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Seize the chance to hold Erik Prince accountable

I was saddened and dismayed to learn that Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, will be speaking on Beloit’s campus on March 27. While engaging with a diverse range of views are an essential part of the collegiate experience, Prince’s appearance on campus should not go unchallenged. He distinguishes himself from the usual campus lecturer by wielding a résumé drenched in blood.

During the Iraq War, Prince and Blackwater, which was essentially a mercenary force, were implicated in numerous war crimes, including the targeting of civilians. Former Blackwater employees have alleged that Prince framed the killing of Iraqis “as a sport or game.” In an infamous 2007 incident, Blackwater operatives gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians, including a 9-year-old boy, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

U.S. military documents leaked in 2010 detailed a litany of crimes committed by private contractors, including Blackwater. Blackwater mercenaries were observed shooting up cars full of civilians and firing indiscriminately into crowds of people, among other abuses.

And so, after all these publicized horrors, what punishment did Prince receive for his company’s crimes? None.

Because Blackwater was a private contractor and not an actual branch of the U.S. military, its crimes overseas have been remarkably hard to prosecute. The company did incur a public relations hell, changing its name several times, losing its valuable contracts with the U.S. government and paying out tens of millions of dollars to settle a number of civil lawsuits. But Blackwater largely avoided legal scrutiny and Prince never faced any serious investigation into how he directed the company.

After selling Blackwater in 2010, Prince busied himself attempting to sell private security ventures around the world. This included an attempt to build a private air force for hire, a scheme to deploy private contractors to stop refugees from going to Europe and cozying up to Chinese intelligence services. This work has paid dividends, apparently, as Prince is reportedly worth $2.4 billion.

But with the rise of Donald Trump, Prince suddenly reemerged in the U.S., eager to renew interest in his for-profit military enterprise.

While not an official member of the administration, Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has reportedly been advising Trump from the shadows. His proposals have included the federal government contracting a private spy agency that would be headed up by Prince himself, as well as the renewal of the Phoenix Program, a Vietnam-era CIA assassination ring that tortured and killed thousands of people.

Prince has also found himself embroiled in the Mueller probe, as Prince reportedly served as an envoy for the Trump campaign during a number of meetings with representatives from foreign governments, including the Russians. Prince denied he was ever affiliated with the Trump campaign during testimony under oath before the House Intelligence Committee in 2017, but that denial looks as though it is very likely untrue.

What will come of all of Prince’s recent wheeling-and-dealing remains to be seen. But the specter of him bringing for-profit military back into vogue is remarkably troubling.

And so it greatly concerned me to see that Prince was making an appearance on Beloit’s campus, touted as an “entrepreneur” and a “philanthropist.”

But there is a silver-lining to his invitation: The Beloit community has a chance to hold Erik Prince accountable.

Prince has escaped responsibility for his actions his entire life. The innocent people killed by his mercenaries do not seem to weigh on him as he continues to make a living in private military operations. In the vortex of Trump news, Prince’s potential perjury before Congress has slipped from our collective conscious. And he avoids public scrutiny at all costs for fear that these sorts of things may come up. By coming to Beloit, Prince will briefly expose himself to challenge. Beloit students would be remiss to not confront Prince on the crimes of Blackwater, his work selling private military ventures around the world, his dealings with the Trump administration and the repellent ideology that undergirds all this behavior.

The group that invited Prince has the right to bring speakers to campus, but the rest of Beloit is entitled to the right to dissent. I am hopeful that the Beloit community will demonstrate outside of Moore Lounge on March 27 in protest of Prince’s appearance, and I am hopeful that those who attend the lecture will ask him pointed, difficult questions.

Erik Prince has an awful lot to atone for. And while he likely feels lucky to have avoided much consequence to date, I trust my fellow Beloiters will help him realize that he can’t outrun his sins forever.

Will Tomer’17 was editor-in-chief of The Round Table from 2015 to 2017. He is currently the digital opinion editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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