Blackwater founder Erik Prince slams big government in front of welcoming hometown crowd

By Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blackwater founder slams big gov’t in Mich. speech

HOLLAND, Mich. — Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince said Wednesday his values of hard work and personal responsibility “have gotten me a few detractors along the way, and I’m OK with that.”

Prince returned to his hometown of Holland to give a speech criticizing government spending and regulation that drew a standing ovation from more than 700 people. The event, part of the town’s annual Tulip Time Festival, had to be moved to Hope College’s basketball arena because of the high demand for tickets.

Holland, about 30 miles west of Grand Rapids, is in Michigan’s most reliably Republican county. Home to many residents of Dutch descent, the area is known for its strong Dutch Reformed faith and conservative values.

Although 60 people outside held signs protesting Blackwater’s actions in Iraq, many inside said Prince’s speech inspired them. They said they were glad to hear his side of unflattering news reports about the North Carolina-based company, now called Xe Services.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the U.S. Justice Department was investigating whether Blackwater tried to bribe Iraqi officials to allow the company to keep working there after a fatal shooting of 17 Iraqis involving Blackwater guards.

GOP state Sen. Wayne Kuipers, who’s running for the 2nd Congressional District seat now held by gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra, attended the speech and afterward called the federal investigation “politically motivated.”

Several federal investigations of Blackwater began during President George W. Bush’s administration. Several former company executives, including its president, were indicted last month on weapons charges in North Carolina’s eastern district, which is overseen by a prosecutor appointed during the Bush administration.

Prince stepped away last year from daily operations at the private security company, but still ardently defends it.

“We’re an easy target” for liberal critics, he said, dismissing them as “tapeworms.”

“Some of the noisiest have based their entire careers on criticizing us,” he added.

Prince bashed big government in ways that would have easily roused the crowd at any recent tea party rally.

“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.”

Real estate agent Ken Baron, 67, called the speech “dynamic” and “American.”

“It was so well-rooted and a challenge to all,” he said.

The protesters, however, criticized Blackwater’s role in the war in Iraq and its actions there. One protester was dressed as the Grim Reaper.

Last week, Prince had requested no reporters attend the speech, but festival organizers allowed them to cover the event.

Prince is the son of the late Edgar Prince, who built a fortune in auto supplies and was a longtime benefactor in this small community perched near Lake Michigan.

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