Ward Churchill speaking at the "Academic Freedom in Peril" Forum at U.C. Berkeley on March 28, 2005
Ward Churchill's third and final Bay Area appearance was at the "Academic Freedom in Peril" Forum, held in Pauley Ballroom on the U.C. Berkeley campus on March 28, 2005. (For reports on his first two appearances over the previous weekend, click here.)
The forum was sponsored by Cal's Ethnic Studies Department to honor and defend Churchill, their fellow Ethnic Studies professor from Colorado. In this case, the forum consisted of a series of speeches by the five panelists, followed by a question-and-answer session.
The event was held in Pauley Ballroom to accommodate what was expected to be a large crowd. Outside the building were a couple of protesters from the American Indian Movement calling Churchill a fake Indian. Inside, at the entrance to the ballroom, were the typical row of pamphleteers handing out flyers on what I presumed were the typical raft of activist causes. It wasn't until later that I actually took the time to read the flyers, which turned out to be anything but typical:
This one was from an ultra-extreme anti-Israel group that -- despite their disclaimer -- uses the mask of anti-Zionism to hide its anti-Semitism. Little did I know that this was a foreshadowing of what was to be heard at the forum.
Lo and behold, the Raelians turned out as well to rant about something or other. The Raelians are big fans of Churchill. (For those who don't know: the Raelians are a UFO cult based in Canada.)
I only wish I had taken pictures of the pamphleteers and AIM protesters, but I hadn't expected anything of interest to happen outside the forum itself.
As the crowd filed in, dozens of reporters milled around, setting up their camera tripods and barking orders into cell phones.
KRON-TV's Linda Yee made no attempt to hide her boredom as she waited impatiently for Churchill to come on and say something outrageous.
Finally the forum started.
The forum panel: Carlos Munoz, Natsu Saito, Ralph Hexter, Ward Churchill, Ling-chi Wang.
After an interminable introduction by Professor Ling-chi Wang from Cal's Ethnic Studies Department, Churchill took the mike and gave, disappointingly, pretty much the same speech he had given at his two earlier appearances, toned down even further for his intellectual Berkeley fans.
Perhaps the most interesting moment in his speech was the nervous over-reacting laughter from the audience when Churchill mocked those who questioned his Indian heritage (QuickTime mpeg video, 1.2mb):
(Clicking on the link above -- and on all the similar links below -- will open a QuickTime video [or mp3] file in a new window. Below each link is an exact transcription of the speaker's words. Phrases [in brackets] indicate portions that are not clearly audible.)
"And then finally, the really interesting and dangerous one: Am I really an Indian? [Audience laughter.] Have I misrepresented my identity for purposes of personal gain? All the advantages that accrued to checking a little box that says 'American Indian' on an affirmative action form."
Ha ha! Yeah! Really funny! If you laugh hard enough, you won't be able to hear yourself thinking 'But he's not an Indian.'
In contrast to his previous appearances, however, things only started to get interesting after Churchill finished speaking. From that point on, the rest of the event was about race and identity politics (this was an Ethnic Studies-sponsored forum, after all). And there was no disguising the vitriol toward whites displayed by the other panel members and the simmering hatred of Jews shown during the question-and-answer session. Naturally, the Berkeley audience, ...
...which was 98% white and probably about 30% Jewish, loved every self-loathing minute of it.
Presumably White Folks
Natsu Saito, Churchill's wife and fellow Ethnic Studies professor, got the hate-ball rolling with a diatribe in which she cast aspersions on Churchill's critics -- for no other reason except that they are white. Actually, she admits she doesn't know what race they are, but (according to her way of thinking) anyone who would dare to attack Churchill must be white, and thus lacking all credibility:
"All of a sudden it becomes credible -- right? -- for a committee of presumably white folks, and most of the people who have been raising this criticism have been white folks who know nothing about Ward, who know nothing about the history of American Indian identity, know nothing about the federal laws that, that deal with, um, determination of identity. And there's an attempt to literally strip him of his identity. I mean, if you know anything about the history of race and racial classifications in this country and the determination of Indian identity, that has been one of the primary purposes of federal law is to make the Indians go away. You know, let's, let's -- as the board of school philosophy was, 'Kill the Indian, save the man.' You know, get rid of the Indian in Ward Churchill and he won't be Ward Churchill anymore, and then nobody will listen to him. And that's, you know, perfectly consistent with the history of the imposition of identity on American Indian peoples."
