Armed, Masked Paramilitary Troops Called in to Protect Wisconsin Mining Site from 15 Protesters
Owners of a controversial mine in northern Wisconsin hired heavily armed, paramilitary-style security to protect its operation from a small group of demonstrators.
Last month, about 15 protesters showed up outside the Gogebic Taconite mining site, which received legislative approval earlier this year to start digging up iron ore. The demonstrators—who are concerned about the environmental impact of the proposed mine—were unarmed and largely peaceful. Some set up camp outside the site.
Those actions were enough for company officials to decide they needed to hire an Arizona-based firm, Bulletproof Securities, which uses ex-military and arms its guards with masks, camouflage outfits and assault rifles. The troops moved in July 4 and their presence immediately alarmed local residents.
One state lawmaker, Senator Bob Jauch (D), said he was “appalled” by the move. “There is no evidence to justify their presence,” Jauch told The Wisconsin State Journal.
“Do they have the authority to use those weapons? If so, on who?” Jauch asked. “I don’t know if there’s a hunting season right now except maybe for rabbit, but you shoot a rabbit with that, all you’ll end up with is fur. What would you use those weapons for except to hurt somebody?”
Another state senator, Janet Bewley (D), was also outraged. “There is no reason for them to Rambo up the way they have because things are peaceful,” she told WisconsinWatch.org. “After a month of peace, why bring in a paramilitary group? We are not lawless up here.”
The two Democratic senators sent a letter to Gogebic President Bill Williams demanding the company remove the guards. “The images are horrifying,” they wrote. “These kinds of security forces are common in Third World countries but they don’t belong in Northern Wisconsin. We cannot begin to describe how upset the citizens of Northern Wisconsin are at the sight of our forests being patrolled by masked soldiers carrying military style assault weapons like mercenaries in a time of war.”
They added that the only purpose served is “to intimidate local citizens and increase local tensions.”
But a company spokesman said the guards would remain.
Then, in an unexpected turn of events, it was discovered on Wednesday that Bulletproof is not licensed to operate in the state of Wisconsin. Consequently, Gogebic asked the security force to be withdrawn until it obtains a proper license. “We've had them stand down,” Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. “They were unaware apparently that they needed that...”
Bulletproof president Tom Parrella explained to the newspaper that his firm was hired with little notice and had not expected the public outcry and media attention. They have now applied for the state license, he said.
Parella is the owner of a Scottsdale real estate firm who used revenue from that business to launch Bulletproof (headquartered at the same address), which specializes in “extreme and executive” security situations. He was motivated to do so by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and his concern over lack of U.S. border security. “We see…the threats coming here,” he told Tempe’s East Valley Tribune.
It was reported that it will take two or three days for a state license to be issued to Bulletproof, but if it is a temporary permit, the guards will not be allowed to carry weapons. Meanwhile, a local district attorney is investigating the license issue to see if any laws have been broken.
The mining site is reportedly highly controversial, in part because it is in violation of a treaty with Native Americans.
-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Private Paramilitaries Guard Wisconsin Mining Site from Protesters (by Stephen C. Webster, Raw Story)
Paramilitary-Style Guards ‘Are Going to Stay,’ Mining Company Vows (by Ron Seely, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism)
Rent-a-Paramilitaries Freak Out Wisconsin (by Josh Marshall, TPM)
Armed Guards at Mine Site Stand Down While Bulletproof Seeks State License (by Jason Stein, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)
Proposed Taconite Mine in the Penokee Range (Sierra Club)
UC Berkeley Decides Not to Militarize Campus Cops (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)
Coast Guard Protects Oil Drilling Ships from Environmentalists (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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