Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO

West Michigan Native Erik Prince has Resigned as Blackwater CEO

Erik Prince–the West Michigan native who founded the private mercenary company Blackwater using money from the Prince family fortune–has resigned as CEO of the infamous company.

Prince announced that he will no longer be CEO of the company, instead he has appointed a new president. Prince will stay on as Chairman but will no longer oversee day-to-day operations.

Blackwater recently rechristened itself “Xe” and is in the midst of a rebranding and restructuring effort following the loss of its coveted State Department contract in Iraq and the continued negative publicity following the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

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Prince Connected Entities Funded Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition in Final Months of the Campaign

Holland Michigan's Elsa Prince Was One Of The Largest Individual Contributors To California's Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition 8

Back in 2008, we pointed out that Elsa Prince–a wealthy religious right funder from Holland, Michigan–had donated over $400,000 to California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. Prince ended up being one of the largest contributors to the campaign, just as she was to Michigan’s anti-gay marriage initiative in 2004.

Final campaign contribution reports were released this week and do not show any further contributions to the ballot measure from Elsa Prince. However, two Prince connected entities did give money during the final months of the campaign:

Elsa Prince’s roll in funding Proposition 8 was highlighted in a television commercial aired by Californians Against Hate:

Holland’s Prince Family Continuing to Fund the Religious Right

Holland’s Prince family is continuing to fund the religious right through its family foundation according to research by Mediamouse.org.

As part of ongoing updates to Mediamouse.org’s Far Right in West Michigan database, we have updated the listing for the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. According to the most recent IRS records available, the foundation donated thousands of dollars to religious right and other rightwing organizations in 2006. Some of these organizations include:

* The Acton Institute–a rightwing economic “think-tank” here in Grand Rapids received $100,000.

* The Alliance Defense Fund, a religious right legal group, received $35,000.

* The Freemont, Michigan based American Decency Association received $5,000.

* The American Family Association received $5,000.

* The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is most well known for downplaying the existence of global warming, received $5,000.

* Concerned Women of America, a prominent religious right organization, received $1,000.

* The Council for National Policy, a secretive organization that has historically acted as a venue for coordinating strategies across the religious right, received $45,500.

* The Grand Rapids, Michigan based Education Freedom Fund received $100,000.

* The Family Research Council received $168,500.

* The Free Congress Foundation received $10,000.

* The Muskegon, Michigan based Gospel Communications International received $300,000.

* The Midland, Michigan based Mackinac Center for Public Policy received $25,000.

* The Michigan Family Forum received 2006.

The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation is operated by Elsa Prince, her son Erik Prince (founder of Blackwater), Betsy DeVos, and Edgar and Elsa Prince’s other children. The foundation has funded religious right organizations for years and has been particularly important in providing support for the Family Research Council.

Author Speaks in Holland on Blackwater

On Saturday, author Jeremy Scahill spoke on the role of Blackwater USA in the ongoing occupation of Iraq as well as the West Michigan roots of the company’s founder.

photo of jeremy scahill

Nation correspondent and author Jeremy Scahill spoke in Holland on Saturday on the private mercenary corporation Blackwater USA. The talk, delivered to about 60 people as part of a book tour accompanying Scahill’s recent Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, took place in the “backyard” of Blackwater founder Erik Prince who grew up in Holland.

Scahill talked briefly about Erik Prince’s roots in Holland and how his upbringing as the child of Edgar and Elsa Prince shaped his conservative worldview. The Prince family made a considerable fortune with Prince Automotive and used that money to fund both the Republican revolution and the rise of the religious right. Scahill discussed how the Prince family provided the seed money to Gary Bauer to start the Family Research Council. Bauer was one of the original signers of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century document that outlined an imperialist vision of a United States empire. Scahill also told the audience that Erik Prince’s sister, Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos married Dick DeVos in what was essentially a merging of two wealthy, ultra-conservative families.

While not wanting to dwell on the activities of the Prince family, Scahill argues that it is necessary to understand the context from which Blackwater emerged. The Prince family’s influence allowed Erik Prince to gain experience working in the government and in Washington DC, including internships at the Family Research Council, in the White House of President George H.W. Bush, and with the ultra-conservative California Representative Dana Rohrabacher. These connections, coupled with the campaign contributions from the Prince family as well as the $200,000 in identifiable campaign contributions from Erik Prince, in part explain how Blackwater USA was able to grow in ten years from what was essentially a shooting range on private land into the world’s premiere mercenary army.

