A pair of Wisconsin legislators, among others, are up in arms over a heavily armed, Scottsdale-based private security force hired to protect a new iron-ore mine under construction in northern Wisconsin.
Mining company Gogebic Taconite hired Bulletproof Securities to secure its property following an incident during an otherwise peaceful protest in which a 26-year-old woman was charged with robbery with use of force and three other misdemeanors after allegedly wrestling a camera away from a mine worker.
Photos, including the one attached, show guards wearing camouflage and masks and sporting semi-automatic guns. Bulletproof's website states its personnel are equipped with armor and high-tech gear and can be trained in the use of handguns, medium-sized weapons, heavy weapons, sniper rifles and edged weapons.
Gogebic Taconite's reaction to the incident, which is the only reported non-peaceful act of protest recorded since the operation began, did not sit well with Wisconsin state Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, and state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. The pair drafted a letter asking the company to send the paramilitary operation back to Scottsdale.
"There is no reason for them to Rambo up the way they have because things are peaceful," Bewley said in a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism article on Tuesday. "After a month of peace, why bring in a paramilitary group? We are not lawless up here. We are not Deadwood where there is no law and you need the Pinkertons."
"The images are horrifying," wrote Bewley and Jauch in their letter, "and the action by the company to hire this high security Arizona firm is appalling. 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. While no one can argue that your company does not have the right to protect your private property, these armed guards serve no purpose other than to intimidate local citizens and increase local tensions."
Bob Seitz, a Madison lobbyist representing Gogebic, said the guards are necessary because of a confrontation between 15 to 20 protesters and an unknown number of mine workers a month ago.
"The guards are going to stay," Seitz said. "We have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace."
According to the mining company, the site will provide 700 jobs and be active for 35 years. However, environmental groups and some local residents believe the impact on the ecosystem will be greater than the value provided.
Read more about this story on the Wisconsin State Journal, also a Lee Enterprises newspaper, and at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's website.