Attack of the Churchill Clones · 16 March 2005

By Jacob Laksin and Steven

Overwhelming public pressure may have compelled Ward Churchill to resign as chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the Colorado University at Boulder (CU), but the dustup whipped up by the Indian-impostor cum classroom-radical refuses to settle. Witness the antics of the new chair of the department, associate professor Emma Perez.

No sooner had news of Churchill's extremist record come to national attention, than Perez emerged as one of his earliest-and most fanatical-defenders. Writing in the radical leftist web magazine Counterpunch in February 2005, Perez advanced her view that the critical opposition to Churchill's abhorrent opinions evidenced a neo-conservative putsch aimed at taking over the University of Colorado: "We've done some preliminary research and analysis and it's become clear exactly what's at stake and what we're up against. CU-Boulder has been made the national frontline of the neocon battle for dominance in academe," Perez declared. For good measure, Perez hinted that criticism of Churchill was motivated by racism, asserting that "[t]here are faculty who have problems with his being American Indian."

Perez notably declined to identify any of these faculty members. But she nevertheless spared no effort to rehabilitate Churchill's extremist name. Introducing Churchill at a speech at the University of Colorado shortly after he resigned as chair, Perez offered a tribute to the embattled professor that cast indirect light on the pervasive radicalism of the Department of Ethnic Studies. "We're a small department, Ethnic Studies, we're a small unit, but we're all very good scholars, and Ward is certainly one of those," Perez said, adding, "I want the media to look around and see what kind of support there is for Ward Churchill."

Perez had it quite right. Even as much of the country, including the administrative leadership at the University of Colorado, was up in arms over l'affaire Churchill, the Department of Ethnic Studies acted as the academic fraud's personal cheering section, forming a radical Praetorian Guard around their scandal-plagued colleague.

That is hardly a coincidence. As it happens, the department's faculty is cut from the same leftist cloth as Churchill. And investigation into the backgrounds of some of the other academics comprising the department makes clear that Indian-aspirant Ward Churchill is only the tip of a radical teepee.

Take, for instance, Natsu Taylor Saito. A professor of law at Georgia State University and an associate professor at the Department of Ethnic Studies, Saito is not only Churchill's wife; she is also wed to many of Churchill's extremist ideas. Borrowing a leaf from her husband's polemical corpus, Saito has on numerous occasions condemned early American settlers for having carried out "genocidal policies" against American Indians. However, as is the case with her husband, Saito provides no factual evidence to buttress the incendiary charges, which are flatly rejected by serious historians.

And Saito's radical resume extends beyond her Churchill-worthy assaults on the historical record. Active in the Georgia State Bar, Saito also serves on the Lawyers' Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union. Her views of legal issues bear the unmistakable stamp of her leftist politics. For example, she has relentlessly attacked the Patriot Act. But while some critics of the act oppose it on the stated grounds that it excessively impinges on American democratic norms, Saito's opposition flows from her radical belief that those norms are not worth safeguarding. Saito crystallized this belief starkly in a February 25, 2004 speech denouncing the Patriot Act, in which she asked, "[I]s this the kind of democracy we want to be defending?" Saito's answer was a definitive no. Brushing aside the notion that the Patriot Act could be a sensible response to actual national security threats during wartime, Saito insisted that it was born of the bigotry of American lawmakers. As Saito explained: "Now, we see anyone who can be associated with brown-skinned terrorists by virtue of religion or national origin being treated as terrorists themselves. . . . And this new 'threat' is used, in turn, to justify the invasion of Iraq, where a country of brown-skinned Others has been declared a threat to national security . . . and the U.S. is in the process of dispossessing these people of their land and natural resources." Saito's disdain for the Patriot Act was equaled only by her contempt for the U.S.-led "war on terror," which, she argued, was fought primarily for the benefit of "a few large corporations and their stockholders."

