- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The tobacco farmer dubbed the “tractor man” was sentenced yesterday to six years in prison by a judge who told him that he terrified people when he said he had explosives and brought traffic in downtown Washington to a standstill for nearly two days.

“The city regarded you as a one-man weapon of mass destruction,” said U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, before ordering Dwight Ware Watson to serve two concurrent 72 month terms in federal prison.

The judge gave Watson 15 months credit for time spent in custody since his arrest.

Watson, 51, of Whitakers, N.C., was handed the prison time for his conviction on charges of making a false threat to detonate explosives and destruction of federal property.

On March 17, 2003, Watson had a legal permit to distribute literature describing the plight of the nation’s tobacco farmers. But as he approached the Washington Monument, he veered into a shallow pond at Constitution Gardens near the monument and began a 47-hour standoff with police.

He claimed to have “organophosphate bombs” in a metal box mounted on a trailer he towed onto the Mall. Police negotiators interpreted that as a threat against people and nearby monuments. They closed streets and restricted traffic in the area over four consecutive rush hours — backing up traffic downtown and into Northern Virginia.

“You did terrify the people of this city,” said Judge Jackson, characterizing Watson’s actions as “an illegitimate attempt to justify a legitimate grievance.”

The incident began on the same day that the Department of Homeland Security elevated the terror threat level to orange — three days before the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“The monuments, in particular, were at risk and vulnerable to attack,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay I. Bratt, who prosecuted the case.

The attack on the Pentagon and the anthrax letters that killed two postal workers in 2001 and the sniper attacks in 2002 have left residents in the region extremely sensitive to such threats, Mr. Bratt said.

According to court records, the standoff cost federal and local authorities $2 million, primarily in police overtime. Thousands of commuters were inconvenienced, and access to several major government buildings was restricted for three days.

“My actions were totally uncalled for, totally unacceptable and totally wrong,” said Watson, who apologized repeatedly during his sentencing.

The down-and-out tobacco farmer blamed his problems on changes in state and federal tobacco policy and the $200 billion multistate tobacco settlement, both of which have left many tobacco farmers financially destitute.

“In Dwight’s mind, the tobacco companies and the farmers are being held hostage,” said George Watson Jr., 58, of Mebane, N.C., who visited his brother four times during a recent 45-day mental evaluation at a federal corrections hospital in Butner, N.C.

For more than a century, Watson’s family grew tobacco on as much as 1,500 acres of North Carolina farmland. At the time of his arrest, Watson was farming just a few dozen acres and was threatened with foreclosure.

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