When Reality Strikes: Ward Churchill on Radio

Two radio programs are the focus of this post, and you can listen to both below. Both deal, in very different ways, with the significance of the jury’s verdict in Ward Churchill’s wrongful termination suit against the University of Colorado.

The first one is an interview with Ward Churchill that took place earlier this morning — see Ward Churchill on WBAI Pacifica Radio 99.5 FM in New York City, on 10 April 2009, (also see here).

“I felt vindicated,” Churchill says, adding that the “University’s case for research misconduct was not deemed credible by the jury.” Ward Churchill also flatly denied and contradicted a report in The Daily Camera, “Churchill to ask for $1M if judge won’t reinstate CU job,” stating that he is not asking for any money. He also made the point, one that he noted the mainstream media continues to ignore, about the extent of fraud and falsification in the University of Colorado’s own investigative committee’s report about his research. He does not back down from the fact of American genocide against Natives, and he notes how so many get away so easily with genocide-denial and genocide-minimizing, which is politically correct only when speaking of American Indians.

Returning to the result of the jury’s verdict, Ward Churchill got $1 more than he asked for, and five out of six jurors wanted to amply compensate Churchill, as repeatedly attested to by Bethany Newill (see here and here). The reality is, as Churchill in his radio interview this morning reminds those who will listen and have the capacity to understand, that Churchill’s legal team did not detail the economic costs of Churchill’s losses as a result of his wrongful termination. The jurors, for their part, did not want to jeopardize their unanimity around the core issue of the case which, as clearly specified in the complaint submitted by Churchill’s legal team (see here), was always about his being wrongly fired for exercising his free speech rights. They also agreed, and as I said before this greatly increased my estimation of the jurors, that certain issues and qualities cannot be monetized, contrary to the capitalist logic that most North Americans routinely imbibe.

Listen to Ward Churchill (26 mins., 37 secs.):

The second radio program is about the verdict of the jury in Ward Churchill’s lawsuit. It comes from Caplis and Silverman on Denver’s 630 KHOW radio station, and it manifests the striking ability of two individuals to construct an alternate reality by severely truncating the range of facts that they are willing to listen to or able to absorb through their extremely dense ideological filters. Thus, in the world according to Caplis and Silverman, the jury’s verdict was a “total repudiation of Ward Churchill,” a “big win for CU and a rejection of Ward Churchill.” All that really matters to them is what Ward Churchill had to say about 9/11, as one of them says: “it’s hard to erase the horror of Ward Churchill’s speech.” They then project their emotions into the minds of the jury, asserting that their award of $1 meant that they “did see through Ward Churchill and they rejected him.” To make this case, they have to insist that Ward Churchill and his legal team “wanted money.” Sure, the jury’s verdict was also about the “free speech Amendment, and all that,” but that this verdict is still about the “jurors’ rejection of Ward Churchill.” One of them goes back and states that, yes, a “majority” of jurors did find that CU’s termination of Churchill’s position was a violation of Constitutionally protected free speech — but note the wording: a majority, as opposed to the actual fact, that it was unanimous, which is the only way there could have been a verdict. Back to the drum beat, as they continue: “Pat O’Rourke won…he won the case,” referring to the defense attorney for CU. They insist, because they have to or else their world falls to pieces around them like so many shards of a collapsing WTC tower: this was “such a tremendous victory to have the jury reject Churchill that way,” and, alright, “there was that one part” of the verdict that went for Churchill, but really this was “a personal slap down.” “Churchill hates us because we exposed him,” they say with pride. It’s an interesting conclusion: I hate what they do too, and they have never even mentioned me.

