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Farmer convicted in tractor protest

By Associated Press
Published September 27, 2003

WASHINGTON - The tobacco farmer whose protest on the National Mall caused massive gridlock in the capital in March was convicted Friday of two federal felony charges.

Dwight Watson, 50, of Whitakers, N.C., was convicted of making a false threat to detonate explosives and of destroying federal property. Each count could carry a prison sentence of as long as 10 years.

The jury, which deliberated barely an hour, found that Watson had inflicted more than $1,000 in damage when he drove across Constitution Gardens and dug up part of a small island in a shallow pond between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

His protest - he had a permit to demonstrate against tobacco policies he contended had ruined him financially - triggered a 47-hour standoff with police that led to huge traffic jams as commuters backed up in downtown Washington and Northern Virginia.

Watson had testified that he had merely engaged in civil disobedience and that he had told police he had an "organophosphate bomb" in a box. For two days, Watson held police at bay with what turned out to be a pair of aerosol cans of Raid insecticide.

"Organophosphates are not explosives, cans of Raid are not explosives," Assistant Public Defender Erica Hashimoto argued. "Cans of Raid are bug bombs."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Bratt told jurors, "It is the practice of bomb technicians everywhere to treat the statement "I have a bomb' as though it is serious."

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