BELOIT

A lecture by Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince at Beloit College was canceled Wednesday night after students piled chairs onto the stage where he was supposed to speak and pounded on drums in protest.

Students draped a banner reading “ERIK PRINCE = WAR CRIMINAL” across the stage about 45 minutes after the lecture was scheduled to begin. The event was canceled shortly after.

Prince is widely known as the founder of Blackwater, a private military company. The company has been heavily criticized for its role in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2007, Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad. U.S. military investigations after the incident found the Blackwater guards were at fault in the incident. Four guards were tried and convicted in U.S. federal court on charges stemming from the massacre.

Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student organization, expected to host Wednesday’s event in Moore Lounge in Pearsons Hall. About 175 people had filled the room for the lecture. Some left visibly upset after more than a dozen students swarmed the empty stage.

After a Beloit College representative announced the cancellation, protesters celebrated by cheering and beating drums.

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Beloit College students stack chairs to protest a speech from Blackwater founder Erik Prince on Wednesday at Beloit College.

“I don’t believe that Erik Prince represents the things that Beloit (College) stands for,” student Rose Johnson said. “I believe that if a critical mass of students object to a speaker’s presence or a speaker’s platform, they should have a say in whether or not that speaker is welcome in our home.”

In a statement Wednesday night, Beloit College condemned the protesters and said the event was canceled because of “disruptive protests and safety concerns.”

“As an institution of higher learning, open dialogue on all topics is one of our core principles,” the statement read. “Tonight’s events fell unacceptably short of this core principle, and we condemn the behavior of those who disrupted the event. The college will begin an investigation immediately.”

Prince is currently the deputy chairman and executive director of Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based company. He has advised President Donald Trump and is the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Prince about a meeting he had in the Seychelles in January 2017 with a Russian dignitary who runs a government-controlled wealth fund. The interview was part of Mueller’s recently concluded investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The Beloit chapter of Young Americans for Freedom did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

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Kyle Ferrebee, left, with the group Young Americans for Freedom, stands in front of Beloit College student and protester Tristan Vaca as Vaca plays the drums Wednesday at Beloit College. Vaca was part of a group protesting a planned speech to be given by conservative speaker Erik Prince. Ferrebee’s group was hosting the talk.

Kyle Ferrebee, a program officer with Young Americans for Freedom who was at Beloit College on Wednesday, slammed the protesters for “trying to silence other ideas” before the event was canceled.

“It’s unfortunate. We live in an era where students think that they can control the campus,” Ferrebee said in an interview. “Campuses have lost a lot of authority over maintaining decorum. We go to places where this is supposed to be a battleground of ideas.”

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Natasha Islam, a Beloit College sophomore, holds a sign while protesting Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at Beloit College. In 2007, Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad. A U.S. military investigation characterized the attack as a “criminal event,” and four Blackwater guards were tried and convicted in U.S. federal court for killing 14 unarmed Iraqis during the massacre. Natasha Islam said her sign names these 14 individuals. 

Natasha Islam, a sophomore at Beloit College, was among the protesters and brought a sign listing the names of the 14 Iraqis killed by Blackwater guards in 2007.

“I happen to be Muslim. I happen to be a person of color,” Islam said. “I don’t want a person who’s responsible for the deaths of the people on my sign to feel comfortable here. I had a peaceful protest planned. I was just going to stand there and hold the sign in my hijab.”

A Beloit College spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked who canceled the event. The Beloit Daily News said on Twitter that Prince threatened legal action in a speech after the event and said Trump will defend free speech on college campuses.

“It’s sad the administration of this college lacked the moral courage to enforce free speech and to defend free speech,” Prince said, according to a Daily News tweet. “... I think the college will be hearing from the court soon on this because enough is enough.”

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