The issue of money weighs very heavily on the “minds” of Caplis and Silverman, and they then seek to prove that the case was all about money, so they play a barely audible tape (to make sure their voices are louder) of Churchill’s attorney David Lane, speaking during closing arguments: “Churchill didn’t ask for a nickel, he said ‘All I want is my job back,’…What are ‘damages’ in this case? Damages are justice.” Caplis and Silverman repeatedly talk over the muffled audio of Lane, interjecting with what they think are clever little quips, waiting for any mention of money to interject “sounds like money to me,” so that even if one were to say, “I don’t want money” that is transformed by them: “Oh look! He said money.”

Then Bethany Newill comes in, and reality strikes Caplis and Silverman: they got the facts completely backwards. They had argued all along that the majority of jurors did not want to award money, except for one (the exact reverse of that was true). It seems that they were unable to absorb what she was telling them, that the focus for the jurors was not about the money, since it is too difficult to come to an estimate of the dollar value of a reputation; and, had Churchill’s legal team ever bothered to specify the losses, and provided evidence, then Newill said the jury would have definitely awarded a lot of money. But never mind the verdict now, or any of the facts of the case, and let’s hark back to the glorious tragedy of 9/11.

Caplis and Silverman are thus left to do what? To try to convert Newill to something entirely irrelevant to the case, that Churchill somehow advocated and condoned “terrorism.”

I was “impressed” by the program, but by “impressed” I mean the same way that I might be impressed if, while suffering from an overdose of hallucinogenic drugs and extreme sleep deprivation, I were to be forcibly marched through a mile-long freak show inhabited by howling ghouls and mutants. Caplis and Silverman are extraordinary cowards, on a moral and intellectual level, if I may be so bold as to use the term “intellectual” in the same sentence as their names.

Listen to Caplis & Silverman (53 mins., 40 secs.):

God’s Terminal Nation

No wonder that many people in the U.S. media continue to speak as if the attacks of 11 September 2001 came out of nowhere, had no cause, no roots, no justification. When you think, for too long, that God is always on your side, eventually some begin to think that their nation actually is God, and any attack against God can only be the work of the Devil. Not just the work of evil people, but cowards: Caplis and Silverman call Churchill a coward — and yet he stood up and spoke out in public, at great personal cost, saying what was most politically unpopular at the time, breaching patriotic correctness.

As for the 9/11 hijackers, I would like to see anyone who thinks they were “cowards” spend years of their own lives consciously training for their own personal annihilation in the service of a greater cause, learning to fly a large passenger jet so as to crash it into a skyscraper, and that after taking the plane by force. I could not do it — could you? Robert Fisk put it a different way on 14 September 2001:

This is a formidable enemy. To dismiss it as a bunch of cowards perpetrating senseless acts of violence is complacent nonsense. People willing to kill thousands of innocents while they kill themselves are not cowards. They are deadly, vicious warriors and need to be treated as such. Nor are their acts of violence senseless. They have a very specific aim: to avenge alleged historical wrongs and to bring the great American satan to its knees. (source)

Bill Maher, for his part, also agreed with none other than right wing academic Dinesh D’Souza that the 9/11 hijackers were anything but cowards:

Panelist Dinesh D’Souza mentioned that he didn’t think the terrorists were “cowards,” as George Bush had described them. Maher replied: “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You’re right.” (source)

Some of us may have forgotten the White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, who responded to Bill Maher’s comments (ignoring, or ignorant of D’Souza’s own comments) by urging Americans “to watch what they say”: “This is not a time for remarks like that. There never is” (see here and here).

Cowards, it would seem, are those who use a radio microphone to speak silence into the ears of listeners, afraid to ever question or challenge the authorized truths of their society. Yet, there is also the semblance of the courage of a hijacker here, and Caplis and Silverman may share more with the 9/11 hijackers than they would ever care to admit.

God Commands That We All Drown Together

The extremely astute anthropological conclusion that a culture that cannot escape itself is a culture that is terminal, originally came to me from a single sentence in a newspaper column by the late Lloyd Best, a column I may have preserved somewhere but which I have not seen in at least a decade. Shutting down dissent, leading pitchfork parades against critics, and committing the cardinal sin of not recognizing the vital role of dissent as part of the existential fibre of the true university, is very much like watching people in a room filling with poisonous gas as their leader commands that all exits be sealed. It would be like the captain of a sinking ship ordering that all lifeboats be cut loose and all passengers chained to the deck. The voyage must continue, even if to the bottom of the ocean.

