Controversy surrounding Churchill began in late January at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., where he was expected to speak Feb. 3. However, Ward never made it to the panel because a Hamilton faculty member uncovered a controversial essay written by Churchill in 2001, called “Some People Push Back.”
The essay describes the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center as a reflex reaction to America’s past bombings in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, asserts the victims were “technocrats of society” and calls many of the corporatists who worked there “Little Eichmann’s.”
The phrase refers to Adolf Eichmann, the man Adolf Hitler turned to during World War II to implement Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Consequently, Hamilton College’s initial plan to allow Churchill to speak was not overturned on the basis of his viewpoints. The decision was made after more than 100 death threats were sent to Churchill care of the university, according to Hamilton director of communications Vige Barrie.
“The final thread was when we got an anonymous caller [who] said he would bring a gun into the presentation,” Barrie said.
The decision to cancel Churchill’s speech came as a victory signal to some, but to others it was signal of deterioration.
“The cancellation of the event … was an educational loss,” Hamilton President Joane Hinde Stewart said in a statement. “Our students and faculty will not have the opportunity to confront and challenge Mr. Churchill’s views.”
After a large amount of criticism from both his state and university surfaced, Churchill resigned Jan. 31 from his position as chair of ethnic studies, and Colorado’s Board of Regents is currently debating whether to allow Churchill to remain at the university.
“As I have said, I personally find the statements in Professor Churchill’s essay to be repugnant and hurtful to everyone touched by that tragedy. And I know that many of you share those feelings,” CU Chancellor Phil DeStefano said in a release.
However, DeStefano also emphasized the important weight that could be carried with their decision.
“Even as the debate continues, we must understand the serious nature of actions to terminate or suspend a professor on the basis of conduct that includes political speech,” DeStefano said. “Before such a decision could be made, the university must observe due process as required by the U.S. Constitution and the Laws of the Regents.”
Still, academic institutions from around the country have faulted the Board of Regents for considering the firing of Churchill based on his opinion.
According to UW professor of law and political science Donald Downs, the entire debacle has a “witch-hunt mentality.”
“He’s offering his view, however controversial, however offensive,” Downs said. “If free speech means anything, it means the right to do that.”
UW law professor Gerald Thain said there is a serious danger that First Amendment rights could be broken with Churchill’s dismissal.
“I think there’s a real danger of Freedom of Speech being infringed upon,” Thain said. “Obviously any other citizens are entitled to state their opinions — it’s just a matter of opinion.”
UW professor emeritus Gordon Baldwin also agreed with Thain.
“[Churchill’s] probably a jackass, but that doesn’t [matter],” Baldwin said. “If he is invited, he’s got a right to speak, but you don’t have a First Amendment right to be respected or to be agreed with.”
The academics also emphasized the grave need to allow Churchill to speak at UW-Whitewater.
“It’s much better to have different viewpoints,” Thain said. “Even one that is odious.”
According to a UW-Whitewater statement, Churchill’s visit will be reviewed through various sources, including First Amendment lawyers, students, faculty and police.