Last updated on April 11th, 2019
Erik Prince, ex-Navy SEAL officer and founder of security services firm Blackwater, was invited by an ideologically conservative student activism organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to lecture at Beloit College, Wisconsin, on March 27.
Prince was due to deliver his speech at 7:30 pm. However, the podium of the Beloit College – a small private liberal arts school with approximately 1,800 students – remained empty. The hall that was completely occupied to hear what the 49-year-old billionaire had to say started getting empty, as the students who were protesting against Prince walked out, showing their disgust. A few stayed to attend counter-protests and events.
Chants like “Erik Prince, where are you?” from students filled the hall and campus after neither Prince nor any YAF speaker appeared on the stage even after 7:30 pm. Following 30 minutes of wait and no appearance from Prince, students began stacking chairs at the podium, some came in front of the stage with signboards that read “Erik Prince = War Criminal”.
It was only at 8:15 pm that the interim dean of students declared the event to be cancelled for “safety reasons”. The students present at the event dispersed peacefully, without anyone being arrested.
After the event was officially cancelled, in a private meeting held by Prince with a few YAF members, he condemned the president and administration of the College for lacking “the moral courage to enforce free speech and to defend free speech”.
Prince’s concerns and chants on “free speech” contradict the case of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in prison and 28 days in solitary confinement.
Scott Bierman, President of Beloit College, released a statement next morning, acknowledging that most of the protests were “completely consistent with our principles”, but “voices of dissent differ in fundamental ways from intentional disruption”.
“I condemn excessive disruptions unequivocally, I do so because they are debilitating to the mission of this college, a mission I love,” he said.
Weeks prior to the event, many students took to social media to show their disagreement over YAF’s decision to invite the billionaire, who has been accused of profiting from wars. The students also wrote in their newspaper the Round Table, showing their disapproval on being lectured in the campus by Erik Prince on “national security challenges facing the US”.
Prince’s firm Blackwater, now known as Academi, has been accused of committing war crimes overseas under the US policy. The Nisour Square Massacre in 2007 – where Blackwater employees fired at Iraqi civilians, killing 17 and injuring 20 in Baghdad, while escorting a US embassy convoy – is the most infamous scandal of the company.
Previously, ex-employees of Erik Prince have told in court that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”, and his companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life”.
In the wake of recent shootout attack by white supremacist Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, New Zealand, several students, Muslims and non-Muslims, took to social media to vent their anger against the University for inviting a speaker who has been responsible for the killings of hundreds and thousands of innocent people, including children.
One of the juniors at Beloit College, Nathaniel Acharya, publically showed his dismay and opposed the YAF for hosting Erik Prince at the campus. Acharya said he was “sick and tired of Muslims being gunned down in their places of worship and bombed to oblivion in their homes by the cult of violent reactionary filth [that YAF] worships.”
He also told the Round Table, “Bringing Erik Prince to campus here in the immediate aftermath of the [Christchurch] attack was not only very cold, but inflammatory as well.”