Consensus won by force — fire the critics, deny them a livelihood, pursue them everywhere with threats, ridicule and scorn — is the way a previously hegemonic culture turns into orthodoxy, in a vain attempt to buy itself time and to stall its impending decline. “America” today is the forced product of an illusion of agreement, where the logic of state became a de facto religion, now degenerating into a violent sectional cult. Consensus won by argument demands contestation, and that requires the most vigorous dissent possible. By castigating dissent, the Caplis and Silvermans of the world would gut the university, and have everyone sink with them. However, just as some people push back, some also prefer not to drown. I love how Ward Churchill swims.

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16 thoughts on “When Reality Strikes: Ward Churchill on Radio

  1. The extremely astute anthropological conclusion that a culture that cannot escape itself is a culture that is terminal, originally came to me from a single sentence in a newspaper column by the late Lloyd Best, a column I may have preserved somewhere but which I have not seen in at least a decade. Shutting down dissent, leading pitchfork parades against critics, and committing the cardinal sin of not recognizing the vital role of dissent as part of the existential fiber of the true university, is very much like watching people in a room filling with poisonous gas as their leader commands that all exits be sealed. It would be like the captain of a sinking ship ordering that all lifeboats be cut loose and all passengers chained to the deck. The voyage must continue, even if to the bottom of the ocean.

    I am in awe. I don’t know how you have the time to come up with lengthy analytical posts like this and still create such gems of prose. Something like this would take me forever.

    So, in lieu of coming up with something to compete with this, I’d like your permission to quote it to my sociology class with full credit to you and a mention of your website. I’ll be teaching one as a grad student/adjunct this summer at the local community college and it strikes me as a perfect capsule justification of the entire discipline. We need to create a world in which people are equipped with the tools to resist the elites who would drag the rest of us down to destruction and the apologists who seek to justify the intellectual, historical, environmental and moral wastelands they’ve already made.

    That’s what I’d like to share with my students.

    The pressures for conformity inside academia are incredible, and yet if any group should challenge the verities of ruling class culture, it ought to be us. Needless to say my advisors are somewhat freaked out by this, but I’m doing biology as well, (it was my first interest) and if pressed I can make a career doing that outside of academia. In any case, I cannot see what the use is of having a job that prevents me from full democratic participation. If I wanted that, I’d just go back to UPS where I was fired for trying to organize the part-time workers.

  2. Sorry about that. If you can’t edit the html on that, then feel free to delete it (and this message too) and I’ll resubmit. I could have sworn that I closed the tags, but apparently all I did was just open up a second blockquote tag.

  3. I am very honoured, many thanks for the kind words. Please feel free to make use of any materials you like, it’s one of the reasons that I adopted the Creative Commons license as well. I wish that I could find the original Lloyd Best piece online, or that I had digitized it myself way back.

    I am wishing you the very best for that course, I know how difficult it is to teach as an adjunct who is simultaneously completing a graduate degree. I did it twice myself, and found myself forced to drop some really important courses just to be able to manage.

    Fired for organizing workers? I know that this happens, and I have even done jobs here in Canada where we were told the same thing — it’s amazing how many “freedoms” we surrender in “the land of the free,” given that union organizing is allegedly defended as a right under the law. It seems that only in places like Quebec are such rights vigorously pursued, against the Walmarts of the world — but then Walmart shut down entire stores as soon as workers organized into a union.

