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The Georgia Attorney General’s office just unsealed charges against 61 people claimed to be involved in a criminal conspiracy as part of the Atlanta “Stop Cop City” movement. This case shows that prosecutors are all too eager to use the sweeping powers conferred on them under Georgia’s recently-established RICO statute. The charges against the defendants include racketeering, domestic terrorism, money laundering, and charity fraud.
Stop Cop City is a series of protests intended to stop construction of a police and fire department training facility on 85 acres which had served as a recreational area near a poor black area. Stop Cop City included a Stop Cop City Vote coalition seeing a referendum to overturn the lease for the planned facilities.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has filed RICO Act violation charges against protesters fighting to stop the construction of the police training facility known as “Cop City” in Atlanta’s South River Forest.
The charges of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations were filed Tuesday, Sept. 5, in Fulton County Superior Court, with 61 people named. In a statement announcing the indictment, the AG’s office alleged that the defendants “have conspired together to prevent the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center by conducting, coordinating, and organizing acts of violence, intimidation, and property destruction” in Georgia and other states.
The RICO charges mark another significant increase in pressure from state officials looking to crack down on those advocating against the the $90 million, 85-acre police training facility. As the Atlanta Community Press Collective — a local group covering the Stop Cop City movement and other autonomous groups — noted on Twitter, many of the people charged with RICO Act violations were previously hit with domestic terrorism charges earlier this year over their opposition to Cop City.
Additionally, money laundering charges have been brought against organizers of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which helps arrested protesters with jail support and legal representation. And capping it all off, the ACPC noted that three people indicted on RICO charges were previously arrested for merely passing out flyers earlier this year.
In a statement shared with Rolling Stone, the Cop City Vote coalition slammed Georgia AG Chris Carr and the RICO charges, calling them “blatantly authoritarian.” They further accused the State of Georgia of trying to “intimidate protestors, legal observers, and bail funds alike, and send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government.”
“The Cop City Vote coalition strongly condemns these anti-democratic charges,” the statement adds. “We will not be intimidated by power-hungry strongmen, whether in City Hall or the Attorney General’s office. Chris Carr may try to use his prosecutors and power to build his gubernatorial campaign and silence free speech, but his threats will not silence our commitment to standing up for our future, our community, and our city.”
In the sweeping indictment released Tuesday, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr alleged the defendants are “militant anarchists” who supported a violent movement that prosecutors trace to the widespread 2020 racial justice protests.
The Aug. 29 indictment is the latest application of the state’s anti-racketeering law, also known as a RICO law, and comes just weeks after the Fulton County prosecutor used the statute to charge former President Donald Trump and 18 other defendants.
The “Stop Cop City” effort has gone on for more than two years and at times veered into vandalism and violence. Opponents fear the training center will lead to greater militarization of the police, and that its construction in an urban forest will exacerbate environmental damage in a poor, majority-Black area.
Why it matters: The charges in Fulton County Superior Court are the most serious and wide-ranging legal challenges against the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement.
- This coincides with activists’ attempts to mount a campaign that aims to force a referendum on the future of the police and fire academies, which they derisively call “Cop City.”
Driving the news: The 109-page indictment follows charges filed in May against three Atlanta residents who operate the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a charity fund that pays bail and provides legal defense to protesters.
Many press outlets have pointed out that the grand jury for this indictment was the same one that indicted Trump.
You can read the filing here.1 In this blogger’s humble opinion, the language is troubling overheated. There is also a lot of text depicting the activists as anarchists and describing how deplorable anarchists are. The filing also claims the effort was part of the George Floyd protests and asserts that the members threw Molotov cocktails, but other accounts said no evidence of any violent action was presented to the grand jury. However, Daily Mail has some photos of small fires at the site and a video of fireworks being set off at one of the gates that got police to back off out of fear of injury.
The best one-stop shopping on the case comes from the Atlanta Community Press Collective, which is seeking pro-bono representation for the defendants. It notes that the indictment includes a Southern Poverty Law Center employee who was at the protests in the capacity of a legal observer and wearing a jacket that marked him as such.
The Atlanta Community Press Collective also pointed out that the relevant county DA withdrew from the case, signaling that she regarded the state attorney general as engaging in overreach:
In June, DeKalb County DA Sherry Boston announced that her office was withdrawing from the prosecution of 42 cases related to the Stop Cop City Movement. “It is clear to both myself and the Attorney General that we have fundamentally different prosecution philosophies,” Boston told WABE’s Rose Scott.
Boston stated she did not believe charges would hold up against all the protesters and said her office would “only proceed on cases that I believe I can make beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Boston’s departure from the action substantiates the idea that this filing is a prosecutorial abuse. It takes time and money to get out of criminal charges, spurious or not. And defendants’ names are likely to come up in Internet searches, tainting their future employment prospects.
The Atlanta Community Press Collective added:
Three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund who were arrested and charged with charity fraud in May are also included in the indictments. The 109-page indictment filing broadly paints the Solidarity Fund organizers as the center of the RICO conspiracy, blaming the three for every post to website scenes.noblogs.org, reimbursing indicted and unindicted alleged co-conspirators for various supplies. In addition to RICO charges, each of the three Solidarity Fund organizers have also been charged with 15 counts of money laundering from transactions dating back to Jan. 12, 2022, for as little as $11.91 for the purchase of glue.
All 43 individuals previously charged with domestic terrorism are listed in the indictment. Other indicted individuals include three who were arrested in April while allegedly passing out flyers with the names of the Georgia State Patrol officers who killed environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran in January; five arrested for criminal trespass in the Weelaunee Forest in May 2022; and at least three arrested in Cobb County protesting construction company Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractors for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center construction project.
Needless to say, Twitterati are correct to sounding the red alert about this lawsuit:
When the state hands down RICO charges for passing out Stop Cop City fliers and bailing people out, and the date of George Floyds murder is on the indictments, they’re telling you that this about a limitless police state where cops can act with impunity and resistance is illegal.
— Stop Cop City (@JoshuaPHilll) September 5, 2023
— Josh (@Josh_Lingsch) September 5, 2023
The state is using the day of George Floyd’s murder as the date on all indictments. This predates any #StopCopCity activities.
This should tell exactly what the reason is behind these charges. Especially since they want to build cop city to prepare for the next mass uprisings. https://t.co/kSMcLpYnWp
— People's City Council – Los Angeles (@PplsCityCouncil) September 5, 2023
Not a happy day for what passes for democracy in America.
1 Note I was unable to embed the PDF from the filing, which in my file system showed as only a bit bigger than the maximum upload size permitted by WordPress. I repeatedly tried all sorts of methods to shrink it and the AG’s office looks to have installed some nasty code. When I used compression tools. tried generating a pdf from a print version and went to compress that, or even just tried extracting only the meat of the filing, the file size got much larger. I have never encountered anything remotely like this before. If any reader can succeed in compressing the file to below 1.8 MB (to allow for WordPress eccentricity and a margin of error) and mail it to me at yves-at-nakedcapitalism.com with “Stop Cop” in the headline, I would very much appreciate it and will embed the document.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Tim H, we now can embed the filing.00 CRIMINAL INDICTMENT120