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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Protests of speaker called McCarthyism

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Proponents of Ward Churchill's speech tonight at the University of Hawai'i are standing by the controversial Colorado academic's right to speak his mind, with one Manoa professor calling questions about his credentials and Native American heritage "nothing less than McCarthyism."

A large crowd is expected and UH security forces are being beefed up in preparation for the 7 p.m. speech by the man who has drawn nationwide ire for comments that those who died in the World Trade Center attacks, in particular investment bankers, were equivalent to "little Eichmanns."

Adolf Eichmann was the World War II Nazi efficiency expert who made sure trains ran on time, prisoners were delivered to concentration camps and gold teeth were sent to the central bank.

Churchill angrily ended a press conference yesterday by stalking away when reporters asked about his Native American heritage, calling the question "irrelevant" and "a racist diversion from the issues," and saying the real questions are about American foreign policy and academic freedom.

"It's nothing but identity politics being pursued by the right (wing) in an effort to discredit me," he said.

According to a Feb. 4 report in the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colo., the former chairman of the Keetoowah band of Cherokee Indians said Churchill was given an honorary membership that required no proof of Cherokee heritage.

"To be a full-fledged member of the Keetoowah, a person has to prove he or she is at least one-fourth Cherokee," said the story, based on information from the former chairman. "Churchill has never had such a membership. Only full members are allowed to vote, hold office and receive tribal privileges."

Regarding his academic credentials, a story from the Boulder bureau of the the Rocky Mountain News published yesterday quoted internal documents from the University of Colorado that said Churchill landed a coveted tenured faculty position without the rigorous six-year academic review and despite questions about his academic credentials, which do not include a doctorate.

At a glance

What: Public lecture by professor Ward Churchill, entitled "Speaking Truth to Power: Academic Freedom in the Age of Terror."

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Art Auditorium, UH-Manoa

The report said documents released by the University of Colorado "do not explain why Churchill was able to avoid the normal process for getting tenure, which gives faculty members a high degree of job security."

Supporters say Churchill's visit is not so much about what he has said but his right to say it.

"Like the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1950s, the Colorado investigation of Ward Churchill is nothing less than McCarthyism," said Center for Hawaiian Studies professor Haunani-Kay Trask.

She is a longtime friend of Churchill's and one of a broad group of individuals, UH faculty and community organizations, including the People's Fund and American Civil Liberties Union, who are supporting and funding his visit.

"For this reason alone, if for no other, we at the university and all others concerned for civil liberties, absolutely and categorically, must defend Ward Churchill's constitutional right to speak his mind as a public intellectual."

Student Kristy Ringor, a master's degree candidate in American Studies, said that by inviting Churchill, "we're creating an open, welcome environment. We give a forum to a diverse range of ideas where people aren't afraid to express themselves.

"We need to take a stand," she said. "People are saying their civil liberties are being eroded."

Churchill's appearance tonight at the UH campus is already drawing protest, notably from Hawai'i College Republicans and Sen. Fred Hemmings, who said he has been refused his request to speak with Churchill.

"By rejecting my request," said Hemmings in a statement, "the University Host Committee has made it clear that it is more interested in propaganda than truth."

Jame Schaedel, chairman of the 10-member Hawai'i College Republicans, said the student group will hold a protest in front of the Art Auditorium where Church speaks.

"College Republicans take issue with Churchill for calling the 9/11 terrorists 'gallant warriors' and 9/11 victims 'little Eichmanns,'" said a statement by Schaedel.

"Churchill is an advocate for terrorism. It is entirely inappropriate to invite a supporter of terrorists when we are fighting a war on terror."

Schaedel said he was especially "shocked" by Churchill's "advocacy of violence toward tourists."

In a transcription of a speech Feb. 22, 2003, at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, Calif., Churchill was quoted as saying of Hawai'i: "There are just way too many tourists that go and visit. You want to do something constructive for indigenous Hawaiians? Stay home. And if you have to break their knee caps in order to get them to, do it."

Early this month the University of Colorado Board of Regents launched an investigation of Churchill after the governor called for the professor's firing based on his 9/11 statements. At the same time media outlets in Colorado and elsewhere have looked into his teaching credentials, his tenure process and his Native American ancestry, all points supporter Ruth Hsu, a UH professor of English, called "red herrings that detract from the main issues that Professor Churchill is bringing to the table."

Churchill said yesterday that he didn't receive any special treatment in getting his job.

"I got my job the old-fashioned way," he said. "I worked for it."

He also said "there is no controversy among Indians" on his ancestry, and referred reporters to the Keetoowah Band Office in Tahlequah, Okla., where, he said, "I am an associate enrolled member of the Keetoowah band of Cherokees."

Of the four phone numbers for the band office, one was disconnected and three others did not answer yesterday, but because of the time difference calls were received late in the afternoon.

Churchill also said that under federal law, the first two "criteria of identification" for Native American ancestry are self-identification and community recognition.

"I've been identifying the same way since I was a 10-year-old little boy," he said.

Regarding the second, he said, "grab something as obscure as C-Span and look at the community recognition when I spoke at the University of Colorado."

During his press conference yesterday, Churchill said opposition to his right of free speech is the beginning of attempts by right-wing activists to control voices of dissent at campuses across the country.

"It's the reverse of academic integrity. It's conversion of the academy in the United States into a cheering section for red, white and blue. And that's the opposite function of academic enterprise in a free society."

Churchill also said the United States "has turned itself into the opposite of the ideals which it espouses — and in that sense it's overwhelmingly a force for evil."

With a crowd of faculty and student supporters standing in the background and applauding at times, Churchill reiterated his belief that the World Trade Center investment bankers he said were profiteering on the misery of Third World nations, were acting like "little Eichmanns." And he said he would only reconsider his position if he hears apologies to Iraqis and Palestinians from U.S. officials.

"Value a life in Iraq the same way you value those 3,000 (who died at the World Trade Center) in the United States," he said, "and maybe we will be coming up not only on an alteration in consciousnesss that will allow for a little basic humanity to emerge ... but ultimately you will begin to develop what you could call a security system — eliminating the motives (for terror.)"

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.