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Bizarre stand-off snarls DC

Park Police unsure if farmer has explosives, but close streets and buildings for third day.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | WASHINGTON | March 18, 2003


"We are working toward a peaceful solution."

—Sgt. Scott Fear, U S Park Police


A bizarre standoff between more than 100 police and a man on a John Deere tractor began its third day Wednesday, closing several Federal buildings and snarling traffic all over the city.

Various press accounts said the man claimed to have explosives. Although officials would not confirm those reports, they were not taking any chances, said Sgt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police.

Police would not identify the man, but the Washington Post identified him as Dwight Watson, a tobacco farmer from Whitakers, NC who is allegedly upset about declining government subsidies.

The standoff began about noon Monday, when the man drove a Jeep -- as well a trailer holding a farm tractor and a motorcycle -- into a pond in Constitution Gardens, near the Washington Monument and the Vietnam War Memorial. The man then left the Jeep, started up the tractor and drove it into the pond.

Mason, wearing a miliary helmet and T-shirt covered with patches and badges, was photographed waving an upside-down American flag. His tractor bears two signs which read: "Salute to Veterans" and "God Bless the Troops."

Fear said police were communicating with Mason by cellphone and bullhorn. He would not say why Mason came to D.C. or what he wanted.

"We are working toward a peaceful solution," Fear said.

Commuters and public officials, already on edge because of the hightened security alerts, said they were concerned that the chaos caused by the incident shows the city will have trouble with evacuations if a terrorist incident occurs.


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