It felt surreal to be inside the home of Erik Prince, the founder, owner and chairman of Blackwater (or Xe, as it is now called). Prince, a former Navy Seal, provides security for the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department. His company trains 40,000 people a year in skills that include personal protection. Yet his home in McLean, Virginia, has no security. None. Not even a fence or a guard dog or a No Trespassing sign. And his mother-in-law, who helps care for his young children, invited a total stranger--me--into his home without hesitation.
I had gone to Prince's home, together with two CODEPINK colleagues, assuming it would be empty. I'd read in the New York Times that Mr. Prince and his family had moved out of the country, fleeing from a series of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and Congressional investigations stemming from his company's contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the news, "In documents filed last week in a civil lawsuit brought by former Blackwater employees accusing Mr. Prince of defrauding the government, Mr. Prince sought to avoid giving a deposition by stating that he had moved to Abu Dhabi [which is in the United Arab Emirates] in time for his children to enter school there on August 15." Susan Burke, the lawyer seeking the deposition, announced that she was flying to the Emirates to find him.
I had been feeling particularly upset about Blackwater lately. Seeing the combat troops leaving Iraq, I'd been thinking about the banner CODEPINK members held in countless anti-war vigils: "Iraq War: Who Lies? Who Dies? Who Pays? Who Profits?" Politicians lied about weapons of mass destruction, Iraqis and American soldiers died, U.S. taxpayers paid, and companies like Blackwater make a killing. In just a few years, Blackwater received over $1 billion in U.S. government contracts, contracts that accounted for 90 percent of its revenue. Erik Prince, the company's sole owner, was now taking his profits, trying to sell the company and running away to the Emirates, a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States.
So we decided to make a symbolic gesture of visiting his home in McLean to bid good riddance to bad rubbish. On Friday, August 20, five days after the Prince children were supposed to be starting their new lives as schoolchildren in the Emirates, we mapquested the old McLean home and drove there, ready to take a photo with our "Adios Diablo Prince" sign and leave.
But when we got there, to our surprise we could see through the window that the house was full of people and furniture. There were no moving boxes, no empty rooms. Could the new owners have settled in so quickly? Curious, I rang the doorbell and before I knew it, I was invited in and found myself inside the living room with a bunch of young children and several adults, who turned out to be grandma, grandpa and wife Joanna Prince.
The rest happened very quickly. Joanna asked who I was and why I was there. I asked the same questions: Was this the Prince family and if so, why weren't they in Abu Dhabi? She freaked, told the grandparents to call the police, and she pushed me out the door.
We hung around outside waiting for the police. We wanted to assure them that there was no problem--that I had indeed been invited inside and left when asked to leave. In the meantime, I wrote a letter to Erik.
Dear Erik Prince,
On behalf of U.S. taxpayers, we say "Shame on You." Through your company Blackwater, or Xe as you now like to call it, you made--or should I say stole?--hundreds of millions of dollars and your employees also killed innocent civilians in Iraq. You should be held responsible. Don't run away to the Emirates to escape prosecution. Stay here in the USA and face the consequences of your actions, like a good Christian.
When the police arrived, Joanna Prince lied and said I'd been told to leave the house and refused. I was arrested, charged with trespassing, held for 5 hours and forced to pay $500 in bail. I have to appear in court on September 28. So does Joanna Prince. Will she show up in court or will she--like her husband--run away to Abu Dhabi? Will the court subpoena her to appear? Will her husband, a man who shuns publicity, tell her that she is crazy to pick a public fight with CODEPINK (or Pinkwater, as we now call ourselves) and make her drop the charges? Will I be able to sue her for false arrest?
Stay tuned for round two of Xe (formerly Blackwater) vs. Pinkwater (formerly CODEPINK).
You can see the video of this episode here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si-CpfA5Noc