill had been wrongly fired from his job. According to the jury, the real (and insufficient) reason for which the professor had been fired was because of the “Roosting Chickens” essay he had written disparaging the victims of 9/11. Though the court awarded Churchill only $1 in damages (the minimum allowed by law), the possibility remained open that the University would be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and might have to reinstate Churchill on the faculty.
In July 2009, however, Judge Larry J. Naves of Denver District Court refused to reinstate Churchill. In his ruling, Naves said that the university’s governing Board of Regents’ decision to dismiss Churchill had “occurred with sufficient procedural protections.”
In 2010, Churchill spoke at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair.