Erik Prince gives canned speech at Tulip Time Festival in Holland
The Holland Tulip Time Festival officially kicked off today with a luncheon attended by roughly 800 people. An event that was originally closed to media, the Tulip Time Festival Committee changed their mind and allows news agencies to attend the luncheon to hear the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince.
GRIID was at first scrutinized by the media liaison and then questioned by the Holland Police Department, only eventually to be “cleared” as a legitimate news entity.
Prince spoke for no more than 30 minutes and gave a somewhat dispassionate, pre-written speech. He spoke about his family roots and growing up in Holland, but emphasized how his family made it through tough times without any government assistance.
This theme of “self-sufficiency” was spread throughout Prince’s speech and he took every opportunity to criticize what he called big government that is rife with bureaucracy. At one point Prince quoted Ronald Reagan who said once that the most frightening words were, “I’m the government and I’m here to help.”
Prince also talked about American values and what made this country great – liberty, entrepreneurship and hard work. He said that what makes this country great was embodied by something that happened in 1969, the year that he was born, the Apollo mission. He contrasted this with another event in that same year that reflected what he saw as something that has attacked the moral fiber of this country – Woodstock.
Prince spoke briefly about his decision to join the military, eventually becoming a Navy Seal. He said, “It was the best job I ever had.” After Prince left the military he eventually got the idea to start Blackwater. Prince says he was inspired to create the internationally known private mercenary group because of what he saw as a lack of action from the US during the Rwandan genocide.
Prince responded to what he called his critics by saying that the US was founded on the help of private military contractors and that what Blackwater does was consistent with what has always existed in America.
The former Navy Seal said his company was contracted by the US Government after the USS Cole was attacked in 2000. Ever since then, according to Prince, his company has not received one cent from any grant money or other US tax money. The fact is, that every time the US government gives contracts to Blackwater, they do so with public taxpayer money.
Prince said that his company was called upon 40,000 times to protect diplomats and reconstruction contractors in Iraq and that not one of them was ever injured. However, Prince failed to mention the civilians that his private soldiers killed in Iraq and the role that Blackwater has played in a targeted assassination campaign involving the CIA in the Af-Pak War.
Prince beamed with pride when he said that Blackwater continues to train “security personnel” from countries like Egypt and Pakistan. He also boasted of the amount of cargo that Blackwater has brought to US troops in Afghanistan. Again, Prince failed to mention that his company was caught stealing US weapons in Afghanistan through one of its contracting partners Paravant.
Prince also talked about Blackwater’s role after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Prince said they provide some relief work early on in New Orleans, but eventually was hired by private companies to do security work, companies like Wal-Mart.
Holland’s native son did not miss an opportunity to trash the US government, especially now that it “just wants to spends its way out of trouble.” Prince said that US taxpayers are saddled with debt and that there seems to be more “class war going on.” He also said that the lack of free market principles hinders our country’s ability to compete with India and China.
Prince concluded his remarks by reflecting on what makes this country great – liberty and the free market. This may have been the most honest thing he said during his speech, especially since Blackwater has made money from militarism.
The luncheon crowd gave Prince a standing ovation, but not everyone there today supported the Holland native. Outside of the Hope College Fieldhouse about 75 gathered to protest Prince’s visit. We had a chance to interview some of those who came out to express their disgust with the Tulip Time Festival’s decision to invite the war-profiteer.