Tractor standoff continues on Mall

By SARAH COFFEY and OMAR MELHEM  |  March 18, 2003 at 3:29 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- A North Carolina tobacco farmer who drove a tractor onto the National Mall said today that he has explosives but does not intend to harm anyone.

Dwight Ware Watson told the Washington Post that he came to Washington on a "mission" to get a message to the American public that he and other tobacco farmers are being forced out of business by unfair government policies. He also said he is against war in Iraq.

"I'm going to get my message out or die trying," he said in a telephone call he made to The Washington Post.

"I don't give a damn no more," he told the Post. "If this is the way America will be run, the hell with it. I'm out of here. I will not surrender. They can blow my ass out of the water. I'm ready to go to heaven."

National Park Police said they are unsure whether Watson, 50, of Whitakers, N.C., actually has explosives.

Yesterday he drove a military-type jeep over a curb off Constitution Avenue around noon yesterday into an area known as Constitution Gardens.

"We're working through dialogue to get a resolution," said Sgt. Scott Fear, a spokesman with the U.S. Park Police.

Watson moved his tractor once at 11 a.m. but no further activity was reported. Police continued to negotiate with Watson via cell phone throughout the afternoon.

Park Police officers, D.C. police officers, FBI and ATF agents and secret service have surrounded the man and set up a perimeter around the scene, including the closure of a number of buildings.

"We are being very patient with the individual, but we would like this to come to a conclusion," he said.

Watson, a former military policeman in the 82nd Airborne in the mid-1970s, told the Post the explosives are in the tractor or jeep, and that he has plenty of food and water.

Watson towed a tractor onto the Mall about noon Monday, drove the first vehicle into a pond and then drove the tractor off a trailer.

Wearing military fatigues and a helmet with a red cross on it, he drove the jeep onto a grassy area and into a shallow pond. He began playing music and speaking through a loudspeaker and was waving an American flag, police said.

Painted on the green John Deere tractor were the messages "God Bless the Troops" and "Salute to Veterans."

Morning commuters faced gridlock around the Washington area as police cordoned off streets and buildings down Constitution Avenue from 15th to 23rd Streets. Authorities closed buildings between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Federal Reserve Board, and the South Annex of the Department of the Interior are closed. The State Department, the main building of the Department of the Interior, and the Office of Personnel Management are open only to pedestrian traffic. The National Academy of Sciences, a private nonprofit organization near the State Department, remained open to pedestrians.

The traffic nightmare continued throughout the day, creating even more tension among residents already on edge by government warnings of terrorist attacks on the city. Washington and New York City are considered the nation's top two terrorist targets.

Howard Perry, 60, a tour bus driver, said the traffic led to a bus full of disappointed children. His bus, full of Alabama school children was scheduled to see the White House, but the roads were closed. After several unsuccessful detours the children headed back to their hotel rooms.

"We live in the nation's capital but can't get one truck driver out of here, but we're going to try to get rid of Saddam in Iraq," he said.

Tyler Swenor, 24, an engineer from Bethesda, MD, usually drives in to his downtown firm. He didn't even attempt the commute today. "I took the Metro to work because I heard the traffic was terrible," he said.

Francis Allen, 38, lives in Arlington and works at the World Bank. A regular Metro rider, she said she wasn't at all inconvenienced by the traffic slowdown. "It wasn't so bad. We just had to wait for two Metro trains and I got on the third one," she said.

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