A Cabal of Religious Extremists, Privatization Advocates & Racists

Notorious Mercenary Erik Prince Is Advising Trump from the Shadows

Jeremy Scahill talking:

Betsy DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. And both Erik Prince and his sister Betsy DeVos have roles within the Trump administration, or as of now—Betsy DeVos, of course, the public face of the Department of Education, if Trump has his way. And her agenda is really to privatize public schools, to siphon public monies to religious institutions. All of this is part of the core value of the Prince family and the DeVos family—the DeVoses the owners of the Amway corporation fortune, Betsy DeVos married to Dick DeVos, who was a failed candidate to be governor of the state of Michigan. And they’ve really been very effective inside/outside lobbyist-financiers advocating for what I would say is really a theocracy, a Christian theocracy, in the United States. Erik Prince then viewed himself, when he created Blackwater, especially in the post-9/11 world, as a neo-crusader who was going to destroy, you know, Islam, basically, and created a company that encouraged an atmosphere of killing Iraqis for sport, night hunting, as whistleblowers from the company said in affidavits that were filed in connection with lawsuits pertaining to Blackwater.

These two families merged together like the monarchies of old Europe and emerged as the premier funders not only of the Republican Revolution of the ’90s and the radical religious right, but of groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which are among the most militant anti-LGBTQ organizations in U.S. history. So, the connection between Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos within the context of the Trump administration is that Betsy wants to do for schools what Erik wants to do for the military and the CIA, which is to privatize them and deploy them in an effort to bring the, quote-unquote, “kingdom of God” to the United States and, ultimately, to the world.

in the book Blackwater, one of the threads that runs through it is the story of how the Iraqi city of Fallujah was utterly destroyed. Let’s remember that a year into the invasion, four Blackwater operatives were killed after being ambushed in the city of Fallujah. And our understanding is that it was a direct response to a targeted assassination that the Israelis had done against a Palestinian religious figure, and that they organized an ambush of what they thought was—were Israeli Mossad agents, and it turned out that they were Blackwater operatives. At the time that the Blackwater guys went into Fallujah, as—you know, they were mercenaries, they were private security—the U.S. Marines wouldn’t even go into the center of that city. And the idea was to try to figure out a way to tamp down the tension between the U.S. occupying forces and the residents of Fallujah. Blackwater guys take a wrong turn, cut straight through the city of Fallujah. They’re killed in a very horrifying way, dragged through the streets and burned, and then their charred bodies were hung from a bridge. And General James Mattis, at the time, was in command of the marines that were surrounding Fallujah. And then they went in and just utterly destroyed the city and actually wrote—someone from within that force wrote on the bridge, “This is for the men of Blackwater.” And, you know, women, children were killed. White phosphorus was used. And Mattis, you know, was the enthusiastic commander of that operation.

Mattis also has really spoken in kind of apocalyptic terms about, you know, the pursuing and killing of the enemies of the United States and at one point even said that it’s, quote, “fun to shoot some people.” And the “some people” he was referring to were in Afghanistan. And he basically said, you know, “We can shoot unidentified Afghan men, because they are wife beaters, and it’s fun to shoot those kind of people.” Now, you know, of course, I think that anyone that lays a finger on their spouse should be held accountable for that, but last time I checked, there isn’t a rule that says that the U.S. military has the right to extrajudicially execute people for the crime of beating their wives, not to mention that—do they have any proof that these individual men—is it true that every single Afghan man that you encounter does that? But it shows the mentality that our lives are worth more and that somehow our morality is pure, while everyone else’s is in the gutter. I mean, just look at the Republican Party’s scandals alone—being caught doing meth in cars, the “wide stance” stuff. I mean, there’s—you could just look at the Republican senators through history and find total scandals. Does Mattis think that they should just be extrajudicially executed?

But this is the guy that Donald Trump has tapped to be the defense secretary. And he’s been widely praised by both Democrats and Republicans: “Oh, Mad Dog Mattis is this great soldier.” And I don’t doubt that, in their perspective, he is a great soldier. But if you’re concerned with human rights and rules of law and war and conflict, then Mattis is a pretty extreme character. He also intervened to release some of the perpetrators of the Haditha massacre in Iraq, as well. So there’s a lot of questions that should be asked. So, in the context of the Blackwater book, he really was the guy that then—that led the operations that destroyed that city.