The psychological underpinning of her defensiveness becomes much clearer when you realize, as mentioned in an earlier report, that Ward Churchill is not an Indian. In any biological sense, that is. The point Saito was trying to make is that the mere act of self-identifying as an Indian makes you an Indian. And anyone who tries to point this out is trying to "strip you of your identity." Because, you see, by then you're already an Indian, and thus have credibility. And white people, who know nothing about any of this, don't have credibility. Unless you're a white person who claims to be an Indian, in which case you have extra credibility. Thus the key to making the jump from white to Indian is to do it really fast when no one's paying attention, so that by the time you emerge into the public eye, you've already assumed the mantle of inviolable credibility.
This technique -- of stirring up racial animosity and resentment where none had existed before -- is the Standard Operating Procedure of Ethnic Studies departments across the country.
Next on the speakers' list was retired Professor Emeritus of Ethnic Studies Carlos Munoz, who continued the racializing and uncorked a rhetorical paradox that was so perfectly formulated that it could be used as a textbook example of a logical fallacy (QuickTime mpeg video, .9mb):
"I don't play identity politics, cabron. [Audience laughter.] So you know what I'm saying? We have to understand the uses of identity politics to camouflage what really is going down in our nation! The reality is that we are no longer living in a democracy!"
I could write an entire book analyzing just that first sentence: "I don't play identity politics, cabron." (Cabron is a Spanish slang term with several obscene meanings but that can be loosely translated as "fucker.") He declares he's not playing identity politics -- while playing identity politics. Furthermore, when said to an outsider, cabron is almost always an insult; but when said to a Spanish-speaking buddy, it can be a term of rough affection. So he's simultaneously endearing himself to those who understand him, and insulting those who don't share his identity. Brilliant.
From that point on, it was all about the Jews. Don't ask me why -- the forum was supposed to be about "Academic Freedom." But as soon as the panel invited questions from the audience, Berkeley's Peculiar Obsession suddenly emerged. Practically every question contained one or more of the Berkeley Buzzwords: Zionism, Palestine, Israel, Jews.
Ultimately They Never Will
Churchill responded to one of the first questions with his own take on Zionism and the legitimacy of Israel:
"This leads us to the situation in a certain sense of settler colonialism and the cruel order of a particular type in the area of Palestine, which results not from something Jewish but from something particularly anti-Jewish, which is Zionism. [Audience applause.] Zionists return that [with the significance] of Judaism they have not even the sanction of their own rabbinical councils at the time they undertook the project of conquest and colonization in the area they now call Israel. Never did and ultimately they never will."
In Berkeley, the worst insult you can call someone -- even worse than cabron -- is "Zionist."
Kidnapped by the Jews
Next up was this Argentinian fellow who brought the subject back around to Eichmann. But instead of agreeing with Churchill that Eichmann was nothing more than a bureaucrat who did evil things because he had no moral conscience, the questioner seemed to be a fan of Eichmann and took offense at the Mossad's abduction of the former Nazi in Argentina in 1960:
"Because after all, most of the people in this country don't even know who Eichmann was. Who was [I call it] kidnapped from my country by the Jews, and taken without any kind of diplomatic action. So isn't that a fact that, that bother them that the fact that you call empire arrogant and criminal, what bothers them, actually?"
In case you think I'm misreading this guy's intent, think again: He's a notorious anti-Semite who appears at rallies around the Bay Area spouting anti-Jewish epithets. Of course, since he identifies as a Communist, he is accepted by his fellow protesters.
Would You Have Deserved It?
