Ward Churchill’s Court Victory: Benjamin Whitmer, Eric Verlo, Michael Roberts, and Juror Bethany Newill

Posted on 3 April 2009 by


In a group consisting of more than two dozen newspaper reports, plus about three dozen posts by different blogs, on Ward Churchill’s victory in court yesterday evening, (see The Ward Churchill Trial‘s list of newspaper reports, as a start, and the list of blog postings), four items in particular stood out for me.

La haine

One is Benjamin Whitmer’s piece, “And you’ll excuse me this moment of excess,” for 03 April 2009, from which I copy the following for so perfectly summing up a number of my sentiments and observations (I recommend that the reader view the original post, it has a much better grand finale). The added significance of the piece is that it comes from someone who has had a front row view of events in Colorado and the persecution of Ward Churchill, someone whom I respect for his tenacity in persistently devoting time to directly going to counter some of the vicious smears. I am thankful for his comments on this blog, and for his posts about my blog as well (here and here):

I’ve spent the last four years watching a good man get his name drug through the mud for making the eminently reasonable point that you ought not be killing other peoples’ kids. And that if you are in the business of killing other peoples’ kids, they have the absolute right to fight back in any way they can.

I’ve seen the most vicious smear campaign of my lifetime. A horde of shiteating columnists and radio shockjocks have made it their life’s work to destroy one man. They went after his life, his livelihood, his family, and his reputation. There is no level to which they haven’t stooped to ruin him.

I’ve watched Denver’s local media crawl like dogs to eat the shit of their canine superiors in the rightwing national media. There has not been a single article in the Denver media to actually interrogate the trumped-up charges of academic misconduct levelled by the hopelessly biased CU investigative committee. Not one. Like with their coverage of the Iraq war (or for that matter, the preceding sanctions), they have gone to incredible lengths to never actually investigate the shit they were more than willing to eat out of the paws of their presumed betters.

Moreover, in that so-called bastion of higher learning at CU, I can count on my fingers and toes those faculty members who were willing to actually stand up and point out the absurdity of the smear campaign launched against Ward Churchill. Almost to a man or woman, they refused to make any kind of stand for the principles they pretended, every day, to represent. Nothing has been more disheartening than the absolute, unmitigated cowardice of the faculty of my alma mater. I’ve met pedophiles and rapists with whom I’d rather share an occupation.

But, I’ve also watched Ward Churchill, with his family, put their stake in the ground and refused to back up an inch. That’s what courage is, and I’ve been proud as hell just to witness it. In the last round of McCarthyism, there were very few to fight back. I think of Dashiell Hammett, and I think of Ward Churchill.

So this one’s for CU. And for Bill O’Reilly [Fox News], Caplis and Silverman [Denver radio shock-jocks], Vincent Carroll [columnist], and the rest of the Denver media.

Fuck you.

The Pornography of Empire

To this day I remain struck by the unrestrained animus, the high-pitched hatred, and the destructive impulse that has guided even the academics among Churchill’s horde of obsessive attackers. I can understand total disagreement; I can understand doctrinaire attitudes; I can understand not wanting to be convinced by different views; I can understand loud voices; I can understand polemics and passionate rhetoric — all this I can understand. What I cannot understand is why anyone, let alone an academic, someone boasting of their scholarly professionalism, would respond to someone having a different opinion, interpretation, political mindset, by wanting to destroy that person, to deny him a living, to take the bread out of his mouth, to cut him off at the knees and cripple him permanently. It’s as if they find their vindication in not just the humiliation of the other, but in the poverty of the other, which they desire to personally bring about.