    Exactly, the idea that academia should simply be more of the same, a kind of glorified service industry where one repeats the official truths to students who allegedly do not care and just want their credentials, is something to be actively resisted everywhere. If anything it is one small check on this self-destructive, Jim Jones-like impulse of a triumphalist society that knows only absolute domination, and can only confront failure in the form of a cultural and political mass suicide (and hopefully not a more literal suicide). With the kind of choke hold that those in power exercise on society on Colorado, I wonder if they ever managed to figure out the possibilities that might better explain the emergence of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine, beyond the truisms that they were lost souls, or just crazy.

  4. Thanks for the good wishes. It’s going to be doubly difficult for me because I only picked up sociology as a relatively recent interest, and I feel as if I’m going to have to fake it. But then I’ve heard that most of the successful grad students are those who feel like they’re faking their way through it and about to be discovered at any moment.

    Plus, I’ll be able to draw on my experiences as an activist and working in the community for a “contemporary problems in sociology” class. Having been poor also helps, if I may be slightly facetious. Certainly poor people don’t need any background in Foucault or Marx to tell them how capitalist/authoritarian power relations are subtly manifested in the determination of bus routes, the switch from food stamps to a debit card system, “soft” surveillance by employers, the health care available at walk-in clinics, etc. Being an activist gave me the broad overview of how this society works, and being poor showed how these inequalities manifested in my own life and how it felt.

    To that end, I think that rather than agonize over a choice of textbooks, I’m just going to assign a few readily available books which cover some representative issues we could explore (e.g. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed).

    And yes, I was fired for trying to organize a union. This was back in Kansas, which is a “right-to-work” state (meaning a “right-to-union-bust” state). The statute says that for a particular period (I think it’s two years) an employer can terminate any employee’s job for any reason. Obviously, by the time that an employee has any sort of job safety, he’s far too enmeshed in the system to want to rock the boat. I only needed a few months to see that the UPS hub was a terribly unsafe place. Almost every week there was an injury serious enough to report, let alone all the minor aches and pains we went home with every day. We were supposed to only be carrying up to 70 lbs unassisted, but the fact remained that there was no slack, so everyone loading packages had their own to worry about and couldn’t help anyone else. The supervisors on the floor disappeared as soon as the shift began, too, so one couldn’t find them to ask anything. And I estimated that I was being asked to load anywhere from 800-1,200 packages between four trucks in four hours. Naturally, one cannot do that by loading packages individually, so we all had to stack packages on top of packages, routinely carrying more than 70 lbs and accounting for many injuries. Plus, boxes would tumble down the line in certain places, occasionally falling over the edge and hurting people that way. There were other dangerous situations, but these are the most easily fixed—hire more workers and put up some sort of netting along sloped parts of the conveyor belt.

    So I had enough and started to organize the part-time workers. This was after the major UPS strike, which ended in a guaranteed union contract for all the full-time workers, but didn’t cover part-timers. The obvious thing happened: UPS fired most of its full-time workers and switched to part-time labor. Thus, they were in no mood for someone coming along who wanted to unionize the part-time workers.

    I don’t think that anyone ever looked into the social causes of the Columbine tragedy, or if they did that it was generally reported. The thing about America’s view of itself is that every act is completely divorced from any historical, social, or economic context. The words “inexplicable tragedy” go together so often that “inexplicable” even seems to hover over the word “tragedy” even if it’s not stated. Plane crashes are inexplicable tragedies, even if the NTSB is partly to blame for not requiring more stringent standards of airlines. 9/11 is an inexplicable tragedy, even if it’s blowback from America’s neoimperialist attempts to control the Middle East and Central Asia. And so on. It allows people to never question anything about the inherent rightness and goodness of American society.

  5. I think that being poor, and being conscious and critical of the conditions of life in poverty, is what is really essential. I have had some students who were also raised in, or continue to live in poverty, and some seem very eager to buy into many of the promises that are the norm in the system. Some degree of alienation and incredulity is necessary besides the material condition of poverty, and it’s a good thing that you possessed those qualities since the experience is one whose many lessons are not lost on you.