The sine qua non of the Ethnic Studies department is propagating the radical dogma that U.S. society is discriminatory toward minorities. Saito, for her part, is singularly engaged with the topic. For instance, Saito has brought her legal expertise to bear in the defense Leonard Peltier. A convicted murderer serving out a lifetime sentence in a Kansas penitentiary, Peltier has become a favorite cause of leftist activists, including Ward Churchill, who maintain against all evidence that he is a "political prisoner" jailed on account of his Indian American heritage. No mere well-wisher for Peltier's cause, Saito also serves as a board member on the felon's defense committee. Saito also carries on the battle against discrimination in her writings, which include discussions of reparations for African-Americans and the plight of descendents of black Seminole Indians. Saito summed up her position on these issues during an appearance at a Denver college, wherein she dilated on her focus on "the creation of legal discrimination and the maintenance of those structures that perpetuate this domination in the context of white supremacy, paying particular attention to how it relates to the U.S. colonialist order." Saito's current preoccupation is Arab-Americans. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, for example, she wrote an article for the Asian Law Journal entitled "Symbolism Under Siege: Japanese-American Redress and the 'Racing' of Arab-Americans as 'Terrorists,'" in which she tendentiously likened the post-911 attitudes toward Arab-Americans to the World War II-era internment of the Japanese-Americans.

Only too happy to enlist the law in the service of her political passions, Saito is not averse to breaking it when it runs afoul of her radical activism. Among other things, Saito shares her husband's avidity for trashing holiday celebrations. Last October, Saito, together with Churchill and some 230 radical protesters, was arrested for disrupting a Columbus Day parade in Denver. The husband-and-wife activist team, ever ready to assume the mantle of First Amendment martyrs, apparently claimed that a day honoring the explorer was tantamount to a celebration of "genocide," making sabotage the only option. They were acquitted in January.

Equaling Saito and Churchill in her radical fervor is Elisa Facio. An associate professor in the department of Chicana/Chicano Studies, a sub-section at CU's department of Ethnic Studies, Facio is no stranger to leftist activism. Chief among Facio's academic interests is what she calls "Chicana scholarship," a leftist-feminist shorthand for the theory, of which Facio is a committed exponent, that Chicana women are habitually oppressed within American society.

To the untrained eye, Facio seems an unlikely champion of this theory. Born into a family of migrant workers in Washington State, Facio managed to graduate high school, attend Santa Clara University, then go on to earn a doctorate in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. She has since won numerous awards and fellowships. In view of these accomplishments, the Chicana-theory assertion that Facio's career has suffered as a consequence of the racism, sexism and class stratification supposedly entrenched in American society does not survive serious reflection. Indeed, it is not to overstate matters to suggest that Facio is actually a beneficiary of America's socially fluid, relatively color-blind society.

Not that Facio sees it this way. As she explains in her faculty biography, "Chicana scholarship reveals our struggles as Chicanas in the United States, and expresses in a society which attempts to render us invisible." Yet Facio freely allows that this brand of scholarship does not draw on a sound body of academic study, but is instead informed by the radical ethos of 1960s-era counterculture: "Rooted in the political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s, our scholarship, like other currents of dissent is a Chicana critique of cultural, political, and economic conditions in the United States."

A high-pitched critic of economic conditions in the United States, Facio takes a conspicuously more charitable view of life in Castroite Cuba. Long a faithful supporter of Cuba's Stalinist regime, Facio is an active member in the National Network on Cuba. A windmill for pro-Castro propaganda, the NNOC regularly features statements from Cuban officials on its website, and maintains that "[n]early all of the U.S. government's charges against Cuba's human rights record are simply untrue." In addition to plumping for the Cuban government, Facio has in the past traveled there with students. Facio has led a delegation of 100 activists culled from far-leftist student groups like the Venceremos Brigade, an unabashed shill for the Castro dictatorship, to Havana for a leftist convention called International Woman's Conference.

Facio's fellow specialist in Chicano studies is Arturo Aldama. Hired by CU in the summer of 2003, Aldama is co-chair of CU's Chancellors Advisory Committee on Minority Affairs, in which capacity he rails against the allegedly pervasive discrimination against Latino's inside the university. In a recent interview in the CU student newspaper, the Campus Press, he lashed out at the "environment of hostility" that minority faculty members allegedly face. "We live in a very diverse state but we hardly have any Latino faculty, or women of color in our faculty," Aldama explained. "We want the diversity of CU to reflect the diversity of the U.S. and the state of Colorado." This argument is also the subject of Aldama's book, Disrupting Savagism: Intersecting Chicana/o, Mexican Immigrant, and Native American Struggles for Self-Representation, which contains such chapter titles as "Millennial Anxieties: Borders, Violence, and the Struggle for Chicana and Chicano Subjectivity."

Like his colleagues at the Department of Ethnic Studies, Aldama also takes his leftist politics into his classroom. In the spring of 2004, for example, Aldama taught a class which visibly blurred the line between education and activism. The class was presented as "a creative writing workshop on the ethnic spoken word, featuring the work of Puerto Rican, African American and other poets focusing on social change." (Also like his colleagues, Aldama refused to comment for this article. Instead, Aldama sent us an email attacking Front Page Editor-in-Chief David Horowitz, writing, "I admire immensely his ideological and racial fascism and its centrality to intellectual diversity.")

