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Rich Executives Spend Millions For Bodyguards To Guard Them From Populist Anger

Meet World Protection Group Inc.'s private bodyguards, the latest trend in corporate spending.
 
 
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The following article first appeared in  Mother Jones. For more great content from Mother Jones, sign up for their  free email updates here.

The Primary, tall and flinty with a graying goatee, has decided he's in the mood for shopping, a development that's got David Perez all worked up. I'm sitting with Perez in a Chevy Silverado in downtown Santa Monica. A fit ex-Marine, Perez is in charge of the Primary's six-man protection detail. For 20 minutes, we've been waiting around in a grocery store parking lot, but now the Primary has parked his Porsche 911 Carrera at a shopping strip nearly a mile away. Though Perez already has three "countersurveillance" experts on the scene, he's antsy to join them. His client has a stalker, whom one of the team members had spotted earlier. The Silverado crawls through glacial traffic. "You're driving like an old lady!" Perez barks. "Catch the green!"

Perez and his partner Mike Gomez, a bodyguard resembling The Sopranos' Silvio, finally track down their client at a Barnes & Noble. Two of the countersurveillance guys go back to scouting for menaces, while Perez and Gomez, both of whom are trained sharpshooters and martial-arts experts, step in as the Primary's "close protection" team. Shoppers stare at the entourage, straining to recognize someone famous.

The men form a barrier around their client as he stops to watch a street-magic act, browses racks at Armani Exchange, wanders in and out of a Hooters and past a Gap. And that's when everything goes haywire. The stalker sprints around a corner, trailed by one of the countersurveillance guys. He lunges at the entourage. Gomez wraps the Primary in his beefy arms and yanks him away. The other agent intercepts the assailant mid-lunge and pins him against the wall with his elbows. "He's out of play," says the Primary. The agent and the stalker untangle their arms and laugh.

The entire scenario was a training drill staged by the World Protection Group Inc., an executive protection company with offices in Beverly Hills, New York, and Mexico City. The man playing the Primary, not a real CEO but a former Secret Service agent and narc, asked that I not use his name because, he says, he often works undercover in Mexico. Earlier that morning, he had lectured a group of trainees—WPG employees and freelancers shelling out $575 for the session—about the wide, wide world of corporate security: "You are going to find yourself in places six months or a year from now that you never thought you would get to," he said. On a screen behind him, a well-dressed couple strolled from a Learjet to a Jaguar, framed by a neon sunset.

There are no reliable numbers on the growth of executive protection (EP), but the experts I spoke with say it has expanded at a rapid clip since the 1980s, with dozens of new players breaking into the game. That happens to be the same period during which the top 1 percent of US earners nearly tripled their annual income (PDF). More than a few of them, it seems, have felt compelled to hire men with guns.

I sat down with Kent Moyer, WPG's founder and CEO, in his cramped office. Moyer is trim, balding, and middle-aged. He got into private security back in the early '90s, serving a five-year stint as a bodyguard for Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. "I could write a book on just the things that I saw," he told me, "but I get paid not to write that book." He was hired, he says, because he could knock heads; he'd placed fourth in the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-do Federation championship and later trained with Steven Seagal in aikido. For a while, he played B-movie villains, like a neo-Nazi in 1994's Femme Fontaine: Killer Babe for the CIA.