I agree with Erik Prince that the fascists are winning, in the sense of electoral politics, I mean, in the United States. I mean, Donald Trump certainly won the Electoral College and is going to be president. But he’s referring to a different form of fascism. And, you know, Trump’s—the combination of kind of ignorance and zealotry leaves a very wide open door for people like Erik Prince and what he represents, this idea that we should just be bumping people off around the world, that you can go to war against, you know, one of the major religions of the world, that somehow there’s just a finite number of people, that if you kill them, all of this is going to be solved. We saw that strategy through both the Bush administration, two terms, and Obama administration, two terms. You can’t kill your way to victory or to peace.

Interestingly, Erik Prince endorsed part of Donald Trump’s embrace of Russia, and I think this is going to be an interesting thing to watch. The idea that Trump would broker an agreement with Russia to fight ISIS is being promoted by Erik Prince. And he says, you know, if the United States could get in bed with Stalin to stop Hitler, why shouldn’t Trump get in bed with the Russians to fight ISIS? And I think that gives you a glimpse into the kind of argument that’s going to be made once Trump actually shows up for work, because, remember, he is going to start work on day four, is what he said. He won’t—he won’t be doing anything Friday, Saturday or Sunday, so apparently we’re not going to have a commander-in-chief or a president. But on Monday he’s going to be right there. So it’s like Monday to Thursday, I think, you know, Trump’s going to sort of be president. And I think it’s possible that he may—and I’m only partly kidding—that he may decide that he’s going to divest the presidency and allow Eric and Donald Jr. to run it. I mean, it’s the same argument he made for his company. I wouldn’t be surprised if like a year into this, Trump says, “You know what? I’m just going to let Don Jr. handle this from now on.” And we know Mike—you know, Mike Pence, he already has said, is going to be handling both domestic and foreign policy. The combination of this kind of nuttiness with the zealotry, the bigotry, the kind of overt hatred of Islam as a religion, I think, is going to prove very, very dangerous, and I think there’s going to be a lot of new wars in the world.

what’s kind of incredible about that is that, you know, Trump trumpeted this idea that he was opposed to the Iraq War, and has implied that Iraq was better off, you know, if the United States hadn’t invaded, which I think is completely true, when Trump was saying that. So it’s a little bit strange then to hear Erik Prince saying, and Donald Trump saying, “Oh, well, we should take their oil to pay for all of this stuff that I was against in the first place.” But there’s something else under the surface here, which is that Erik Prince and people like him who are in the mercenary business have long believed that there is a model for their services being compensated for through natural resources.

And let’s remember, Erik Prince, Mr. American Patriot, who’s hanging out at “Heroes and Villains” with Donald—you know, costume parties with Donald Trump and Peter Thiel, and is quietly and secretly advising Trump on defense and secretary of state, has a company now that’s based in Hong Kong, with deep connections to Chinese intelligence, that is working on behalf of Chinese corporations exploiting natural resources in Africa. This is a man who was in the room when Trump and Pence watched their election results come in, who is working for China, while simultaneously advising the president of the United States.

Erik Prince also talks about China as the villain, which is—which is remarkable. I mean, this is the kind of complex web that gets woven when you start getting into the mercenary business or the natural resource business, which Trump seems to want to get increasingly into in his capacity as commander-in-chief, and the kinds of intricate business dealings that Trump has around the world. There’s a schizophrenia to the way that they talk about this. If you asked Erik Prince, Erik Prince would say, “Oh, China is an authoritarian state,” and would go to town on it and sound just like Trump sounds. Well, then, what is he doing going and meeting with Chinese intelligence operatives, working for Chinese companies, providing security forces and training to Chinese companies to exploit natural resources in Africa, where there’s a war against the United States for those resources?