Amidst the tempest surrounding Ward Churchill, Aldama emerged as the besieged radical's most vocal apologists. When critics called attention to the multifarious inaccuracies, distortions and arrant falsehoods in Churchill's work, Aldama rallied to Churchill's side. "He's impeccable on his sources and known for his empirical and archival-based methodologies," Aldama told the Denver Post. "Whether you agree with it [Churchill's work] or not, it's always been praised for academic rigor. He has 400 footnotes per chapter." Aldama offered no comment on the observation, made by Churchill's critics, that Churchill's footnotes suffered from the same faults as the texts to which he so zealously appended them.

One explanation for Aldama's enthusiastic defense of Churchill is that his views, at least with respect to the United States and the putative evils of its foreign policy, accord in all the essentials with the fevered propaganda spouted by the disgraced former head of the department. Writing in April 2003 in the leftist online magazine Bad Subjects, Aldama published an attack on the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq that could have been penned by Churchill himself. Aldama began by lambasting American media outlets, which, as he saw it, were uniformly in favor of the war, writing: "I want to look at the attempts by the state and by corporate-driven media to manipulate and coerce its body politic into becoming docile entertainment consumers of US military hegemony." Elsewhere in the article, Aldama excoriated the U.S. military efforts in a manner that was strikingly reminiscent of the anti-American diatribe that was Churchill's notorious essay. "Spin doctors," Aldama theorized, "are paid to continue the jingoism that has marked Bush's pseudo-populist presidency, especially post-9/11, to mitigate/justify/applaud/deny the violence of shrapnel-ripped skulls and buildings, groundwater poisoned for decades, the trauma of a bomb's noise and the anxiety of impending death that scar children's psyches as I write, death by friendly fire, the bombing of open markets and hospitals, and the use of scatter bombs."

A not dissimilar line was taken by Adrian Gaskins, a professor of American Studies at the CU Department of Ethnic Studies. In March of 2003, Gaskins participated in an anti-war event by University of Colorado faculty called "Books Not Bombs." Gaskins' contribution was taking part in a panel called "Race and War," for which he presented his views on "U.S. Colonialism."

When not summoning nightmare visions of "U.S. colonialism," the faculty of the Department of Ethnic Studies is fighting a rearguard action against the notion of objective truth. That has been a longtime pursuit of William King, who heads the Afro-American Studies division of the department. The editor of the department's in-house periodical, the Journal of Ethnic Studies, King is a disciple of the constructivist school of teaching. In keeping with his belief that truth and knowledge are merely a social construction, King explains: "I stress the idea that knowledge, like truth, especially that presented in school, is also a social product assembled in accordance with the criteria of construction we learned in scholar school." Accordingly, King's students take part in an organized rebellion against truth: "I want them to learn to question: What they know, what they believe, what they have previously taken on faith - that at some time in their lives they will have to come to grips with the idea that truth is not an objective ideal but rather a social product made up of selected bits and pieces of acceptable information organized for some specific purpose and very much a function of the belief system they have chosen to embrace, that they are then called upon to identify and interpret."

As King's preferred teaching philosophy suggests, the classes offered through the department of Ethnic Studies reflect, without exception, the leftist politics of the professors. For instance, a class called "Chicana Feminisms and Knowledges" is unequivocal about the radical agenda at its core. By means of an "analysis of feminism and feminismo," the class "challenges orthodoxy, whatever its intellectual root or cultural origin." "Internal colonialism," and "institutional racism," meanwhile, are the subjects of a class called "Chicanos in the U.S. Social System." Still other classes add up to for-credit assaults on Western values. Such is the underpinning theme of a class offered under the misleading title "Exploring a Non-Western Culture." In fact, the course is a semester-long assault on Western culture, whose "principal goal is to instill an appreciation of non-Western cultural diversity in material adaptations, social patterns, ideas and values, and aesthetic achievements, thus recognizing a range of cultural solutions to common human problems."

Combine the overtly political content of such classes with the comprehensively radical make-up of the faculty, and you arrive at the Department of Ethnic Studies' ill-concealed mission: To cultivate a new generation of degreed activists to carry forth their claims about the inherent malevolence and racism of American culture. Ward Churchill may no longer be its director, but the radical work of CU's Department of Ethnic Studies continues apace.