Scahill began his discussion of Blackwater USA by reading a passage from his book describing the grisly March 30, 2004 killings of four Blackwater employees in Fallujah. That attack was widely reported in the corporate media in the United States, with the Blackwater employees being described as “civilian contractors.” That term gave an impression that the Blackwater soldiers were “civilians” rather than a heavily armed private army.

These terms have masked the role of Blackwater and other private security contractors in Iraq. According to Scahill, few people are aware of the fact that the United States military force in Iraq is supplemented by a force of an estimated 126,000 private contractors working for more than 180 companies who provide services such as feeding the military, doing their laundry, driving trucks, and security operations. There is no Congressional oversight of contractors or their activities, with Scahill explaining that contractors are indeed immune from being held legally accountable for their actions in Iraq under Paul Bremer’s Order 18. Since the war started, there have been 64 courts martial of US soldiers for murder, but only two contractors have been prosecuted. Neither of these prosecutions were for conduct against Iraqis.

Blackwater, described by Scahill as the elite private mercenary force in Iraq, had the high profile job of providing security for former Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer, who was “the most hated man in Iraq” according to Scahill. With their success at that mission, Blackwater has continued to provide security for visiting United States government officials and has received three-quarters of a billion dollars in contracts from the State Department alone. During his book tour, Scahill has had former contractors come up to him to tell him that things in Iraq are far worse than what he describes, with misconduct on the part of contractors being rampant. Scahill further stated that Blackwater soldiers would frequently come in randomly shooting when guarding convoys, effectively undermining efforts by United States soldiers to build relationships with Iraqis. Former soldiers have told Scahill that there is some envy of Blackwater contractors, who are better paid and often better equipped than the US military. It is not uncommon for the Blackwater soldiers to be referred to as “cowboys” and “rock stars” by members of the US military serving in Iraq, according to Scahill.

Scahill responded to an editorial by Erik Prince published in the Grand Rapids Press that attempted to deflect criticism of the company in a series of articles run several weeks ago in the Press. Scahill attacked Prince’s assertion that Blackwater only engages in defensive operations, telling the audience that there is nothing more offensive than the invasion and occupation of another country. He also argued against Prince’s assertion that:

Clearly, the mercenary label is intended to polarize the discussion and craft the most negative image possible of Blackwater. The highest authority on rhetoric, the Oxford English Dictionary, however, defines “mercenary” as: “a professional soldier serving a foreign power.” Blackwater does not now, nor has it ever, provided security services for, or on behalf of, any country other than the United States of America.

Scahill argue that the definition given by Prince accurately describes Blackwater’s activities, with Scahill pointing out that Blackwater has recruited mercenaries to serve in Iraq from countries with horrible records on human rights. He told the audience that Blackwater has hired mercenaries from Chilie, Colombia, Bulgaria, and Poland.

For Scahill, the hiring of soldiers from countries such as Chilie, where 90% of the population opposed the war, highlights one of the ways in which private soldiers undermine the democratic process. Scahill argued that citizens are taken out of the process and countries are no longer limited by the views of their population. Instead of needing to maintain popular support to sustain prolonged military actions, governments are theoretically limited only by how much they are willing to pay for private armies.

Aside from Erik Prince’s connections to the far right, Scahill also shed light on Blackwater employees J. Cofer Black and Joseph Schmitz. The two men previously held prominent roles in government, with Cofer Black serving as President George W. Bush’s top counterterrorism official at the time of 9/11 and Joseph Schmitz serving as Pentagon Inspector General. On September 13, 2001, Black told President Bush that “when we’re through with them [al Qaeda], they will have flies walking across their eyeballs,” comments that were later echoed when he ordered his men to bring him the head of Osama Bin Laden. Black also stated that after 9/11 “the gloves are off” and was instrumental in developing the CIA’s extraordinary rendition plan. For his part, Schmitz is a member of the Military Order of Malta, a militia with its origins in the Crusades. Both the connections to the Crusades and Black’s rhetoric make it difficult to imagine Blackwater relating well to the people of Iraq. Moreover, Prince himself is on the board of Christian Freedom International, a group that believes the Bible is the only infallible word of God.

Scahill told the audience that there is an increasing awareness about Blackwater and the role of private security forces in Iraq, mentioning recent and upcoming hearings in Congress on the subject, as well as opposition to Blackwater’s planned “Blackwater West” affiliate in California. Scahill concluded by advocating that the CEOs of private security contractors be subpoenaed and forced to testify in Congress, arguing that the secrecy on this issue must be stopped, replacing it instead with oversight, transparency, and the rule of law.

