File photo of Erik Prince
HOLLAND, Mich. (WZZM)- Blackwater Worldwide founder and Holland native Erik Prince says the values of hard work and personal responsibility are being lost in the big-spending culture in Washington.
Prince addressed the annual Tulip Time Festival luncheon Wednesday inside Hope College's basketball arena. With no recording devices allowed, Prince delivered a conservative speech, and took aim at the media. Prince railed against the failings of big government, preached strong family values and celebrated work ethic. More than 700 people seated on the arena floor gave Prince a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Many said they found his conservative comments inspiring.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Arlyn Lanting, who enjoyed the speech. "I think he's just been thrown under the bus in Washington and he gave a proper perspective of some of the good things Blackwater has done."
About 70 people protested outside.
"I follow the way of Jesus. The way of peace," said Andy DeBraber, a local pastor and protestor. "This seems contrary to that... in a city and a region that is so Christian."
Last year, Prince stepped away from daily operations at his private military security company, now known as Xe Services, based in Moyock, N.C.
"I think a lot of times in the press they get bad publicity," said supporter Steve Kilgore. "It's not always deserved."
The Justice Department is investigating whether Blackwater tried to bribe Iraqi officials to allow the company to keep working there after a fatal shooting involving Blackwater guards.
AP/Steve Patterson WZZM