This personal, diabolical, destructive impulse is witnessed in the hundreds, likely thousands, of comments splattered on every single news report and blog post about Churchill that ever allowed comments from readers over the past several years. There we find, almost without a single exception, a manifest insistence  by rightwing academics and members of the public on wanting to dominate the discussion, through sheer volume, through last words never conceded, through a tone that is so similar to screaming obscenity that you wonder if the persons who want their representations to stick have not suffered some collective cranial trauma. What kind of psychological pathology do we witness there, what kind of mass delirium that borders on blood lust, what kind of emotional constitution would demand such vengeance…and for what wrongs that they, supposedly, personally suffered? What would drive such a person to bluster with such force that they risk provoking a rectal prolapse?

The behaviour is one that should be familiar to all of us, it is the same one that drove numerous millions into a politicized state of dementia, driving them to indulge their basic instincts of wanting to crush all opposition, real or imagined. It was expressed in a joyfully ghoulish thirst for blood when the invasion of Iraq seemed likely, individuals boasting that they looked forward to snacking on popcorn while watching the bombing of Baghdad on their televisions. It was a spectacle promised by all American cable news media: the impending conquest of a nation already vanquished by barbarous sanctions, by hunger and disease, with a dwindled military already routed by a punishing military campaign that saw thousands shot in the back and torched in that infamous Highway of Death leading out of Kuwait and into Iraq. It was a nation already bludgeoned by extreme American cruelty, and the majority of Americans — the overwhelming majority of all those polled — wanted more, more blood, more bombs.

And it was never enough. Now they had been schooled into hating Saddam Hussein, a man most Americans knew absolutely nothing about, except for the tales told by Bush Sr., whose collective memory did not extend back a few years when he was an American ally. They hated Hussein with a passion, as if they had personally been anally raped by the man. They watched avidly. Some like the alleged comedian of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, even made infantile jokes of the murder of a man, when Saddam Hussein was finally executed by the Iraqi cronies of the American occupation. (See my earlier post of this pornographic execution voyeurism in, “The Colonization Will be Televised.”) To top it off, George W. Bush was presented with Saddam Hussein’s pistols, a war trophy, befitting a white, colonial, big game hunter.

So the pattern of hatred is a familiar one, of empire going nuts. In the persecution of Ward Churchill, someone whose worst curse is having been born in Anglo North America, the hatred would take on many hues and veneers. One of these was a quickly polished  up faculty investigative committee, setting out to discipline and punish, not to assess. The act was intentional, barely masking a gruesome, medieval desire to set alight the heretic. Their methodology betrayed this at every step, their occasional moments of remorse expressed in passages that contradicted their intentions, there was to be only one truth, only one permissible interpretation, and anything deviating from it must be “fraud.” They did not consider the whole of Churchill’s work, only the most microscopic fraction, and they called it “a pattern.” They took this to the jury in Denver. They lost. Thanks to younger minds intent on independence and fairness.

Is the Witch Hunt Over?

The second item(s) that also stood out for me came from Eric Verlo of Not My Tribe, who I learned about thanks to Ben Whitmer. I will not labour this further, because his statements are generally in the same vein as Ben Whitmer’s. In “Still Open Season on Witch Churchill,” Verlo writes:

Ward Churchill’s saga is bigger than the persecution of a scholar who defies the master narrative, bigger than Native American contentions over their victor’s history, bigger than America’s First Amendment Freedom of Speech, it’s WHAT HE SAID.

We can fantasize that the American psyche is sophisticated enough to care about what is written of its history. I’m not sure Americans care what’s in their rear view mirror as long as the drive thru is still open. But put a swastika on our Red White and Blue…

I also took note of a post by Verlo titled, “Churchill and his curiously vile detractors,” where he made the following observations, in language as colourful and memorable as Ben Whitmer’s from which I extract a part:

There’s an interesting sideshow at the Churchill v CU case having to do with a cadre of unsavory Ward Churchill online critics. What they are writing is hardly interesting but their unceasing doggedness, repeating only ad hominem attacks, leads one to wonder who they are and what horse do they have, in not only this race, but in Churchill’s ongoing activism. These are the same voices which heckled the DNC organizers, AIM, and the contra-Columbus actions.