Media Mouse also interviewed Jeremy Scahill. The audio interview is available online.

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the Postal Service.

– Erik Prince CEO of Blackwater USA

As the war in Iraq continues and the US Congress sheepishly debates withdrawal dates and timelines, it would do all of us good to understand the growing significance of private mercenaries, also known as private security forces. Few people have done as much investigation into this growing phenomenon as has Jeremy Scahill. He has been reporting and writing on the use of private mercenaries in Iraq and New Orleans in The Nation magazine and for Democracy Now!. His new book–Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army–on the largest private mercenary firm, Blackwater, comes at a time when the anti-war movement needs a more sophisticated analysis of the US war in Iraq and the so-called War on Terrorism.

The founder and CEO of Blackwater is Erik Prince, son of Edgar Prince, the now deceased businessman from Holland, Michigan. Prince’s background as a Western Michigander is not just limited to geography, the brother of Betsy DeVos has also embraced the conservative religious beliefs that his family promoted zealous, particularly with their money. Erik began his political career working as an intern for Gary Bauer at the Family Research Council and also worked in the Bush I White House, although he thought that this administration was too liberal. Prince disapproved of the Bush I administration to the extent that in 1992 he supported Patrick Buchanan for President, something that got him into trouble with his sister Betsy.

Unlike his family, which is part of the Christian Reformed Church, Erik Prince is a Catholic. He most likely became Catholic when he married his first wife, who died of cancer shortly after they were married. Interestingly enough, most of the leadership at Blackwater is also Catholic, albeit a conservative wing of the church that is quite reactionary. Erik Prince is personally connected to conservative Catholic groups like Catholic Answer, Crisis magazine, and a Grand Rapids-based group, the Acton Institute. But Prince has not abandoned his Protestant/Evangelical roots and is a close friend of Watergate criminal turned believer Chuck Colson. They have shared the podium on several occasions, even once at Calvin College. According to Scahill, Prince is aligning himself with a new Catholic/Evangelical alliance called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” The ECT manifesto states:

“The century now drawing to a close has been the greatest century of missionary expansion in Christian history. We pray and we believe that this expansion has prepared the way for yet greater missionary endeavor in the first century of the Third Millennium. The two communities in world Christianity that are most evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing are Evangelicals and Catholics.”

Prince’s relationship to what Scahill calls the “Theocon” movement is not marginal. Prince himself writes about this relationship and it’s importance, particularly with the mission of Blackwater. Prince says “Everybody carries guns, just like the Prophet Jeremiah rebuilding the temple in Israel – a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.”

The bulk of the book, however, is devoted to an understanding of Prince’s creation known as Blackwater. Prince was a Navy Seal himself during the 1990s and felt that security issues were paramount for the future of the US. Blackwater was created in 1997, but its growth was influenced by several events in the years following. The first major event to propel Blackwater to the forefront of the “security” debate was the school shootings at Columbine in 1999. Blackwater responded by building a training facility called “R U Ready High” and that became a major training center for local law enforcement training on rapid response to such incidents. The second event was the attack against the USS Cole in October of 2000. With Prince’s connection to the Navy, he was able to negotiate a contract worth $35.7 million to conduct “force protection training.” However, the biggest incident that propelled Blackwater to its current status were the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Blackwater was quickly providing training and gaining contracts with the FBI, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Treasury and even the Department of Health and Human Services. These connections eventually led to the agency’s work in Iraq, which landed them their most high profile contract – guarding Paul Bremer in Iraq. This no-bid contract was worth $27.7 million that included “personal security detail and two helicopters for Bremer.” Not surprising, Bremer is also Catholic and has maintained an intimate relationship with Prince and Blackwater even after his reign in Iraq. This symbiotic relationship led Bremer to create Order 17 as his last political act in Iraq. Order 17 in effect protects those in the private mercenary business from being prosecuted from any wrongdoing. Once Blackwater made a name for themselves in Iraq business really took off.

Then Fallujah happened. Several Blackwater contractors were killed in what Scahill documents as a botched mission. This didn’t stop the administration and Blackwater in using the Blackwater deaths as justification for a massive military assault on that city just after the 2004 Presidential election. Blackwater used the incident to hire its first lobbyist, Paul Behrends, from the Republican lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group. Here Prince’s religious right connection paid off. Behrends was on the board of Christian Freedom International (CFI) with Prince for years. The CFI was founded by veterans from the Reagan administration, many of who were “major players in the Iran-Contra scandal.” This lobbying certainly paid off.

