[Marxism] Stop the witch-hunts against Ward Churchill!
ffeldman at verizon.net
ffeldman at verizon.net
Wed Feb 23 11:10:22 MST 2005
the witch-hunts against Ward Churchill!
[T]he current attacks on Churchill... are a product of
a tradition of blind factionalism that has plagued progressive
struggles in this country for a long time.
by Fred Feldman
February 23, 2005
The top leading body of the American Indian Movement and some on the left
are currently seeking, on what I am sure they consider morally justified
grounds, to counter the efforts to fight the witch-hunt against University
of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill. Churchill faces an attempt by the
University of Colorado to find grounds for firing him because of statements
he made about the 9/11 attacks and to deepen the attack on ethnic studies at
I think these attacks are unsupported by convincing proof, unjustified and
inappropriate coming as they do from groups and individuals who have a lot
to lose from the blow to all our democratic rights that is being aimed at
Some charge him with being an agent of a COINTELPRO operation against the
Indian struggle for rights. Their evidence is flimsy, and not sufficient to
convict anyone on any charge.
They challenge his claim to be an Indian, claiming that he is not a "real"
Indian genetically or spiritually. There has been no disproof of his claim
to be 1/24th (or whatever) Indian and therefore the claim should be
(Another tack has been to raise the issue of whether he is not as good a
teacher as Vine Deloria. This has nothing whatever with the political issues
being fought over and I invite those who have taken their classes to debate
this to their heart's content. After all, it's supposed to be a free
Support for Indian rights does not oblige us to get into the
race-certification business, which usually has more to do with business
interests among the Indian nations than with rights per se. From the
standpoint of the struggle for rights, the oppressed generally have no
interest in preventing others from identifying with them for whatever
There should of course be affirmative action and treaty-based measures to
support the business activities of Indian nations, including the protection
of Indian identity in these operations (casinos, artwork, etc.). But the
defense of the democratic rights of Indians and all of us should not be
disrupted by inevitably poisonous campaigns about who is really an Indian
genetically or in their deeper nature.
The charges that Churchill is an agent have no logical basis. It is claimed
that his statements on 9/11 were a deliberate attempt to enable the
government to label the American Indian Movement a terrorist group - an
alleged attempt that was defused by AIM's simply exercising its democratic
right to disagree with the statements that he had an equal right to make..
Or they claim that Churchill raises this issue now because he is trying to
aid the government's war against terror. But it was the enemies of
democratic rights, not Churchill, who raised this issue now. The attempt to
present 'COINTELPRO' - type government documents as proof positive are
unconvincing, and the documents themselves - being written by expert liars
- actually PROVE nothing.
But above all, the attacks on Churchill particularly the statement by the
AIM top leadership -- legitimize the rightist claim that what Churchill said
about 9/11 goes beyond the limits of legitimate free speech, beyond the
limits of what can be civilly debated in a democratic society,and that these
statements could only be made by a US agent or a "fool."
This is an attack not only on Churchill but on everyone who differs from the
only legitimate mainstream discourse on 9/11 - the passion of American
innocence violated by "evil" from abroad. This includes not only a modest
minority of people in the United States, but millions in countries all over
The attacks on Churchill are filled with vague and sinister references to
COINTELPRO. As someone who was involved in a suit against the government
around the COINTELPRO operations against the Socialist Workers Party (which
I belonged to at the time), I read a lot of COINTELPRO documents and lots of
court testimony about them.
And I am struck by the resemblance between the charges and factional attacks
on Churchill and the content and style of these FBI campaigns to divide and
disrupt struggles for progressive social change and democratic rights by
setting people up with rumors or "evidence" about their being agents,
baiting about racial purity, and so on.
These attacks were sometimes deadly in their effectiveness. In New Haven,
FBI agents got Black revolutionaries to torture and kill each otherin the
early 1970s over such accusations.
I am absolutely convinced that the current attacks on Churchill are not part
of a government plot, but are a product of a tradition of blind factionalism
that has plagued progressive struggles in this country for a long time.
In part, the FBI learned the art of "putting a snitch jacket" on a targeted
individual (portraying them as a government agent), and the "tabloid expose"
literary style of attack from the Communist Party. Under the influence of
Stalin, the Communist Party from the late 20s,and for decades thereafter,
tended to accuse all who disagreed including suspected dissidents in its own
ranks, or working for various US or international police agencies. And the
method was picked up from that source by various left and nationalist
organizations, as well as by the FBI.
This played a role in the destruction of the Black Panther Party. It helped
undermine internal solidarity against the witch-hunters in the Communist
It has eaten away at the counter-tradition in this country, the idea that
"an injury to one is an injury to all." Instead, it fostered the idea that
the enemy of my factional enemy is my friend, or at least my practical ally
in exposing or cutting down the factional enemy. It is division in the face
of the enemy, which Fidel Castro said was never an intelligent or successful
Instead of fighting the government's witch-hunt, the current attacks on
Churchill have the effect of supplementing the rulers' witch-hunt against
challenges to their orthodoxy on 9/11 with a witch-hunt within the movement
against dissenters and against those suspected - primarily for their
opinions, but with other shreds of "evidence" thrown in to sweeten the pot -
of being "agents."
In lending itself to this witch-hunt, the top leaders of AIM are damaging
their own completely just struggle. They are undermining the democratic
rights of all the Indian nations, as well as everybody else. They will be
more vulnerable to witch-hunting because of the way they have handled their
conflicts with Churchill in this instance.
To pay too much attention to these attacks can worsen their divisive
effects. But I have to restate the class-struggle basics on this issue,
without which we will tear each other apart to the benefit of our enemies.
No one should be considered a police agent without definitive and tested
proof beyond reasonable doubt. Anything else is destructive. There is no
convincing evidence that Churchill is a COINTELPRO agent. Therefore he is
not. To declare that he is an agent without positive proof beyond reasonable
doubtis itself an attack on democratic rights, and a contribution to the
rulers' attack on our rights in this case.
An injury to one is an injury to all. Stop the witch-hunt against dissent in
the United States in general and the University of Colorado. Oppose the
attempts to silence and punish Ward Churchill for his views - on whatever
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