HOLLAND, MI—Erik Prince, owner of Blackwater, received a standing ovation in his hometown Wednesday and was praised by supporters for "put[ting] God first" after delivering a 30 minute speech that media outlets were banned from recording. As Prince spoke, about 80 people protested outside the DeVos Fieldhouse in Holland. As the local paper, The Holland Sentinel, reported, Prince told the crowd of 700 that the "worth of a warrior is not best defined by his deeds, but by his enemies" and "described his own enemies as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and 'noisy leftists.'" He called critics of Blackwater "tapeworms."
During his speech, in front of the Tulip Time Festival luncheon, Prince also delved head first into Tea Party mode. "The greatest threat to our freedom and prosperity is not al-Qaida, the Taliban, Iran or even China," he said. "It's an idea, the idea that we can spend our way out of our problems without tightening our belt and paring down the very bloated government."
Prince appeared to stray completely away from the stories he told earlier this year at a private event, a recording of which was obtained by The Nation, where he claimed Blackwater forces had "call[ed] in NATO air strikes," suggested sending armed contractors into Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and called those who fight the US in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan "barbarians" who had "crawled out of the sewer." He did, according to reporters at the event, beam "with pride when he said that Blackwater continues to train 'security personnel' from countries like Egypt and Pakistan."
A few hours after Prince spoke, I gave a talk at the Holland 7 Movie Theater (in a theater right next to the new Nightmare on Elm Street movie). So many people showed up that the theater had to open an additional theater to seat everyone. Organizers said it was the biggest gathering for a progressive event they could ever remember in Holland. Overwhelmingly people in the crowd expressed their opposition to Blackwater and Prince being honored at Tulip Time, though one angry man did go on a rant about how I had not been "vetted" and am funded by billionaire George Soros, which, of course, I am not. I was especially amused by the presence of Erik Prince's uncle, who sat in the overflow room.