    Just an aside: the lack of unionization in the case you described above really stands out, in stark contrast to the situation of airline baggage handlers. I have noticed that check-in staff are very stern about not accepting so much as a pound of excess weight (at least here in Canada) and will force passengers to unpack right there and remove that one pound, citing strict union guidelines. In cases where elderly passengers cannot lift their bags onto the scale at the check-in counter, the airline staff refuse to help, as if to underscore the point that “if it is too heavy for you to manage, don’t expect others to manage the lifting for you.” How people manage this hierarchy in their minds is interesting — that UPS workers should not have the same protections as baggage handlers.

  6. Max,
    Here’s a bit of linguistic anthropology for you:
    That paragraph got me to blurt out the Hebrew word “enchanting!” to an empty room. Which is the literal translation and sounds kind of silly in English, but the words “beautiful!” or “fantastic!” just don’t grasp the pied-pipe effect that this writing had on me. Thanks :)

    Your story astonishes me. I was never poor, but I’m actually very attracted to the idea. Because I have the cash to order as much Foucault as I want from abroad, I’m slowly grasping the inhumanity of capitalism and the waste of consumerism. It’s become very clear to me what I need and what I don’t, and what I could easily and actually much rather live without. Marketing is based on the creation of false needs- what we all NEED is the freedom to be poor, human and content. (Don’t mean to sound so dogmatic, just my humble thought on the matter.)

  7. Well, there’s abandonment of consumerism, and then there’s actual poverty. I wouldn’t wish real poverty on anyone. Back when I was in Kansas, I lived 35 miles from the UPS hub in Lenexa where I worked, and my work began at 4 a.m. Thus, I needed a car, fuel, car insurance, as well as a home, natural gas, food and water. Paying for all these things, even with roommates sharing the cost of rent and bills, cost me more than I was making and the work was so physically enervating that I couldn’t do anything else.

    I lived a no-frills life. I didn’t have the internet, I didn’t have cable television, etc. I only owned a CD/tape player and radio and a handful of CDs and books I thought important enough to take with me on the Greyhound. Everything else was bought (usually secondhand) after my arrival and any other books or CDs came from the public and university libraries.

    So when I came up short, food was the first thing to get struck off my list. I stretched my income by dumpstering, eating at the Food Not Bombs, waiting for free pizza from the local pizzeria at the close of business (often in the snow) and frequently skipping meals or eating every other day. It was a miserable life, and I can fully understand why people enter the consumerist mindset: if you have frills in your life, not only does it allow you to cope with work that may be degrading, boring, or otherwise unrewarding, but it also allows you the sense that you’re cushioned from things becoming too bad. If they do, you can always sell your iPods or flatscreen TVs.

    This is also why people cling to the mythology that anyone can make it in a capitalist system; operating on the opposite assumption invites the fatalism that a terrible life is the only one that one is ever going to know. Thus, I think there needs to be some caution about throwing around the term “poverty”, because people who have experienced it at its worst are going to stop short and say, “You want me to go through that again?” By the time you’ve explained why you don’t want that for them, you’ve already lost them. I generally prefer the term “opting-out”, which seems to me to have less baggage attached.

  8. Nullifidian,
    Agree. Never go hungry, but definitely opt out. I’m not sure where I read this (posibly anarchist theories), but it said something about all people should have the basics (roof, bed, hot shower and of course food), but they should also have entertainment-culture. That aspect seems right to me. I’ve been living a just-enough-no-frills life for a few years, but it’s out of choice. The truth is, the lack of maneuvering room kills you on the inside. There IS need for that little extra. When I think about how little it would take to make a person happy. Books, a good show, one of those fantastic low budget movies. I don’t know. A lot of people dream about the things they want. I lost it. I would never want to starve, but I’ve been in luxury (and maybe that’s why I lost it), all it does is make you fear loosing it and fear people who don’t have it. My mom used to put her hand on my neck and gently pull me towards her, whenever we passed a homeless person. Years later I asked her about this and she didn’t even remember doing this. She wasn’t even from a rich family. The mentality Capitalism creates destroys human contact and our ability to communicate with each other- it’s divide and conquer.

