BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Wisconsin, the battleground state where Governor Scott Walker has wielded his power with the grace of an elephant in a Crate and Barrel outlet store, has become the scene of armed, mask wearing, camouflaged security outfits patrolling the backwoods on the lookout for eco-terrorist types at the behest of a mining company more than willing to defile the environment for profits.
Last week, Outside Magazine's Mary Catherine O'Connor reported that in March, Gov. Walker signed SB1, which allowed "Gogebic Taconite [G-Tac for short], a subsidiary of the [West Virginia-based] Cline Group owned by Florida billionaire Chris Cline, ... to make it easier to obtain permits to mine iron."
Gogebic Taconite's coveted territory is a 21,000-acre chunk of land in the remote wilderness of northern Wisconsin called the Penokee Hills. It is there that the company "has begun some early stage surveying to collect samples," believing that it "holds a valuable vein of ore."
Projects like these, a four-mile-long, 1,000-feet-deep open pit operation in Ashland and Iron counties is bound to be accompanied by questions from, and protests by, locals over a host of environmental issues. While early on a few protesters may have acted like knuckleheads, the vast majority of protesters have continuously stated that they are committed to non-violent peaceful demonstrations.
Armed, masked and dangerous
In this case, however, the company thinks it has come up with a strategy to pre-emptively thwart further protests; brand them "eco-terrorists;" and, hire out its security operations to excessively armed militia groups.
According to Crooks and Liars David Neiwert, the first armed and camouflaged draped guards "were employed by an outfit from Arizona called Bulletproof Securities." After it was discovered that the Bulletproof Securities team wasn't "licensed to operate in ... Wisconsin" they "quickly vamoosed."
Neiwert reported that, "a new set of goons appeared as security for GTAC's President, Bill Williams, in his recent appearances in Wisconsin." They wore "logos of a Patriot/militia organization called the Watchmen of America -- though true to the 'leaderless resistance' model of action these 'Patriots' espouse, the Watchmen's organizational leaders are denying any involvement, while in effect conceding that members may be operating in Wisconsin without their approval."
"Local activist Rob Ganson, 56, first came upon three heavily armed guards while leading a small group on a hike to view the mining site," Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard recently reported. Ganson said that the guards "carried semi-automatic guns, were dressed in camouflage, and wore masks covering their faces. 'As you can imagine, it was quite a shock for five middle-aged people out for a walk,' he said. Ganson tried to engage the guards, but was 'met with stony-faced silence.' He was alarmed but managed to grab a few photos of the men. 'I was thinking if the worst scenario happened, at least there would be photos on my camera.'"
After the original batch of armed guards were pulled, the company brought in a "new group of armed guards — including one whose shirt bore the insignia for Watchmen of America, a militia group active in at least 21 states," Sheppard pointed out. Mike Freebyrd, CEO of Watchman of America, told Mother Jones that his organization was not involved in security around the mine site.
Trashing environmental regulations
According to Sheppard, the bill that Gov. Walker signed in March made "sweeping changes" to existing environmental regulations. The bill "creates a separate set of laws for taconite mining, abbreviates the permitting process, reduces the number of opportunities for public comment, and weakens rules on dumping mine waste into wetlands and waterways. It also reallocates mining revenues that previously went to local communities into the state's Economic Development Corporation, a problem-plagued program Walker created in 2011 to spur job growth in the state. G-Tac worked closely with lawmakers to draft the legislation. Proponents of the law argue that it will generate new jobs in the state."
"Basically almost every environmental protection and public health protection you could think of is eliminated under this bill," Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.
Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, whose reservation lies about six miles north of the proposed mine site, said: "If the mining company is allowed to proceed unfettered, I think what we would have is an atrocity here in the watershed."
The mining company has indicated that it is going to bring back Bulletproof Securities as soon as they can get legally licensed. According azcentral.com, Tom Parrella, the president and CEO of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Bulletproof Securities "said his guards are properly outfitted in military camouflage uniforms and equipped with 9mm semi-automatic pistols and lightweight carbine rifles based on the threat."
Azcentral.com pointed out that "The guards also have satellite phones, night-vision scopes, pepper spray and stun guns," and wear facemasks to protect their identity. "When we have eco-terrorists sneaking through the woods, launching attacks on the mining drill site, we need to outfit our employees with the best equipment and uniforms we can," Parrella said.
According to azcentral.com, Bulletproof, founded in 2002, has "about 45 full- and part-time employees, [and] has provided security for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal contractors doing work in remote areas along the U.S. border with Mexico that are known smuggling corridors, Parrella said."
Indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com recently reported that Gov. Walker recently described a small group of protesters who went onto the mining site as "masked ninjas," and said that calling them eco-terrorists was "not far from the truth."
Walker also "defended GTAC's security measures during a speech July 11 at the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum in Madison" and said that, the state might offer "security help to GTAC in the future if needed."