The room was thrown into shock not by the repeated off-topic attacks on Israel and Jews but instead by a lone student who had the audacity to get up and not agree with Churchill:
"Hi, my name's K. E. And um, I, I disagree with the panel. Um, but I just wanna say I thought this was a forum, and you speak of democracy that no opposing views, for me, has opposed what you've been saying. So I'm not surprised that so many scholars signed that petition because academia does not disagree with you, for the most part. I think that most professors would like what you say and agree with you. But I think that their compass point when a professor or scholar says something that is so -- I mean -- it, as Bill O'Reilly said, um, 'It's incompetent,' almost. Because it's just plain wrong. [Audience member: 'Fuck Bill Reilly!'] And, okay. So basically my main comment is that you say that academic freedom is absolute. And so you're saying that when someone reaches tenure they have the freedom to say whatever they want, wrong, right, undisputed. They have tenure, they have freedom. And you say that your most controversial comment here about, um, basically referring to the 9/11 victims as Nazi mentality, um, although not Nazis themselves, you've made that very clear. Um. You say that your job is to make informed opinions, and I totally agree with that, but you say that you reached this conclusion by a few of your students one day saying that off the BART station somewhere there's this little disgusting Indian, uh, anti-Indian bar that is in the Financial District. Therefore all Financial District workers must have a Nazi mentality. And these people, they were working hard and trying to earn money. That, I mean, they weren't, um, on welfare, they were trying -- they're innocent, they're -- they did nothing wrong. [Audience murmuring.] And they're Native Americans, and Muslim, and they're all people of all nationalities who were killed in these attacks. I'm Jewish, and I get very offended when people use the term Nazi so lightly. And I just -- I can't understand. If you were on that plane or if you were in that building at that time, visiting, would you have deserved it simply because you live in the borders of America?"
After the boos died down, Churchill's rejoinder was that she obviously didn't grasp his argument, and so her comments hardly even deserved rebutting. And, in a sense, he was right: she didn't grasp his argument. In her naiveté, she assumed he was belittling the Holocaust by tossing the name Eichmann around cavalierly. In fact, Churchill didn't downplay what the Nazis had done: instead, he said that the United States was as bad as Nazi Germany. Ms. E.'s mistaken assumption was based on her naive belief that the United States isn't that bad, therefore Churchill must be implying that Nazi Germany wasn't so bad either. Silly girl. They're both very bad.
A little bit of clarification: her question mentions a "disgusting anti-Indian bar" in the Financial District of San Francisco. In all three of his Bay Area speeches, Churchill recounted (at length, which is why I never posted the audio clips) how two of his students had discovered in a downtown bar a display case containing the teeth of a "squaw" who had been George Custer's sex-slave. Churchill himself had never seen the display, nor had anyone in the audience, but he repeatedly used it as an example of what makes people "little Eichmanns": if you are the kind of person who would go to a bar that had a racist display, then you obviously are as much of a little Eichmann as the people in the World Trade Center, and thus are deserving of death at the hands of the oppressed people of the world.
Churchill didn't know the name of the bar, but I managed to track it down: Eddie Rickenbacker's. A few days after this forum, I went over and took a picture of the display:
It took a bit of searching: it's at the very back behind the seating area (Rickenbacker's is actually more of a restaurant than a bar), squeezed awkwardly into a walkway. When I was there, the place was packed, and not a single person could see or was even aware of the display case. (The whole restaurant is full of antique motorcycles and other paraphernalia.)
Here's a transcription of the actual sign that has caused all the ruckus:
"Wisdom teeth of Custer's live-in squaw extracted by Maj. Henry Blodgett, Field Surgeon 7th Cavalry (without anesthesia). The eye tooth was knocked out of her mouth in a jealous pique by the 'General' for slipping into the tent of the handsome Lt. James Sturgis on a frosty 'Kansas morn.' The Lt. was later ushered into eternity at the 'Battle of Little Big Horn.' [Ed] note: Sturgis S.D. is his namesake and many cavalry men visit this city every year, i.e. Hells Angels, Gypsy Jokers and many other Harley Davidson aficionados. Provenance: Charles Custer Collection"
There's no denying that the sign is a bit distasteful, but considering the obsolete phraseology it's pretty likely that it was thoughtlessly transcribed in part from an old book, or from an earlier display sign. Furthermore, I can find no reference to a "Charles Custer Collection" anywhere. And as for the teeth themelves -- why in the world would they have been saved? And what evidence is there that the story is true at all? I tend to believe that the entire exhibit is a hoax, perhaps concocted long ago -- a handful of random old teeth and a caption describing them that would have seemed racy when displayed in a frontier tavern or a traveling show.
San Franciscans, beware! Because of these teeth, you deserve to die!
