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Security company owner: 'Threatening' acts at Gogebic site put armed guards on alert

Guards at the Gogebic Taconite mine site in Iron County need assault rifles and military garb because they must be ready for the worst, says the Arizona-based owner of the security company that has drawn heavy criticism for its presence.

Guards at the Gogebic Taconite mine site in Iron County need assault rifles and military garb because they must be ready for the worst, says the Arizona-based owner of the security company that has drawn heavy criticism for its presence.

Bulletproof Securities president Tom Parrella said in an interview the high-powered rifles are justified because of online postings by mine opponents that appear to be death threats and by "strange and threatening behavior" by a few others.

"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."

His comments came as a video surfaced of masked protesters' profanity-laden verbal attacks on mine workers. The video also shows protesters walking around a drill site and confronting a worker with a camera and taking it from her after a struggle.

A Stevens Point, Wis., woman faces a charge of robbery by force and three misdemeanors for allegedly wrestling a camera from a mine worker on June 11.

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The state's business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, pointed to the video in a statement calling for closing public access to the site. The land owner currently receives tax breaks in exchange for leaving the land open for recreation.

Parella said "radical" protesters have posted death threats on a Facebook page and guards have seen people "sneaking" through the woods several times a day.

"A handgun is relatively useless in some of these situations," Parrella said. "We didn't send them out with a belt machine gun, we sent them out with a lightweight (rifle) to give them the opportunity to defend themselves and the people at the site."

His company's guards were withdrawn Wednesday after it was learned that they were not licensed in Wisconsin. A few weeks ago they stepped onto the scene of the controversial mine project that has roused environmentalists.

The Iron County district attorney is considering whether to seek penalties against the company for operating without a license, and two state legislators have asked the mine company to banish the guards, saying they were needlessly intimidating and potentially dangerous.

Bulletproof will obtain licenses and be back on the job within days, said Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz. Parrella said security will be needed, and his company is uniquely qualified.

He predicted that tactics of a few "eco-terrorists" will escalate as the mine project continues, while acknowledging that, except for the June 11 incident, there is little or no hard evidence of criminal activity.

"What they are trying to do or accomplish is unknown," Parrella said.

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Parrella said guards have photographed illegal campsites on private land near the test drilling sites and found elevated spots where people have set up places to watch the sites.

"They couldn't see that we were watching them," Parrella said. "When the team made their presence known, they didn't like that they could no longer sneak up on the drilling site without anybody holding them accountable."

On Tuesday after a heavy rain, a guard watched a man wearing a black garbage bag sneaking through the woods, then lie on his back motionless for 30 minutes, even as guards spoke to him, Parrella said.

Eventually the man departed, and guards watched as he zigzagged away through the woods, Parrella said.

One day, guards saw a masked man holding an M-16 rifle while standing at attention a few miles from the drilling near a camp on public land being used by mine opponents, Parrella said.

He acknowledged that all of the behavior he cited could be essentially harmless, but his job is to prepare for the worst.

"For every hundred peaceful protesters you probably get one or two rotten apples and you just don't know what they are going to do," Parrella said. "There are a handful of radicals, what we could consider eco-terrorist types. We don't know why they are moving in and out of the area. As the mining operation ramps up you'll see more. This project has gotten a lot of attention and it may potentially bring more troublemakers out of the woodwork."

"If you look at other similar projects, when the radical ones get involved, there have been many very serious incidents," he said. "I really think the mining company is trying to prevent that."

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Guards wear masks to avoid being photographed, not to intimidate anyone or to avoid accountability, 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."

The 11-year-old company has handled high profile assignments, sometimes jointly with federal agencies, guarding two Mexican presidents visiting the U.S., a former U.S. vice president, and major "infrastructure" such as power plants, Parrella said.

He declined to provide other details, saying the company promises clients confidentiality.

"We protect many high net-worth people, a lot of corporate executives in very large corporations," Parrella said. "We travel with them from time to time depending on the threat level."

Video of confrontation from WKOW-TV:

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENT
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