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COMMENTARY: Moore Story Is Failure of Democracy

"An ounce of hypocrisy is worth a pound of ambition," a famous publisher once said. Hypocrisy and ambition, alas, are the dominant themes that have emerged from Michigan Messenger’s months-long investigation into Barrett Moore, the chief executive officer of Sovereign Deed, the private security company looking to set up its headquarters in Pellston, Michigan. And when hypocrisy and ambition are combined, the result is sometimes absurd to the point of surreal.

How else to characterize the actions of a man who lies about having been in the armed services and then donates money to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in order to trash the military record of a decorated war hero? Moore, according to federal election records, donated $500 in October 2004 to the notorious group that sought to undermine Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry on behalf of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Hypocrisy and ambition indeed.

The picture that emerges of Barrett Moore from court records in both America and Australia, and from conversations with former friends and business associates—none of whom would speak on the record or for attribution out of fear of litigation—is a disturbing one. A man of ambition he certainly is, but one with a long track record of behavior that stands in stark contrast to the image he seeks to project to the public and to those who might be financial supporters of his future ventures. See Eartha Jane Melzer’s story, Sovereign Deed Executive Lied About Military Service, Records Show.

The more we dug into the story the more we began to wonder which was the more astonishing: the fact that Moore, as founding chief executive officer of the private military contractor, Triple Canopy, has lied so brazenly about his own military service and business success? Or the fact that neither our government nor his financial backers and business associates along the way had done the research that would have uncovered those lies? Why wasn’t he caught before, either by the State Department doing due diligence in investigating those to whom they award contracts or by the state of Michigan as it sought to bless his business with tax breaks? These failures speak volumes about the lack of accountability in a political system that distributes vast amounts of our tax dollars every year.

As to why this ignominious track record would have escaped the attention of Richard Rainwater, the Texas billionaire and chief investor in Sovereign Deed, we suspect that has to do primarily with a shared vision of America’s dystopic future and a desire to profit from it. As I wrote in a previous article, Rainwater is practically obsessed with the notion of a breakdown in American society, a coming chaos that he believes will be made inevitable by a drop in oil production and resulting price shocks that will destabilize the world economy and lead to widespread unrest in the United States. The result, Rainwater is convinced, will be riots and wars between the haves and the have-nots, and he has been thinking for the past several years about how to profit from that inevitable future.

Rainwater found a kindred spirit in Moore, a man who keeps survival rations and emergency equipment in his office and whose business plan for Sovereign Deed is built around capitalizing on the coming chaos. When discussing what Sovereign Deed plans to do in front of town hall meetings in the Pellston area, retired Brig. Gen. Richard Mills explained that the company would charge a staggering fee—$50,000 up front plus $15,000 per year—for their protection services in any number of situations. In the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Mills spoke mostly about natural disasters and terrorist attacks, but Rainwater and Moore’s vision of America’s dystopic future suggests that the real contingencies they are planning also include riots and other forms of social upheaval.

Sovereign Deed, in those circumstances, would function as a private army—a militia, if you will—for the wealthy, protecting their property and their lives while ignoring the plight of those who can’t afford to pay their exorbitant fees. It is difficult to imagine anything more repugnant to the American ideal of equality in the eyes of the government, but there is precedent for it. In New Orleans after Katrina, Blackwater and many other private security firms showed up almost immediately, some on government contracts and some hired by wealthy corporations and private citizens, patrolling the streets armed with automatic weapons and guarding private property against looters.

It is, of course, the job of the government to do those things and to do them without regard to the wealth or social status of the person being protected (or being protected against). We have local police, sheriffs’ departments and National Guard units precisely for the purpose of protecting all citizens in the event of such disasters. Unfortunately, we now have a situation where the government fails to protect all its citizens, especially the most vulnerable and powerless, while private security firms seek to profit by doing only for the wealthy what the government should be doing for all Americans. As Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution put it:

The exact divide between public and private responsibilities is often murky. When it comes to the security of our society, however, there must be no confusion. Security is a fundamental public service that requires a special public trust. Those who carry out its core missions should be responsible to the public and not other entities, in particular not those with an eye on the bottom line. According to the U.S. Constitution, the most basic role of government is "to provide for the common defense." Something is wrong when we turn over this essential responsibility to private companies with track records that can only be described as horrible.

Americans simply cannot afford to turn disaster response over to highly paid vigilantes doing the government’s job on behalf of a select few. The corrosive effects of deploying private armies under government contract, with little or no public accountability, can hardly be overstated. The fact that many of the private military contractors, such as Erik Prince, Blackwater, have close personal and political ties to the very men who are responsible for the government’s response to such situations indicates just how cynical or careless our leaders have become. When it comes to Moore’s ambitions for Sovereign Deed, Rainwater’s friendship and financial dealings with President Bush may not serve the public well.

Politicians of both parties in the state of Michigan have fallen all over themselves to change the law, clear away red tape and throw tax breaks at this company to get them to locate in Pellston. They’ve done all this for a company run by a man with a history of business fraud who has brazenly lied about his military background. They’ve done all this for a company whose business plan is repugnant to the very concept of a free and democratic society, a company looking to profit from the failure of our government to do its constitutional duty and to enrich themselves by doling out to the wealthy what should be guaranteed to us all—protection of our lives, our property and our liberty during times of crisis. This is how madness becomes business as usual.

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