Ward Churchill (search) said he wrote the essay the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001 (search), after television networks "spun" the attacks that morning as senseless and after government officials labeled the attackers as evil freedom-haters.
Nowhere in his essay did he advocate the attacks or say they were justified, Churchill said.
"You point to the phenomenon and you try to understand it," he told a crowd of about 300 people at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. "It wasn't senseless."
He then launched into a litany of policies he said may have figured in Al Qaeda's motives, including sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that Churchill said left more than 500,000 Iraqi children dead.
"Somebody might be upset at that," Churchill said.
University personnel tightened security in advance of the speech. Churchill supporters gathered outside the campus' main gate holding signs reading "First Amendment Fan" and "Free Speech." Campus Republicans down the sidewalk held signs with messages such as "Wanted, Osama bin Laden, Dead Not Alive."
Two of the university's native American organizations invited Churchill, a longtime American Indian activist, to speak six months ago about racism toward American Indians.
His appearance marked only the second time he has spoken on a college campus outside Colorado since January, when his comments in the essay prompted Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., to cancel his speech there out of security concerns.
Churchill's essay likened "technocrats" killed in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, a high-ranking Nazi who orchestrated the Holocaust.
A number of schools have turned away Churchill.
UW-Whitewater Chancellor Jack Miller said he allowed Churchill to appear because of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech. Still, he called Churchill's Sept. 11 remarks "grossly inappropriate."