  9. I experienced really serious poverty, thankfully for only a short time, but one that left a serious scar on my psyche. I went without electricity for weeks, in a very hot country (Trinidad), survived on nothing more than spoonfuls of brown sugar, and later back in Canada found myself nearly homeless at one point and having to steal food from work in order to make it, and that lasted several weeks. The result was a constant sense of hunger, even years afterwards, as if any opportunity to eat became a savage revenge against those memories of hunger. I also discovered that stolen food always tastes better than food you buy.

    The relief from this poverty came through winning scholarships and fellowships, the only way (added to loans) that I could continue through university, and it was an immediate way out that, of course, has also left a lasting mark since I remain an academic.

    I had this discussion many months ago on this blog with some Iraq war veterans, who took umbrage with what they felt was my moralizing against voluntary enlistment to fight, and my appreciative following of a radical group in the U.S. that has produced a series of very controversial “fuck the troops” videos. I must admit that in the worst of my poverty, going to war, enlisting in the army or police, never even vaguely entered my mind as a possibility. I very much resent the presence of armed forces recruitment officers on campus, not at Concordia (where they know better to stay away or keep a low profile, so low that they are invisible and possibly not present), but at the previous university where I worked, in a part of Canada that knows extreme poverty on a mass scale. Nobody gives a shit about these people, until they come back from Afghanistan in a casket, and then suddenly they have a name and a face and a life story…when it is too late and pointless to mourn.

  10. Wow Max! I wouldn’t have guessed that about you (of course, how could I?) How did experiencing poverty effect your academics? Change your opinions?
    By the way, it’s a well known symptom of Holocaust survivors, to hide food around the house. Food being the most basic need , only second to breathing, it makes sense that a lack of it (even for what you called “a short while”) would leave a mark.

    I’ve seen the army “reform” weak boys (I don’t say men, because we’re talking about 18 year olds). It’s a fallacious achievement that the state holds on to. The truth is that they come from such poverty and disadvantage that any routine you throw them into would help them out of their habitual delinquency. I would much rather, they got their new found education… say… planting botanical gardens.

  11. No kidding, so I’ll be replying to both you and tali here.


    What you’re describing sounds very much like the thesis developed in Pyotr Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread. He analyzed the failure of the French Revolution as the failure to secure adequate food and arable land for the people (hence the title) and that any sustainable revolution must look to the needs of people for food, shelter, clean water, adequate medicine, etc. first. But he also made a point of observing, in chapter 9 “The Need for Luxury”, that people have a psychological and artistic need for self-expression and cultural consumption that is almost as important as food, water, and air.

    Emma Goldman also famously said, “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”


    I was impressed again by your ability to put things so vividly and succinctly when you wrote, “The result was a constant sense of hunger, even years afterwards, as if any opportunity to eat became a savage revenge against those memories of hunger.”

    While I haven’t passed this thought by a psychologist, I wouldn’t be surprised if one result of poverty and hunger manifests itself as post-traumatic stress disorder. I was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused so much as a child that one day I just left my parents’ home with three bags of luggage and moved to another state. It was only when I got out of the house and to another state that I felt I could start therapy, and unsurprisingly I was quickly diagnosed with major depressive disorder and PTSD. The feelings I have about eating are, in their own way, similar to those ways that I felt I had to build safe spaces around myself even when my parents were over 1500 miles away (e.g. stockpiling food vs. making sure that I could barricade my bedroom door). It wouldn’t surprise me to find that poverty itself is an indicator for many mental health disorders, and I’d be very interested to see if any research has been done on that issue.

    I might drop by my uni library tomorrow and see about that. If I publish a blog post on it, I’ll let you know.

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