Tobacco farmer wants plight to be told

WASHINGTON - Farmer Dwight W. Watson surrendered to federal authorities shortly before noon EST Wednesday, ending a nearly two-day standoff in the nation's Capitol. The North Carolina tobacco farmer just wanted to make people aware of the plight he and other farmers are facing, said a neighbor and fellow farmer.

Dressed in military fatigues and a helmet with a red cross on it, Dwight W. Watson, 50, of Whitakers, N.C., reportedly hauled his John Deere tractor on a flatbed trailer behind a Jeep on Monday from Nash County, N.C., to Washington.

He hopped a curb and the Jeep plowed into a shallow pond near the Reflecting Pool in an area known as Constitution Garden, between the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The area is about a mile from the White House. He then got out of his Jeep, got in the tractor and drove it into a shallow pond about 3 feet deep. The Washington Post quoted unidentified sources as saying Watson claimed to be carrying explosives.

The Vietnam War veteran, whom neighbors say “loves his country and loves farming,” continued to hold authorities at bay through Wednesday morning. Watson had remained in the tractor from 12:30 p.m. Monday. Agents with the FBI, Secret Service, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Parks Police Department surrounded the tractor.

Sharpshooters from various agencies had guns trained on the man throughout the day. At one time, six blocks of Constitution Avenue and Virginia Street were sealed off. The timing of the action was unfortunate as the Department of Homeland Security Monday raised the terrorism alert to orange, indicating a high risk of attacks nationwide.

“Dwight is not a violent man, but he wants his case and the plight of farmers heard,” says Sammy Tant, a Rocky Mount, N.C., farmer. “He loves his country and he loves farming. And he’s willing to die for his cause. He told police he wasn’t coming out until his case was heard. He said he needed to tell our problems and his problems. It’s unfortunate he did it this way.”

Watson had reportedly been turned down for a loan or refinancing at a local bank. Tant says he received a call from a FBI agent on Tuesday who was calling from the Washington, D.C., law firm that had been hired to speak with authorities on Watson’s behalf. Tant was in contact with Tim and Kay Fisher, Watson’s next-door neighbors. The Fishers had been in contact with Watson via cell phone. The Fishers could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“Kay (Fisher) said he told her that it’s wrong that a farmer in this country isn’t able to make a living,” Tant says.

Tant, who along with five other eastern North Carolina farmers met with the state’s commissioner of agriculture and others in early March, says some 30 to 50 percent of the state’s farmers risk going out of business because they can’t get refinanced for the fast-approaching planting season.

“Dwight has a lot to say and understands how we’ve been mistreated,” Tant says.

Watson’s’ tractor had signs that read, “God Bless Our Troops” and “Salute to Veterans.” Watson played recordings of military exercise cadences, according to published reports.

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