Jury Hears Farmer's Warning in Standoff
Park Police Acted Cautiously After Threat to Detonate a Bomb
By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2003; Page B01
Tobacco farmer Dwight W. Watson warned federal authorities that he had a bomb on his tractor during a 47-hour siege on the Mall in March, saying, "we are going to see the smoke" if they didn't back off, a federal jury was told yesterday.
Watson, who talked with police by cell phone during the standoff, threatened to detonate a bomb or start shooting if authorities approached his tractor. The conversations were tape-recorded and played for the jury yesterday, as Watson went on trial in U.S. District Court on felony charges.
The tapes offer new perspective into the decision by U.S. Park Police and other federal authorities to treat the tobacco farmer from North Carolina with extreme caution. They closed nearby streets to traffic, shut down some government offices and eventually negotiated a peaceful surrender.
In one conversation, Watson, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, told a Park Police sergeant that he wanted to talk with former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. "He's my hero, man," Watson declared. "He's a Navy SEAL. . . . But I got to talk to him on national TV live. I ain't going to talk to him just on the phone."
In another conversation with the same officer, he said he had bombs "on this damn tractor, and if y'all don't back away from Washington, D.C., in 82 hours and get 82nd Airborne Division up here and get the damn farmers up here, we are going to see the smoke."
Watson, 50, a fifth-generation tobacco farmer from Whitakers, N.C., never got to talk with Ventura, and the 82nd Airborne did not parachute onto the Mall, as he had requested. He has been in custody since he surrendered March 19 and is facing charges of making threats about explosives and destroying government property.
He has said he wanted to bring attention to the plight of farmers like himself who he contended were in financial trouble because of government policies. Watson also said he wanted to make a public case about the danger of pesticides.
If convicted, Watson could face up to 10 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Bratt told jurors in opening statements yesterday that every citizen has a right to speak freely and try to change the government, but that Watson had gone way too far.
Watson, who was acting as his own attorney, directed his opening trial remarks to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, saying the charges against him were incorrect and that his rights had been violated by police after his arrest.
But the judge told him that a grand jury had issued the charges and that he was "properly on trial." Jackson then asked Watson if he wanted to make an opening presentation, and Watson replied, "I just did."
Minutes later, Watson decided against continuing to represent himself. He agreed to let Erica J. Hashimoto, a lawyer for the Federal Public Defenders Office who had been aiding him, take over.
Hashimoto portrayed Watson as a someone concerned about the well-being of the public, particularly when it came to pesticides.
She told the jury that Watson was concerned that children were getting sick from pesticide products that were being sold beside toys by a major retailer.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Tapes played in court revealed that Dwight Watson said he had "two cans of Raid... [an] organophosphate bomb."
Farmer's Future In Judge's Hands (The Washington Post, Mar 3, 2004)
Farmer's Explosive? A Bug Bomb (The Washington Post, Sep 26, 2003)
Trial Opens Today For Tractor Driver In D.C. Standoff (The Washington Post, Sep 17, 2003)
Judge Declines to Free Farmer Pending Trial (The Washington Post, Jun 26, 2003)
Farmer Disrupts Hearing on Mall Standoff (The Washington Post, Mar 26, 2003)
Farmer Deemed Fit for Trial (The Washington Post, Mar 22, 2003)
Farmer Told Police to Evacuate District (The Washington Post, Mar 21, 2003)
Unhappy Man Grabs the Spotlight (The Washington Post, Mar 20, 2003)
Patience Paid Off, Police Say (The Washington Post, Mar 20, 2003)
Mall Standoff Fuels Evacuation Fears (The Washington Post, Mar 19, 2003)
N.C. Man Made Trip of Last Resort (The Washington Post, Mar 19, 2003)
Park Police Avoid Pushing Incident To a Violent End (The Washington Post, Mar 19, 2003)
Farmer Says He'll Give Up Thursday if He Gets Respect (The Washington Post, Mar 19, 2003)
Tractor Driver In Standoff With Police on Mall (The Washington Post, Mar 18, 2003)