Two members of the Wisconsin Legislature are asking Gogebic Taconite to remove masked security guards who are toting semi-automatic rifles and wearing camouflaged uniforms from the mining company’s site in the Penokee Hills forest.
Photos of the guards surfaced over the weekend on the websites of mine opponents.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said Monday the guards are from Bulletproof Securities, an Arizona company that boasts a “no compromises security force.”
“I’m appalled,” Jauch said. “There is no evidence to justify their presence.”
Jauch said he was especially concerned that the guards are carrying high-powered rifles more appropriate for fighting wars than for guarding construction equipment in a scenic forest that draws scores of hikers and vacationers in addition to mine protesters.
“Do they have the authority to use those weapons? If so, on who?” Jauch said. “I don’t know if there’s a hunting season right now except maybe for rabbit, but you shoot a rabbit with that, all you’ll end up with is fur. What would you use those weapons for except to hurt somebody?”
Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz laughed at the suggestion that the company would remove the guard detail, which he said was hidden in the forest photographing illegal campers before they were noticed at a test drill site recently. The campers were believed to be potential vandals, Seitz said.
“That’s why none of those (guards) was visible, is because they have been monitoring people on our lands,” Seitz said. “I’m not very concerned about what (weapons) a security firm selects. They have to provide a safe workplace for their people, too.”
Seitz wouldn’t provide other details, except to say Gogebic’s security operations were “multifaceted” and appropriate because of a June 11 incident that led to charges of robbery with use of force and three misdemeanors against Katie M. Kloth, 26.
The Stevens Point woman is alleged to have wrestled a camera from a mine worker who was videotaping her during a protest at a test drilling
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All other protests have been peaceful, Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said.
Republicans in the state Legislature approved a polarizing mining bill in March over environmentalists’ objections. The law is designed to allow Gogebic to open a 41/2-mile open pit so it can dig for iron ore. The company is now test drilling in eight spots a few miles southeast of Copper Falls State Park.
Security guards with sidearms appeared at drill sites after June 11. Three camouflaged guards with assault rifles and face masks appeared a few days ago, said Paul DeMain, editor of the Hayward-based News from Indian County.
“Some of the local people are wondering what the heck? It’s come to a sad situation when you’ve got to have a machine gun to protect a business that people around here don’t want,” said DeMain, an opponent of the mine who posted video online of a semi-automatic rifle unattended on the seat of a truck at a drilling site. The video shows a guard a short distance away.
A woman who answered the phone at Bulletproof Securities offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., said no one was available to comment.
The Bulletproof website says its personnel are equipped with “armor,” high-tech equipment and a variety of lethal and non-lethal weapons.
“Complacency is no longer an option when a breach can result in excessive amounts of lost time, money and additional liability for your firm,” the website states. “Our operators participate in rigorous tactical firearms training on a weekly basis. We train with pistols, carbines, submachine guns, belt-fed machine guns, and edged weapons.”
Jauch and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, wrote a letter to the mine company Monday asking for the guards to be withdrawn before they hurt someone or damage northern Wisconsin’s image.
“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,” the letter states, calling deployment of the guards a “confrontational and incendiary step that will clearly do more to intimidate local citizens and increase local tensions than it will to make you, your staff, or your equipment any safer.”
Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates in Madison, said she is concerned that guards would prevent public access to the Penokee Hills forest, which is privately owned but open for public recreation under a tax-break agreement.
“This is just kind of bad form for G-Tac,” Wright said. “It’s just complete overkill and it’s pretty scary. We don’t want anyone to shoot anybody.”