Business owners in the St. Louis, Missouri area have hired private military contractors to transport guns and gold, fearing their shops will be targeted by looters if a grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in the St. Louis County suburb of Ferguson.
"There's a lot of people that brought in a lot of money to have people secure their assets," said Stephen King, owner of Metro Shooting Supplies gun shop, a 15-minute drive from Ferguson. "Some of those people spent $10 an hour on security guards and some people have $1,000 a day private contractors."
King confirmed that gun shops in the area are hiring private military contractors to escort the transport of their guns to secure locations. A private military contractor who spoke to VICE News on condition of anonymity said that more than 300 private military contractors, or PMCs, have been contracted for work in direct response to Ferguson security concerns.
Jared Ogden, director of operations for Asymmetric Solutions, a private military contractor staffed by former special operations forces told VICE News his company was hired by businesses to transport "St. Louis-based company assets."
"We've got our hands in a bunch things" related to security in the Ferguson area, said Ogden, a former Navy SEAL who was featured on the National Geographic reality program, Survival Alaska.
"If you are a business owner and you are in the business of selling firearms and you're in an area where shops have been looted, burned down, property stolen, you now have the responsibility to society to ensure to do everything possible to make sure that those firearms do not get into the hands of the wrong people."
In August, Assymetric provided security detail to a journalist reporting on Ferguson. The group tweeted: "We've been to Baghdad, Kabul, KL, Manilla, Peshwar, Bogata. Never guessed we would deploy a high threat team in our own city."
Missouri Gold Buyers & Jewelry, the largest precious metal buyer in the state, according to the company's website, has four shops in the St. Louis area, two of which are in North St. Louis County communities neighboring Ferguson. It was one of several area businesses looted following protests over Brown's death. In August, masked men shattered one of the back windows of the diminutive shop on Kingshighway Boulevard in St. Louis and got inside, but they were unable to break into the safe, according to the shop's owner, Mike Duke.
Duke is not taking any risks this time around.
"We got everything out last week, we put it back on Monday," said Duke, who had heard the grand jury decision would be announced on a Sunday. "This weekend it's going out again. A lot of it has already been moved." Moving his product back and forth comes at quite a cost, though exactly how much he wouldn't say.
"It's costing a lot of money," he said. "The worst part is the stores that are normally are producing cash in the North County stores, for the last three months, nobody's doing business in North County. Revenue's way down. It's horrible."
Duke said he employs Cook Security, a private security and surveillance company, to provide security for his shops and has recently hired 12 additional private security guards to protect his stores, and one to escort the transport of gold, diamonds and coins from the stores to a safe location.
He noted that the dollar value of the product being moved to secure offsite locations is in the millions.
"I'm not like a pawn shop, I don't buy TVs," he said. "I have precious metals. We have a law here that whatever you buy you have to hold for five days. So all those stores had those five days worth of business there. I'm a very large buyer so that's a large amount of money."
Ogden said the business owners' concerns are understandable, especially when it comes to the potential for stolen guns on the streets.
"If certain merchandise, like firearms, got into the wrong hands, it would be a catalyst to more violence," he said.
King plans to keep his gun shop open this weekend, and is ready to defend it if need be, though he is keeping quiet about the particulars of the store's security plans.
"We're going to have to do whatever we have to do legally to defend ourselves against some type of violent threat. It wouldn't be a brain surgeon that's going to be coming to our store to attack us," he said. "We know what we're going to do but they don't know, and that's the way we want to keep it."
Follow Claire Ward on Twitter: @thementalward