Armed Mercenaries Return to Wisconsin Woods (Legally, This Time)

Mercenary-style guards carrying assault weapons will return to the north woods of Wisconsin after an Arizona-based security firm received proper permits to operate in Wisconsin. Last month, the heavily-armed guards, wearing camouflage and some with face coverings, startled hikers and other forest visitors when they showed up — without permits or the legally required name tags and credentials.

Photos of the paramilitary style guards patrolling on public land surfaced on July 6. They were reportedly hired by mining company Gogebic Taconite (or G-TAC) to protect its equipment in the Penokee Hills, where test drilling for a controversial open pit iron mine has begun.

Particularly concerning to environmental activists, local citizens and members of the nearby Bad River Band of Ojibwe Indians were the covered faces, the hi-tech weaponry, which included fully automatic military rifles of a kind carried by special military forces, and the presence of heavily armed guards on public land. The guards turned out to be employees of Bulletproof Securities, a Scottsdale, Ariz., commando-style security company that bills itself as offering "no compromise security" to anyone who needs it. There is a lot of talk about securing your assets and taking control of risks, but not much — or any — about recognizing free speech protections or public lands.

Shortly after the guards were encountered in the woods, and after concerned citizens raised questions about the situation, Bulletproof was forced to leave the area because it had not applied for the proper permits to carry firearms in Wisconsin. G-TAC, the mining company, said the armed guards were necessary after a June incident occurred between mine employees and protestors. Protestors confronted the employees, allegedly stealing a phone camera, removing bolts from a piece of machinery and shouting at them for beginning the test drill process. One of the protestors has now been charged with theft of the cell phone.

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