It’s a little circle of shit-knitters, who cross-link or repost each other’s comments from Blogspot blogs Drunkablog, Slapstick Politics, People’s Press Collective, and riding point on the Churchill Trial, Pirate Ballerina. These are Little Green Football variety ditto-heads, and I hardly mean to draw attention to them, but their relentless character assassination seems to wag the local media dogs, and one might as well look into that.

I must also thank Verlo for his seemingly unique collection of photos taken outside of the Denver court, such as this one:

A Verdict on the Verdict: Don’t Show Me the Money

The third item that stood out for me, again thanks to Ben Whitmer for the lead, was Michael Robert’s Latest Word blog, writing from Denver. In a post for 03 April 2009 titled, “Should Ward Churchill be celebrating? Probably…,” Roberts writes about the alleged repudiation of Churchill that some see in the $1 dollar he received for economic damages (a partial repudiation at best, since by deeming that he was wrongfully terminated, he is at least owed back pay). Roberts speaks to the issue of not only why the money did not matter, but why it should not matter:

Churchill’s reputation has been enhanced tremendously among his anti-establishment constituency, whose members frankly might have been put off had he walked away with a huge stack of cash….he’s positioned himself as a rebel, and a rebel he remains. And his symbol of victory? A dollar bill.

A Juror Speaks: They Did Not Ask for Money

The fourth item also comes via Michael Roberts above, on the related issue of the monetary award. Roberts presents the only in-depth conversation with a juror to happen thus far, Bethany Newill, in “Juror Bethany Newill talks about the Ward Churchill trial” (03 April 2009). I recommend that the reader consult the original item in its entirety, since I will only quote a select extract. Newill, who is 24 years old, showed maturity and an independent-mindedness that has been too lacking in the public debate about Churchill. She did not endorse his views about 9/11, but simply said that the trial was not about whether we should agree with him, but whether he should have been fired for holding such views. She indicates that the six jurors unanimously and quickly agreed that Ward Churchill had been fired for Constitutionally protected free speech, and they noted the many inconsistencies, contradictions, and changed stories presented by CU’s witnesses. Where they ran into problems as jurors was in deciding on the dollar amount of an award:

Newill says she and the other jurors “were all very uncomfortable” with this portion of the verdict. “We even asked the judge if he could do it. We really didn’t want anything to do with that.”

Once Judge Larry Naves reiterated that the jury had to tackle this task, Newill confirms that “the majority of us were in favor of giving him money,” but they didn’t know how much to award. “We were given a four-page set of rules to determine the amount, and there was also an option that we didn’t have to do it. And one of the rules said there needed to be a preponderance of the evidence to show the financial effect it had on Ward Churchill. And there was no real dollar amount other than the loss of wages.”

Ultimately, the jurors followed the lead of David Lane, Churchill’s attorney. “He said, ‘What price can you put on a reputation?’” Newill remembers. “And we all decided that there’s not a price you can put on a reputation. And even though this was protected speech, there are still consequences to your actions and your words. When Ward Churchill wrote that essay, he had to think that people would be affected by that, negatively or positively, and that he would need to reap the consequences on his reputation.” Still, she emphasizes that “it wasn’t a slap in his face or anything like that when we didn’t give him any money. It’s just that David Lane kept saying this wasn’t about the money, and in the end, we took his word for that.”

Having read this, my estimation of the jurors shot up several points on the admiration scale. One needs to also keep in mind that David Lane never brought in an expert to speak about the monetary dimension of what Churchill had suffered — he brought in numerous experts on everything else of relevance, except that. No dollar amount was ever specified or requested, and the issue of possible monetary compensation was mentioned almost as a reluctant afterthought in the closing arguments. What is repudiated, in the end, is a capitalist, monetary logic of justice and compensation, a brilliant move on the part of Churchill and his legal team, and an admirable, fair, and elevated judgment on the part of the jurors.

It gives one reason for hope. Let the colonial madness end.

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