(I've just discovered that the folks over at IndyBay have now posted a report on Eddie Rickerbacker's as well, and they're quite up in arms over the whole affair.)
People Who Would Not Allow You to Speak
Anyway, back to Berkeley. After a few exchanges between Churchill and Miss E., he made a statement that seemed to imply he wasn't convinced that a women's-rights-supporting, Native-religion-promoting, academic-freedom-claiming American infidel like himself would be silenced by the coming Islamic regime:
K.E.: But that doesn't mean that everyone that was killed -- by people who would not allow you to speak, by the way. Um. Terrorists certainly are not --
Churchill: You spend a lot of time under shari'a law, I take it.
Next up was another notorious extreme anti-Israel protester who thinks Israelis and their supporters are "Judeo-Nazis":
"Uh, I wanted to [talk about] the last comment, really. I'm also an ethnic Jew, uh, and um, I, I consider, uh, most of these political, politically dominant people in Israel and the organizations here that support them to be Judeo-Nazis or Zionazis. Pick, pick your choice. And uh, I think their ideologies are very similar. I think that fact, uh, most, most of us Jewish and non-Jewish here, most people in this country and in Israel are at least as responsible for the crimes of our governments as the people in Hitler's Germany were responsible for the, uh, Jewish Holocaust." [Audience member: 'Hear, hear!']
Sure enough, if I go into my archives I can find plenty of pictures of this same guy holding up signs and wearing t-shirts supporting the destruction of Israel at various rallies in Berkeley. His nickname around here is "King of the Self-Loathing Jews."
Israel = Nazism, apartheid, and Jim Crow
The barrage of anti-Israel questions was just getting started. Speaker after speaker glossed over anything to do with the supposed topic of the forum and instead took the opportunity to bash Israel and Judaism. Moving right along, we come to this guy who makes no bones about what his feelings are concerning the Jewish nature of Israel (QuickTime mpeg video, .8mb):
"The attacks on academic freedom of especially academics but also students who want to apply the historical principles and parallels of Manifest Destiny, Nazism, apartheid, Jim Crow with Israeli Zionism and the creation of an ideologically Jewish colonial state in an Arab land."
Yes, yet again I have photographs of this speaker as well ranting and raving against Israeli Jews at an earlier protest in Berkeley. Make sure to read the caption for the first photo in the link above in which this speaker was heard to have said "The Jews deserve to die!"
Had enough? Sorry -- I had to hear all this, so now you have to hear it too. So: one more. Our last speaker for the day finally stated in plain English what Churchill only hints at and what everyone in the audience believes: that America is much worse than Nazi Germany:
"The other thing that comes into sharp relief to me is that it is absolutely forbidden -- or should I say verboten -- in, in popular discourse in the United States to make any comparison to the United States to the Nazis. It's absolutely forbidden. They come down on you like a ton of bricks, you know. But I think when you actually look at it, when you add up all the bodies, all the people that suffered because of all the invasions, all the genocide, all the wars for domination, they far exceeded the Nazis. And people have to confront that. And we have to be part of, like, taking that out and fighting for that in society. That's what this is about. So I do think people should defend you. And take this up: they don't have to win these kinds of battles. We can make them pay a, a big price for even trying to come at Ward like this to begin with. Thank you."
This guy is a fixture at every single rally, protest and activist event in the Bay Area, where he usually hands out Communist (Maoist? Trotskyite? I forget which) literature and rails against the United States. I have movie clips of him at earlier protests, but to save on bandwidth I'll skip the links.
Eventually, the question-and-answer session had to be cut short so the ballroom could be cleared out for the next event.
While the anti-Semites went up to get their hero's autograph, the rest of the audience -- their thirst for America-bashing and Israel-hatred temporarily sated -- filtered back outside into the Berkeley sunshine.
For completeness' sake, here's a selection of other sites' reports about Churchill's appearance at Cal:
The mainstream media version: The San Francisco Chronicle
The academic version: Official UC Berkeley newsletter report
The student version: The Daily Cal
The Churchill supporters version: IndyBay
The Churchill detractors version: Cal Patriot
Click here to return to the main page covering all three Ward Churchill appearances in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Or click here to return to the main zombie page.