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Blackwater Founder and West Michigan Native Funds Right-wing through Foundation

Medi­a­Mouse [1]

Black­wa­ter USA [2] founder and West Michi­gan native Erik Prince [3] funds a vari­ety of rightwing and reli­gious caus­es accord­ing to a review of grants award­ed by Prince’s Frei­heit Foun­da­tion [4]. Prince, who’s Black­wa­ter has drawn con­sid­er­able atten­tion for its work in Iraq, post-Kat­ri­na New Orleans [5], and Colom­bia [6], also has strong ties to the eco­nom­ic and reli­gious right both through the con­tri­bu­tions of his Frei­heit Foun­da­tion as well as his par­ents, Edgar and Elsa Prince [7], who are promi­nent sup­port­ers of the reli­gious right both in West Michi­gan and on the nation­al lev­el. Addi­tion­al­ly, Erik Prince’s sis­ter is Bet­sy DeVos [8], who mar­ried into one of West Michigan’s most well-known rightwing fam­i­lies and has made been a career orga­niz­er for rightwing and Repub­li­can caus­es. While sev­er­al reports on Prince have made some men­tion of his lin­eage and his polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions, there has been no detailed exam­i­na­tions of his “phil­an­thropy.”

From 2000 to 2003, the Frei­heit Foun­da­tion gave finan­cial sup­port to three orga­ni­za­tions that can be described as being a part of the eco­nom­ic right—the Grand Rapids-based Acton Insti­tute [9], the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute, and the Grand Rapids-based Edu­ca­tion Free­dom Fund [10]. The two enti­ties with roots in Grand Rapids also are orga­ni­za­tions in which Prince’s sis­ter Bet­sy DeVos has had a lead­er­ship role. The Acton Institute—a think-tank blend­ing reli­gion and free-mar­ket economics—has received more than $210,000 in fund­ing from the Frei­heit Foun­da­tion. The Edu­ca­tion Free­dom Fund, also based in Grand Rapids and direct­ed by Bet­sy and Dick DeVos [11], received $30,000 from the Frei­heit Foun­da­tion in sup­port of the DeVos­es ongo­ing orga­niz­ing in favor of school vouch­ers and the pri­va­ti­za­tion of edu­ca­tion in the Unit­ed States [12]. In 2001, Prince’s foun­da­tion gave $30,000 to the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute (AEI), one of the more promi­nent rightwing think-tanks and a strong sup­port­er of both free-mar­ket eco­nom­ics as well as the Bush administration’s for­eign pol­i­cy. The AEI sup­ports an aggres­sive impe­ri­al­ist pol­i­cy and has sev­er­al mem­bers that are part of the same group of neo­cons [13] involved in the Project for a New Amer­i­can Cen­tu­ry [14] that cam­paigned for the Iraq War.

While Prince’s fam­i­ly has con­tributed great­ly to reli­gious right groups, Prince’s foun­da­tion has pri­mar­i­ly fund­ed con­ser­v­a­tive Catholic or evan­gel­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions that do not have clear ties to the reli­gious right. A major excep­tion is the Frei­heit Foundation’s $500,000 grant to ex-Water­gate felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fel­low­ship [15], an evan­gel­i­cal min­istry oper­at­ing with­in the Unit­ed States’ prison sys­tem and receiv­ing finan­cial back­ing from a vari­ety of reli­gious right fun­ders. The Frei­heit Foun­da­tion has also fund­ed Chris­t­ian Free­dom Inter­na­tion­al, a group that works to doc­u­ment the per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians around the world and pro­vides aid in the form of phys­i­cal assis­tance and coor­di­nat­ed prayer. The orga­ni­za­tion is led by for­mer Rea­gan White House offi­cial Jim Jacob­son [16] who is a mem­ber of the secre­tive reli­gious right Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy [17] (Prince’s foun­da­tion gave a $450 to the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy in 2001). The Frei­heit Foun­da­tion gen­er­ous­ly funds a num­ber of oth­er reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing the Hag­gai Insti­tute, an orga­ni­za­tion found­ed in 1969 to train Asian, African, and Latin Amer­i­can Chris­t­ian lead­ers to “train oth­ers” and evan­ge­lize for the Chris­t­ian faith, who was giv­en $200,000 in 2001. Cri­sis Mag­a­zine, a self-described “polit­i­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive” mag­a­zine that reports on con­tem­po­rary cul­ture through a “tra­di­tion­al Catholic” per­spec­tive, has received a nom­i­nal amount of fund­ing from the Foun­da­tion ($3,500). Con­tro­ver­sial and anti-gay Sen­a­tor Rick San­to­rum [18] is one of the magazine’s reg­u­lar colum­nists. Catholic Answers, a group that pub­lish­es tracts and oth­er lit­er­a­ture to aid Catholics in evan­ge­liz­ing. The group came under some scruti­ny in 2004 for a vot­er guide that it pro­duced out­lin­ing five issues that it termed as “non-nego­tiable” for Catholics—abortion, gay mar­riage, embry­on­ic stem cell research, euthana­sia, and human cloning—and argu­ing that Catholics should vote for can­di­dates that have the church’s posi­tion on these issues (source [19]).

Prince has also sup­port­ed uni­ver­si­ties, includ­ing Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Amer­i­ca (which main­tains a “Mar­riage Law Project” report­ing on efforts to define and pre­serve mar­riage as between het­ero­sex­u­al cou­ples only (source [20]) and Chris­ten­dom Col­lege, both of which firm­ly believe in the impor­tance of reli­gion in every­day life. Prince has also pro­vid­ed $195,000 to the Insti­tute for World Pol­i­tics, a grad­u­ate school in Wash­ing­ton DC offer­ing train­ing in “state­craft” by exam­in­ing diplo­ma­cy, mil­i­tary strat­e­gy, the for­ma­tion of opin­ion, and oth­er such top­ics taught by for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials from the Depart­ment of Defense, Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, and oth­er such agen­cies as well as pri­vate insti­tu­tions such as the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute. Like the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute, the Insti­tute for World Pol­i­tics pro­motes a for­eign pol­i­cy in line with that of the Bush administration—a pol­i­cy that has func­tioned to help Black­wa­ter earn gov­ern­ment con­tracts and to increase Prince’s own for­tune.