up until, I think, Trump’s election, there still was an ongoing, active FBI investigation into Erik Prince for money laundering, involving banks in Macau and his meetings with Chinese officials, you know, because Erik Prince has access to a lot of classified intelligence from his time working as a CIA contractor, and still does work with some elements of the U.S. special operations forces even in his current capacity. He had moved to Abu Dhabi and was in the United Arab Emirates and ran a company called Reflex Responses. And one of the things that they were looking at doing was providing Colombian or other non-Muslim soldiers to governments in the Gulf to go after their own citizens if they rose up during the Arab Spring, so that it wouldn’t be Muslims killing Muslims, but that they could have mercenaries. There’s a lot of rumblings about Erik Prince being involved with supporting the war that the Saudis and the U.S. are waging inside of Yemen. But Prince became persona non grata in the United Arab Emirates and then set up a company, Frontier Resource Group, and based it out of Hong Kong, probably for similar reasons to why Edward Snowden initially went to Hong Kong, because the belief that it was one place where there would be like pushback against the United States trying to go after them. So, in that sense, Prince and Snowden, I think, have some similarities. And now Prince, his primary business is being done, in terms of Frontier Resource Group, with Chinese interests. And Chinese money, by the way.

I actually chased him around the American Enterprise Institute at one point, trying to question him about his treatment of the families of the four men who were killed in Fallujah, where he actually countersued the—

His own men who died in Fallujah in a horrifying way. Erik Prince then, when those families tried to get answers as to how this happened, how their loved ones were in non-armored vehicles, short two men on their operation, sent into a city that not even the U.S. Marines would go into at the time—and, you know, Erik Prince and his company refused to answer them. And then, ultimately, when they filed a lawsuit, Erik Prince then countersued the mothers and the widows of these guys through the trusts that were set up, you know, for sort of counterdamages that they had done to him by going after him, which was really just an atrocious thing to have done.

– These were the American Blackwater operatives who were dragged through the streets of Fallujah.

He countersued their families after, you know, for years they were—first, they didn’t even want—they didn’t want money. They didn’t want anything. They wanted—they viewed—they viewed Blackwater in a very positive light when their loved ones were working for Blackwater. You have this company that’s, you know, run by a former Navy SEAL. They’re doing work for the United States government. They supported this—you know, the emerging war on terror. These guys were retired special operations forces who then were continuing their service, but through the private sector. They get killed. And the families didn’t immediately say, “Oh, my god! We’re going to go sue Blackwater.” They wanted to know what happened. And they were told, according to Donna Zovko, the mother of one of the guys, told directly by a representative of Prince’s, when they went out to the company in North Carolina after their loved ones were killed, that they’re not going to answer those questions: “Those are classified, and you’ll have to sue us if you want to know the answer.” So they did sue them. And then, a legal battle ensued, where [Prince] deployed high-powered attorneys, including Ken Starr, the former prosecutor of President Clinton, and they ended up then countersuing the families of these guys in an effort to try to stop them from pursuing this case against Erik Prince.

So, Prince eventually blamed leftists and some Democrats in Congress for basically destroying his company. And he also was very livid with Leon Panetta, when Panetta revealed that Blackwater had been a part of the assassination program. And, you know, to a way, Prince has a point. I mean, the Obama administration publicly kind of threw him under the bus to try to—it’s called a limited hangout, where they—they’ll leak some part of a story—”Oh, my god! Blackwater was involved with an assassination program!”—as a way of distracting from the fact that that was a small part of a much larger assassination program. So Erik Prince has reason, I think, to be upset with the United States government, because he knows where a lot of bodies are buried, and they treated him in a way that was not consistent with what he was doing for their agenda.

– Blackwater USA the shooting deaths of 14 Iraqis in a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007

these were the guys that were members of a team called Raven 23, which was a Blackwater security detail. September 16, 2007, Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, Blackwater guys in armored vehicles cut into the square and—actually, a circle—cut into the circle going the wrong direction in traffic. They were supposedly responding to an incident that had taken place on the other side of Baghdad. A car didn’t stop quick enough for their liking. They opened fire on it. The car blows up. And then gunfire just sprays all over the place. They end up killing 17 Iraqi—

This is Blackwater gunfire. The Blackwater guys claimed that they were shot at, but there really is no compelling evidence to indicate that anyone was ambushing that convoy, and that it was a case of one, you know, quick trigger finger operative shooting at a car, and then that caused everyone else to start shooting. And, in fact, some of the Blackwater guys on that detail, their testimony was used against the guys who really, you know, unloaded gunfire, saying they were screaming at their colleagues, “Stop shooting! There’s no ambush here!” And they just kept doing it. So they killed 17 Iraqis.

