- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

SILVER SPRING, MD. (AP) - A man upset with the Discovery Channel’s environmental programming took several people hostage at gunpoint at the company’s headquarters Wednesday while wearing canisters strapped to his body, officials said.

Police were negotiating by phone with the gunman, who burst into the suburban Washington building about 1 p.m. waving a handgun.

The gunman took what Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger described as a “small number of hostages” but he did not say how many. He also did not say what the man wanted or whether anyone was hurt. Police had not confirmed whether the canisters were explosives.

Manger said most of the 1,900 people who work in the building were able to get out safely.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing said authorities have identified James J. Lee as the likely suspect.

A different official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said Lee previously protested outside the building, where he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in February 2008, according to court records.

Police reports indicate he paid homeless people to join his protest and carry signs outside the building. He gave one individual $1,000 for what he considered a prize winning essay.

At one point, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered around Lee, 43, who referred to money as “just trash” and began throwing fistfuls of it into the air.

At the trial, The Gazette of Montgomery County reported, he said he began working to save the planet after being laid off from his job in San Diego. He said he was inspired by “Ishmael,” a novel by environmentalist Daniel Quinn and by former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

A website registered to Lee criticized Discovery and announced plans for the protest in January 2008: “These guys have been very sneaky and deceptive as to their contribution to the planetary problems. Just look at their ‘new’ show about saving the planet, ‘Planet Green,’ to me, it’s just another show about more PRODUCTS to make MONEY, not about actual solutions. We can’t let them get away with doing it anymore.”

Discovery Communications Inc. operates cable and satellite networks in the U.S., including The Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. Discovery shows include “Cash Cab” and “Man vs. Wild,” and TLC airs “American Chopper” and “Kate Plus Eight.”

Animal Planet also airs the controversial series “Whale Wars,” about attempts by environmentalists to disrupt the Japanese whaling industry.

After Lee’s arrest, a magistrate ordered a doctor’s evaluation, but court records do not immediately indicate the result. Lee was convicted by a jury and served two weeks in jail. He was also ordered to stay 500 feet away from Discovery headquarters.

Manger said most people made it out of the building safely Wednesday, though some might have still been stuck on the top floors.

Adam Dolan, a sales director in Discovery’s education division, told The Associated Press by phone that he was heading to lunch with a co-worker when he heard there was a situation in the building.

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