Blackwater was able to expand in step with where US foreign policy interest lay. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US set up military bases in the Caspian region. In Azerbaijan, Blackwater “would be tasked with establishing and training an elite Azeri force modeled after the US Navy SEALs that would ultimately protect the interests of the US and its allies in a hostile region.” This all occurred during a time when the US State Department said there were “restriction[s] on the right of citizens to peacefully change their government; torture and beating of persons in custody; arbitrary arrests and detention, particularly of political opponents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; excessive use of force to disperse demonstrations; and police impunity.”

This constant growth for Blackwater posed a problem, in that they were not able to keep up with the growing demand for training and providing mercenary forces for “security duty.” Again Prince turned to his past connections. He was stationed for a period of time in Chile while in the US military. It was here that he tapped into another military source. Jose Miguel Pizarro was an ex-military man in Chile that Prince knew. Pizarro, an ardent defender of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinichet eventually became Blackwater’s main recruiter for mercenaries from Latin America. Soon, other Chilean mercenaries, Colombians and Hondurans would become contract workers for Blackwater in Iraq. This raises interesting questions about the type of people that Blackwater employs, considering many of them have worked as part of military or Para-military organizations with brutal track records.

Blackwater was also able to tap into veterans of the US intelligence community. Cofer Black a 37-year veteran of the CIA, was hired by Blackwater in February of 2005 as the company’s vice chairman. Black had been appointed by Bush as his “coordinator of counterterrorism, with the rank of at large ambassador at the State Department.” Soon after that the company scored another big insider in the person of Joseph Schmitz. Schmitz, before joining Blackwater was tasked with the job of overseeing all war contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Schmitz, whose connection to war profiteers was well known, determined after his investigation that “there was no wrong doing” with any of the private contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan. For those who have seen the documentary Iraq for Sale, you know this to be a bold lie. Shortly after Schmitz exonerated his friends in the war profiting industry he announced that he was going to work for Blackwater.

Schmitz is also part of the inner circle of Theocons with Prince. In a 2004 speech Schmitz said “No American today should ever doubt that we hold ourselves accountable to the rule of law under God. Here lies the fundamental difference between us and the terrorists.” Schmitz is a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, “a Christian militia formed in the eleventh century, before the first Crusades, with the mission of defending territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Moslems.” In addition, Schmitz is a devotee to someone who fought alongside of George Washington, the Prussian militarist Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben. “Von Steuben is one of four men often cited by Blackwater officials as founding mercenaries of the United States.” Erik Prince and the other Blackwater leadership, like Joseph Schmitz, think they are following in that tradition.

As Scahill’s book was going to press he noted that Blackwater is now in the process of building 2 more facilities in the US – Illinois and California – and a jungle training facility in the Philippines. Those of us who are trying to have a healthy analysis of the US war in Iraq, the War on Terrorism and US foreign policy in general, would do well to read this book.

Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, (Nation Books, 2007).

Dick DeVos Connected to Religious Right Boycott of Ford Motor Company

The Triangle Foundation—a statewide civil rights advocacy organization for GBLT people—has found a connection between the philanthropy of Dick DeVos’ family and a right-wing boycott of Ford Motor Company for its support of the “homosexual agenda” even as DeVos campaigns on a platform of improving Michigan’s economy. It is the second such link to far-right organizations reported by Media Mouse in the past month, with Media Mouse previously reporting on DeVos’ support of Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship.

The Triangle Foundation of Michigan, a statewide civil rights advocacy organization for gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, has found a link between Republican Gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and a right-wing boycott of Ford Motor Company by the American Family Association (AFA) over the company’s perceived support of the “homosexual agenda.” The AFA—supported through prominent right-wing foundations—has waged a campaign to boycott Ford due it the perception that it has done “the most to promote the homosexual lifestyle” of any large corporation. Through Betsy DeVos, Dick DeVos is linked to a campaign to economically harm Ford even as he campaigns on a platform of creating jobs and sustaining Michigan’s economy. The Triangle Foundation place his family’s support of the AFA boycott within the context of a statement by DeVos that he is not sympathetic to the trouble faced by the automobile industry. According to the Triangle Foundation, DeVos told the Grand Rapids Press in 1993 that the auto industry should “should stop crying and do something about (their lack of market share). I’m not very sympathetic with the auto industry because some of their problems are self-inflicted.”

