Farmer's Explosive? A Bug Bomb
At Trial, N.C. Man Blames Misunderstanding for Standoff on Mall
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2003; Page A01
The fed-up farmer yesterday blamed the 47-hour standoff, the evacuations and the gridlock near the Mall in March on a colossal misunderstanding and said he was armed with nothing more than Raid Roach and Flea Fogger.
When he told police he had "organophosphate bombs" on his tractor, Dwight W. Watson explained to a jury at his trial yesterday, he meant the "bug bombs" he bought at a Wal-Mart store in North Carolina.
His comment that police would "see the smoke" if they tried to force him out? That, Watson said, was a reference to the exhaust that would trail from his tractor if he put it into gear and drove.
"I never mentioned the word 'explosives' or 'detonate,' " said the man who kept sharpshooters, SWAT units and scores of other police at bay. "I didn't come up here to hurt nobody. . . . Civil disobedience is basically what I was doing."
Giving his first public explanation in an attempt to avoid convictions on charges of making bomb threats and destroying property, Watson said he did not threaten anyone after he drove his John Deere tractor into a shallow pond at Constitution Gardens shortly after noon March 17. He peacefully surrendered March 19 and has been in custody since.
Wearing a polo shirt and baggy khaki pants, Watson spoke rapidly and with seeming self-assurance as he described his thought process throughout the siege. His testimony in U.S. District Court came after the jury had spent parts of three days listening to tapes of his many conversations with authorities during and after the emotional ordeal.
Prosecutors said the tapes show that Watson wanted police to believe he would set off a bomb even if he had just two orange cans of bug spray with him in the rig.
Watson, 50, insisted that he wanted only to call attention to the dangers of toxic pesticides and the government mistreatment of tobacco farmers and Persian Gulf War military troops. The fifth-generation tobacco farmer from Whitakers, N.C., faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The jury probably will get the case today.
The incident snarled traffic during four rush hours, led police to cordon off 10 blocks and spurred federal agencies to close some offices or give employees the option of staying home.
But Watson, formerly with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division military police at Fort Bragg, N.C., said the U.S. Park Police, FBI and D.C. police wrongly drew the worst and most nefarious conclusions from his comments. Watson was in regular cell phone contact with Park Police negotiators and made running remarks from a public address system he had hooked up to his tractor.
Before Watson took the stand, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson warned him that he would face additional obstruction of justice charges if he perjured himself.
During cross-examination, prosecutor Jay Bratt said Watson knew he was leading police on and was glad to get the full attention of the government that he felt had ignored him.
"At no time did you say [to police], 'Hey, you don't need all these people. You're overreacting,' " Bratt told Watson. "Isn't it correct to say you were happy to let law enforcement assume the worst about what you had on the tractor?"
Watson disagreed: "No, sir, I was not happy about that. I can't control what somebody's going to assume."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Courtroom sketch of Dwight Watson.
(Sketch by William J. Hennessy Jr.)
Complaint: U.S. v. Watson (PDF)
Farmer's Future In Judge's Hands (The Washington Post, Mar 3, 2004)
Jury Hears Farmer's Warning in Standoff (The Washington Post, Sep 23, 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)