In fact, we did a short documentary for Democracy Now! called Blackwater’s Youngest Victim, about nine-year-old Ali Kinani, who was the youngest person killed in the square that day. And his father, Mohammed Kinani, actually owns a junkyard in Michigan, where he relocated to, and he hired a security guard there, and it turned out that the security guard himself had worked for Blackwater. And Mohammed Kinani said that he told the guy, “That’s OK. I have nothing against you.” I mean, he’s really kind of a remarkable guy.

But after that happened, after the Nisoor Square killings happened, there was a long period where there was pressure on the U.S. government to actually prosecute them, because the Bush administration intervened to try to give the guys immunity, and at every—and then whisked them out of the country, before the Iraqis could charge them with anything. Remember, these guys weren’t U.S. military; they were private contractors. There’s an argument to be made that they should have been prosecuted in Iraq and then served whatever sentence they were given. But the Bush administration intervened to really try to protect them at every turn.

To the credit of the Justice Department and some prosecutors, they persevered, and they ended up obtaining convictions for some of these men. Now—and they were given very lengthy prison sentences. And now they’re trying to appeal their sentences and to essentially say that they were railroaded by the U.S. government and by Obama’s Justice Department.

Trump, “He goes into a country, takes the oil, goes into another country. It’s tough dealing with these politicians, right? He’s going to be so incredible, and I’m very proud of him.”

I will give Trump credit for speaking out of, you know, order, basically, in U.S. politics—I mean, describing, accurately, what major U.S. and multinational oil corporations do in such terms. It may be framed as a joke, but that was one of the most accurate descriptions of what oil barons in this country and around the world actually do. They go, and they steal or take the oil from countries, and then they move on to the next. And, you know, I do think that Trump is refreshing in this very narrow sense, that either he is too stupid to realize what he’s saying, or he just loves sort of putting even, you know, politically incorrect assertions about how power really functions out on the table. Either way, this is going to be a very intense ride with this administration, because it really is kind of a cabal of legitimized criminals, religious extremists, privatization advocates, radical privatization advocates, and then a smattering of truly despicable racists, bigots, white supremacists.

for years, you know, Erik Prince was sort of completely off the radar and would not appear at all in public. And what he started doing some time ago was kind of issuing his communications through Steve Bannon. And he would go on Steve Bannon’s SiriusXM Breitbart radio show and, you know, pontificate on the issues of the day. And, you know, when Trump—when it became clear that Trump was going to be the nominee, you know, Erik Prince was brought on several times by Breitbart people to articulate a foreign policy vision that would bring back the kind of glory days, in their eyes, of the Bush administration. So it’s interesting that Erik Prince chose Breitbart, because I think that they’re, you know, the same kind of people, to do this.

Also, we should remember, Erik Prince was the source—this is a little bit complicated, but it’s incredible. When Anthony Weiner, you know, the former congressman who is famous for the sexting scandal, the—you know, he was married to Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s top adviser. In the closing moments of the campaign, when the FBI agents raided Weiner’s home, after reports emerged that he had been caught sexting with yet another minor, they seized his computer. And supposedly on that computer, they found emails of Huma Abedin’s, or communications, that would be related to the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton and Clinton Global, etc. So, Erik Prince told Breitbart News at the time—this is right in the closing days of the election—that his sources within the FBI field office in New York and the NYPD had told him that there are all of these incriminating documents about Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin. And it’s part of the source of this Pizzagate controversy. And Breitbart really amplified that story. And what’s—and so, this was Erik Prince saying his sources within NYPD and FBI told him that they found these incriminating documents on Anthony Weiner’s computer dealing with Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton. Now, what’s interesting about that is that Erik Prince does in fact have very good connections with the NYPD and the very right-wing operatives in the FBI’s field office. So it was based on something that he was hearing from those people. But he chose to leak that to Breitbart or to give that to Breitbart, then Breitbart amplified that around the world.

