The guards, who have been outfitted with camouflage and semiautomatic weapons, are employed by Arizona's Bulletproof Securities, a company that specializes in "border security" and "executive" protection and is run by an entrepreneur who also is tied to ventures in real estate and payday loans. Bulletproof's guards were initially ordered to leave the site of the planned mine July 10 after it was found they were operating without a Wisconsin license.
Gogebic Taconite, the company that hopes to operate a mine on the site has argued the heavily-armed guards were necessary because protesters who are concerned about the impact the mining would have on forests had disrupted operations and attacked equipment at the site.
After investigating whether Bulletproof was operating without a license at the site, Wisconsin's Department of Safety and Professional Services dismissed the complaints and issued a license Aug. 5. Bulletproof has argued the guards exceeded all of the license requirements and they were simply unaware they needed a specific Wisconsin license in addition to their federal credentials. Records also show Bulletproof contacted Gov. Scott Walker's (R) office to notify officials they planned to send guards to Wisconsin. The case was turned over to the Iron County District Attorney's office to determine if the guards violated any laws.
Last week, according to Wisconsin Public Radio News, Iron County District Attorney Marty Lipske said he would not pursue any charges against Bulletproof or Gogebic Taconite if they agree to have the guards monitor the site without guns. Bob Seitz, a spokesman for Gogebic Taconite, did not immediately respond to a request from TPM about whether the company planned to accept Lipske's offer.
Whether or not the guards -- and their guns -- are able to return, the future of the proposed mine is unclear. Gogebic is conducting tests to determine whether operating an iron ore mine on the site would be feasible and safe. According to the Duluth News Tribune, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have indicated they have concerns the mining and testing could release asbestos-like fibers into the air. The resources department is planning to hold a hearing about the project Aug. 15 and will be accepting public comments until Sept. 3.