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Seven protesters arrested at Blackwater's headquarters


By BILL SIZEMORE, Virginian-Pilot

MOYOCK, N.C. -- Seven people were arrested Saturday at Blackwater Worldwide’s front entrance after protesters re-enacted the Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad involving Blackwater contractors in which 17 Iraqis died.

It was the first protest at the 10-year-old private military company’s headquarters, a reflection of its heightened profile since the Baghdad shootings stirred Iraqi anger and created a diplomatic crisis for Blackwater’s client, the U.S. State Department.

The protesters drove a small gray station wagon, covered with simulated bullet holes and smeared with red paint, onto Blackwater’s property. One lay back in the driver’s seat and five others got out and lay on the ground, as if they had been shot.

The scene was intended to mimic that in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where an Iraqi doctor and her son died in a fusillade of gunfire as their car approached a Blackwater diplomatic convoy.

The protesters also smeared red handprints on two Blackwater signs.

Currituck County sheriff’s deputies, called to the scene by Blackwater guards, told the protesters they were on private property and asked them to leave. When they didn’t respond, they were handcuffed and placed in a sheriff’s van. Some went limp and had to be dragged.

A crowd of about 50 more protesters who had gathered along the adjacent public road cheered as the seven were driven away. The group carried signs with slogans such as “Bring Blackwater to Justice,” “Security Contractors are Unlawful Combatants” and “Blackwater: Shoot First, Ask No Questions.”

The six re-enactors arrested were Steve Baggarly of Norfolk; Beth Brockman of Durham, N.C.; Mark Colville of New Haven, Conn.; Peter DeMott of Ithaca, N.Y.; Laura Marks of Ayden, N.C.; and Bill Streit of Louisa County, Va. They were charged with second-degree trespassing, injury to real property and resisting arrest.

A seventh protester, Mary Grace of Madison County, Va., was arrested after the re-enactment when she walked onto Blackwater’s property and knelt on the pavement. She was charged with second-degree trespassing.

The protest was organized by the Norfolk Catholic Worker and Blackwater Watch, an activist group based in Durham, N.C.

Christian Stalberg, a spokesman for Blackwater Watch, said the group’s aim is to “shut down Blackwater.”

“It’s an unmitigated disaster,” he said. “They’re irresponsible and totally unaccountable.”

DeMott, who described himself as a Vietnam War veteran, said he was willing to risk arrest because “not to raise my voice would be to tacitly condone Blackwater and its murderous activities.”

Blackwater has said its security contractors reacted appropriately to an insurgent ambush on Sept. 16. The Iraqi government says the shootings were unprovoked and that those killed were innocent civilians.

Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said of the protest: “People who haven’t seen any findings from the FBI investigation that’s under way are rushing to judgment and doing so, apparently, in violation of some laws.”

After the protesters dispersed, the station wagon was towed away and the red handprints on Blackwater’s bear-claw logo sign were painted over. The other defaced sign was taken down.

Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276,

bill.sizemore@pilotonline.com

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