The link to the right-wing boycott of Ford comes through DeVos’ wife—Betsy—who is the daughter of Edgar and Elsa Prince of Holland—a wealthy conservative family that has given millions of dollars to religious right causes through the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. Through a $10,000 grant given to the American Family Association for “continuing support,” the family of Betsy DeVos is using its wealth to target one of the state’s largest companies, according to the Triangle Foundation. The American Family Association has organized a boycott of Ford for its funding of groups that “promote homosexual marriage” and running advertisements in the gay press. The group’s Boycott Ford website for the campaign also cites Ford’s 100% rating in Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, Ford’s placement on DiversityInc’s annual “Top 50 Companies for Diversity,” Ford’s recruitment of gay employees by posting on gay job websites, and Ford’s marketing towards gays and lesbians as further reasons to boycott the company. Additional research by Media Mouse found that the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave the American Family Association a $5,000 dollar grant in 2005, while another local religious right foundation—the Jack and Mary DeWitt Foundation—gave the group $1,000 in 2004. The Triangle Foundation further pointed out that this is not the only time that the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation funded anti-LGBT efforts and organizations. In 1997, the Prince family contributed money for a new Washington DC headquarters for the Family Research Council and the Promise Keepers both of whom are strongly against homosexuality. The Prince and DeVos family also contributed a combined total of $125,000 to the successful Proposal 2 campaign in Michigan to ban same-sex marriage.

Sean Kosofsky, Director of Policy for the Triangle Foundation, described the AFA as “a radical religious extremist organization that boycotts anyone that doesn’t fit their narrow fundamentalist agenda.” The aforementioned description is reasonably accurate, with AFA describing itself as “front-line troops in the culture wars” while actively “promoting the centrality of God in American life” and “promoting the Christian ethic of decency” as part of its campaigns to protect “traditional family values.” The group has organized around a variety of issues since its founding in 1977 including television, the separation of church and state, pornography, “the homosexual agenda,” premarital sex, legal abortion, the National Endowment for the Arts, gambling, unfiltered internet access in libraries, and the removal of school-sponsored religious worship from public schools. The group has made extensive use of boycotts against television shows (Ellen, Cheers, NYPD Blue, and more) and businesses that promote and profit from what it deems “indecency.” Some of the more notable targets have included Ford Motor Company and American Airlines for their policy of providing domestic partner benefits, K-Mart for selling music with parental advisory stickers, Disney for its “attack on American families” through its annual “Gay Day” celebration and domestic partner benefits, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In recent years, the group has boycotted Movie Gallery for renting pornography (charging that the chain is putting its employees at risk for STDs and assaults from gay people), removing “glossy garbage” magazines from supermarket shelves that are packed with “lascivious cover photos and salacious headlines,” and placing the official motto of the United States “In God We Trust” on the wall of every classroom in the United States. The group’s boycotts and organizing efforts are aggressively promoted through its “AFA Report” radio show that airs on some 1,200 radio stations across the United States, its broadcast ministry American Family Radio (AFR) that owns 200 stations in 27 states, videos, websites, and media appearances.

The Director of the Michigan affiliate of the American Family Association, Gary Glenn, has received considerable attention in recent years for his attacks on gays and lesbians. Glenn has opposed anti-discrimination policies of several Michigan cities by asserting that if passed, public bathrooms and showers would become co-ed. After the legislation passed in several towns, Glenn organized petitions to overturn the legislation, asserting that gays and lesbians pose a “public health hazard.” He has further criticized homosexuality stating in a 2001 press release that “Under homosexual activists’ political agenda, our children would face a future in which traditional marriage and families have been legally devalued, while state government — despite the severe threat it poses to personal and public health — not only legally endorses but uses our tax dollars to subsidize deadly homosexual behavior.” Glenn also has expressed satisfaction when gay men are arrested having sex in public and further stated that according to his “files,” “in almost every case… public school employees” are involved in such acts. As recently as 2004, Glenn argued that “homosexual activity among men remains the single biggest cause of AIDS infection” despite numerous studies to the contrary. Glenn organized in favor of filters in libraries, arguing that with pornography on the Internet, libraries are “the most dangerous place for a child today.”

Dick DeVos Visits North Carolina Facility of Controversial Mercenary Corporation Blackwater USA

Republican candidate for Governor of Michigan, Dick DeVos, recently took a trip to the North Carolina training facility of controversial war profiteer Blackwater USA. Blackwater USA, owned by DeVos’ brother-in-law, is closely connected to the Bush administration and illustrates how DeVos is himself involved in a network of wealthy conservatives who have used their money to promote far-right policies.

