[This blog has been updated with recent developments.]
I'm not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan, class-warfare or the war on Christmas – I'm talking about a mine site in Wisconsin.
At the beginning of the year Al Gedicks of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council wrote a guest blog post which mentioned that Wisconsinites had “mobilized public opinion against Gogebic Taconite’s (GTac) proposal for a giant open pit iron mine.” Then in June, 15 protesters headed over to the site for a demonstration that didn't get out of hand, but Gogebic felt differently.
According to Wisconsin Public Radio there were no reports of violence. One protester allegedly stole a cell phone and a camera from a geologist working on site, and there were allegations of vandalized property and road barricades.
So, just to be clear, the protest didn't get out of hand and it wasn't violent.
How did Gogebic respond to this small group of concerned local citizens? Gogebic officials hired armed guards (also referred to as 'paramilitary-style guards') from Bulletproof Security in Arizona (remember this mine is in Wisconsin), a firm that also provides private border security on the US/Mexico border.
It's clear to me that this is a huge overreaction. And I am not alone. Two members of the state legislature have vocally opposed the presence of the armed guards. State Senator Bob Jauch said, “I'm appalled. There is no evidence to justify their presence. What would you use those weapons for except to hurt somebody?”
But Bob Seitz, a Madison lobbyist representing Gogebic, maintained “the guards are going to stay.”
The whole thing reminds me of another time military lingo had crossed paths with our work in the extractive industries – the psyops story that broke in late 2011 when TX Sharon attended a fracking industry media conference. There she heard first hand from industry employees that fracking companies were using military psychological operation tactics to divide communities and push their agenda.
Will treating citizens as enemy combatants and hiring armed guards be the new normal?
On Wednesday July 11 the armed guards were removed from the site because the contractor failed to obtain proper licensing from the state. Under state law, they could now be fined up to $500 or jailed for up to six months, and BulletProof Security could be barred from working in Wisconsin for one year.
Bob Seitz, representing Gogebic, however, said that as soon as the state issues their permits the armed guards will be back.
According to a Wisconsin activist, a new group of armed guards, likely from the company Watchmen of America, were on patrol last Thursday, just one day after Gogebic pulled the Bulletproof guards.