MADISON, Wis. (AP) - An Arizona security company owner said his guards at a Wisconsin mine site needed rifles to defend themselves because mine opponents had exhibited strange, threatening behavior and made what could be considered death threats.
Bulletproof Securities pulled its guards from the Gogebic Taconite mine site in northern Wisconsin on Wednesday because they lacked state licenses. They are expected to get the licenses and return to work within days, Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz said.
The mining company posted the guards after multiple confrontations between its workers and protesters. Environmentalists and members of the Bad River Chippewa oppose construction of the 4 1/2 -mile long open pit mine just south of the Chippewa's reservation. They fear it will pollute water in the area, destroy wild rice beds and lead to other environmental damage.
Bulletproof Securities president Tom Parrella told the Wisconsin State Journal that some mine opponents posted online what appear to be death threats and others have exhibited "strange and threatening behavior."
"We don't put our people out in harm's way without giving them the best of the best in terms the tools they need," Parrella said. "There is absolutely no apology on the part of our company for sending our professionals out there with the tools they need."
Parrella said guards carried lightweight rifles because handguns would be "relatively useless in some of these situations."
A Stevens Point woman accused of wrestling a camera from a mine worker on June 11 has been charged with robbery by force and three misdemeanors.
Parrella acknowledged there has been no evidence of other criminal activity but said he expects the confrontations to escalate as construction continues. Guards have photographed illegal campsites near the mine site and are keeping an eye on them, he said.
On Tuesday, a guard saw a man in a black garbage bag moving through the woods, Parella said. The man then lay down and remained on his back for about 30 minutes while guards spoke to him. Eventually, he left.
Parella said such behavior can be harmless but it's his job, and that of his employees, to prepare for the worst.
"If you look at other similar projects, when the radical (protesters) get involved, there have been many very serious incidents," he said. "I really think the mining company is trying to prevent that."
Guards have been wearing masks to protect their identities, not to intimidate, he said.
"They really don't want to have their faces posted all over radical websites," Parrella said. "These are professional (former) soldiers and law enforcement officers who don't need that kind of PR. They worry about who may be looking them up, who may be stalking their families."
Founded 11 years ago, Bulletproof Securities has guarded corporate executives, high-profile public officials, including a former U.S. vice president, and major facilities, such as power plants, he said.