– Betsy DeVos hearing. they do not even have her disclosure—the ethical evaluation forms that went to the Office of Government Ethics.

that’s just a clerical error. It’s just a clerical error that they don’t have any of that stuff. I mean, that’s what—what’s incredible is that Trump has created this universe now where anything they don’t like, they can say is fake news. And then, when they don’t comply with basic norms about handing over tax returns, three years’ worth of tax returns, transparency, going through the ethics process, you just say, “Oh, I’ve done everything that’s required.” And when they say, “Well, no, no, no. This is a—” “Yes, I have.” And it’s like, a normal person, you can’t just do “Yes, I did. No, I didn’t.” And what they’ve learned is that you just lie your way through it. And the Democrats are just getting bulldozed by this.

And then when you have senators chairing—Republican senators chairing committees, and they don’t allow follow-up questions, they’re protecting these nominees. The Democrats spend half their time complaining about procedural things, and the real meat that should be being examined here in all of these nominees sort of gets left untouched. And that’s really a frightening part of all of this. You know, you’ve had several senators say, “I think that we should be doing more scrutiny of someone that’s going to be in charge of our national security, our education policy.” And the Republicans are saying, “Oh, no, no, no, no. We’re just going to do one round of it.” People should go online and watch Senator Warren, her debate from this hearing with Lamar Alexander over the issue of why they wouldn’t let them do a second round.

of Betsy DeVos. And Lamar Alexander basically has no answer for her. Warren, who is a celebrated law professor, says, “I don’t know of any time in history when senators or representatives have asked for a second round of questioning and had been denied.” And Lamar Alexander says, “Well, you’re an esteemed law professor, and I wouldn’t want to argue with you about any of this stuff, but I will just say”—and then he’s just like, “that’s how we’re doing it.” They just make it up as they go along. And the point I’m making is that I think we’re going to see a tremendous amount of this in the years ahead. Are they going to let journalists in the White House? Is there going to be a Freedom of Information Act anymore? If there is, are they going to comply with it?

maybe Donald Trump can just do his press briefings in front of paid actors, like he does at his rallies, or he could bring a biker gang in instead of the press, and then they could just all tweet about this. But I will say, though, the—in general, as you know from your experience—you know, we both have limited experience going to these official things, but most of the reporters that sit in that press room don’t ever ask anything worth, you know, asking. That’s changing a bit now. You know, Jim Acosta sounded a lot like Amy Goodman at the press conference where he was just refusing to stop asking Trump questions.

facts don’t matter. It’s what you feel is true. And I think that’s a big part—that explains a big part of Trump’s victory. But what I—one good that could come of this—and I think Trump’s making a huge strategic mistake if he kicks those corporate reporters out of the White House—is that we might actually see these reporters develop very strong spines and actually go after this administration. The problem is: Will they keep those lessons the next time a Democrat is in office? History would say no.

I think Trump is so thin-skinned that I do not think—and just for so long you see how he is, faking his own press person and calling and putting on a different voice on the phone when he was calling—

this story came out, you know, in The Washington Post a couple months ago revealing that Trump—there were—

There were recordings of Trump calling journalists and pretending to not be Trump himself, but to be Trump’s nonexistent PR person. And, you know, Trump still, to this day, sort of denies it. But he’s—I mean, if you look at how he responds to Saturday Night Live skits, how he operates on Twitter, he’ll argue with random, you know, bots on Twitter. This guy is the president of the United States. So, when reporters ask even the most mild of confrontational questions of him, he treats it as “I’m going to go to war against you personally.” And it’s a very effective strategy. They have convinced their—a huge swath of the population that everything that CNN and other places do is fake news. And it’s been a very effective campaign to basically say, “What’s really true is what I directly tell you and how we feel. We feel that the Mexicans are taking all of your jobs. You know, we feel that gay people are ruining our country. We feel that Islam is—you know, needs to be destroyed as a religion.” And who feels those things? Well, a certain segment of the population feels those things, even if they’re scientifically provable as false. That is—that’s the world we live in now. They have—it’s really masterful.

Part 1

Jeremy Scahill
co-founder of The Intercept. He is host of the new weekly podcast Intercepted, which premieres January 25.

— source democracynow.org


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