According to an August 8 entry on Michigan Republican candidate for governor Dick DeVos’s website, Dick DeVos visited a North Carolina facility operated by the private security corporation Blackwater USA. Blackwater USA is one of several corporations providing thousands of hired “security contractors” to aid the Untied States’ occupation of Iraq and its “war on terror.” The blog entry, titled “Our First Responders,” features DeVos campaign member Larry Ward describing how the DeVos campaign traveled to the company’s 6,000-acre North Carolina facility with “some of Michigan’s first responders.” In the entry, Ward describes Blackwater as “a premiere military and law enforcement facility” and explained that DeVos campaign watched Blackwater personnel demonstrate training exercises in “SWAT Team tactical entry, K-9 Dog Training, and dignitary protection services.” Following the training demonstrations, Ward reports that the campaign had time to “enjoy the shooting ranges with Blackwater’s firearms instructors.” The blog entry concludes with Ward writing that the trip was an “amazing experience:”

One thing for sure, I’m glad we have the folks from Blackwater fighting for and protecting our country. We all learned a great deal about what our first responders do to protect our freedoms.

The trip is interesting for a number of reasons, perhaps the most noteworthy of which is DeVos’ personal connection to Blackwater USA, one of the more controversial and politically connected private corporations providing what essentially are mercenary forces in Iraq. Larry Ward acknowledges that Blackwater is owned by Erik Prince, brother of DeVos’ wife Betsy, an interesting admission in its own right, but Ward fails to look closer at this relationship. Erik Prince, along with his sister Betsy, is a child of one of the more wealthy conservative families in the West Michigan area. Their parents—Edgar and Elsa Prince—are millionaires who made considerable money from Edgar’s ownership of a Prince Industries, a company he grew from a minor die-cast shop into a major auto parts supplier. During his life (Edgar Prince died in 1995), Prince was a confidant of and financial backer of former presidential candidate and conservative activist Gary Bauer as well as a financer of conservative political causes through the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. His widow Elsa Prince has continued funding conservative politics, with Prince contributing to a variety of organizations such as the Focus on the Family, Council for National Policy, and the Alliance Defense Fund (among others), as well as contributing $75,000 to the Michigan campaign to ban gay marriage. The Prince family has used their fortune to firmly position themselves as major financers of the religious right in Michigan and the United States as a whole. The influence and reputation gained from this funding likely helped Betsy DeVos gain her position as former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and helped Erik Prince establish lucrative and close relationship with the Bush administration. In addition to conservative organizations, Betsy DeVos has been a major donor to the Republican Party and the Bush campaign, Erik Prince has contributed $200,000 to Republican committees and candidates, and Elsa Prince has contributed several thousand over the past few six years.

DeVos’ trip to Blackwater USA—which will likely go unreported in the corporate press—is further proof that he is a part of what can be described as the “religious right” or the “far right” in Michigan politics. Indeed, DeVos’ own foundation—the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation—has funded a variety of far right political and religious organizations including Prison Fellowship, the Heritage Foundation, and Gospel Communications. However, it has not been just through donations to private organizations that the DeVos’ have sought to implement far right policies, Amway and its family owners have given $7.5 million to federal campaigns since 1990, with Dick DeVos’ father, Richard DeVos, giving $2.5 million to the Republican Party in 1994 in what was the largest single soft money donation in history to a political party. Given the controversy that surrounds Blackwater, this connection could be a political liability if it is widely known.

Aside from Blackwater’s connection to the DeVos family, Blackwater also maintains close relations with the Bush administration. A recent article in The Nation reveals that Blackwater has been awarded over $320 million since June of 2004 to provide “diplomatic security” services around the world as part of the State Department’s obscure Worldwide Personal Protective Service (WPPS) program to protect United States officials and “certain foreign government high level officials whenever the need arises.” Despite being little known before the killing of four of its private security contractors in March of 2004, Blackwater had and continues to hold the high-profile job of guarding senior United States officials in Iraq. Following the March 2004 incident, Blackwater hired lobbyists and the Alexander Strategy Group to build its reputation within the administration and reported 600% growth by fall of 2004. Blackwater troops were also hired to work in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and have been paid more than $30 million for work that involved efforts to “guard homes of the rich in New Orleans” according to The Guardian. Both Blackwater’s work in Iraq and New Orleans has been problematic, with the company being sued by the families of some of its contractors killed in Iraq and being accused of overcharging in New Orleans.