BELOIT - Amid high security and student demonstrations, Beloit College students that protested a planned appearance by Erik Prince say they are happy with the event being canceled on campus, while organizers and the college condemned the behavior Wednesday night.
Around 200 protesters filled the Moore Lounge at Pearsons Hall on campus where the lecture was set to take place, banging on drums and shouting, while also piling chairs that filled the lecture hall on the stage. Around 100 students walked out at 7:30 p.m., the time the talk was set to begin.
Interim Dean of Students Cecil Youngblood announced the event was canceled at around 8:15 p.m.
"Due to disruptive protests and safety concerns, the event hosted by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) featuring speaker Erik Prince had to be canceled to ensure the safety of all participants," the college statement said. "As an institution of higher learning, open dialogue on all topics is one of our core principles. Tonight's events fell unacceptably short of this core principle, and we condemn the behavior of those who disrupted the event."
Beloit College student Jason Lansing, who confronted YAF Program Officer Kyle Ferrebee during Wednesday's protest, said YAF's views were a "small contingent of the population here."
"They like to use this free speech (defense) and things like that because we have freedom of speech here and we should have that here, but they choose to bring the worst of the worst here," Lansing said. "I was inspired just by some past interviews and articles I have read about Mr. Prince. I know that when there's only one side being loud, you don't get to hear the questioning and the debate, and so I think for myself, I think for others too, the point of coming out and making that noise was to be part of that debate in a way that we feel YAF wouldn't have allowed us to if they weren't being that loud."
Natasha Islam, another Beloit College student, came to Wednesday's protest with a sign that included the names of the 17 victims killed in the September 2007 incident where private mercenaries working for Blackwater, the private security firm founded by Prince (he sold it in 2010), shot at Iraqi civilians while escorting a U.S. embassy convoy. In 2014, three Blackwater contractors were convicted of manslaughter and one was convicted of murder in relation to the incident. Prince also is brother to current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
"I am a Muslim on campus and this guy and his organization is responsible for some really horrific incidents, and he's connected to some really ongoing horrific incidents," Islam said. "If he's going to speak on my campus, I want him to know that we are here and what happened is not okay. I don't want him to be able to speak here and forget that for a moment."
In response to the cancellation, Ferrebee said it was unacceptable the college would restrict Prince's ability to speak.
"I don't think they are winning anything. You have people here that just want to hear the speaker speak tonight, and they want to hear some different viewpoints brought into Beloit," Ferrebee said. "I think that's something Beloit can really benefit from but unfortunately there are intolerant people on the left that would rather waste everyone else's time rather than do anything productive."
The college will conduct an investigation into Wednesday night's events. According to Beloit Police Department officers at the scene, no protesters were arrested or detained as of 8:20 p.m. Wednesday.
Prince currently serves as deputy chairman and director of Frontier Services Group, a company based in Hong Kong that has been criticized recently for allegedly being tied to the development of a state-run training center in western China. The region is plagued by ethnic strife, with Chinese officials detaining up to 1 million Uyghur Muslims in detention facilities for what the government claims is deradicalisation training as watchdog groups condemn the mass detentions as widespread human rights abuses. The heavy-handed government response has been condemned internationally, and during an interview Wednesday afternoon with the Beloit Daily News, Prince said FSG "was not touching Xinjiang at all," contradicting a report earlier this month on the company's website showing a signing ceremony with local officials marking start of construction on the facility. The statement, published in Mandarin, was later removed.
Prince did acknowledge FSG was providing "construction equipment and building materials" in western China, but did not comment further.