McCarthyism is back, and it’s coming for the peace movementAugust 10, 2023
Woody Kaplan: Troublemaker with a Heart of GoldSeptember 26, 2023
Defending Rights & Dissent condemns the RICO indictments leveled against 61 forest defenders, racial justice activists, and community organizers as a tool intended only to repress dissent and suppress political organizing. The indictments, made public by the office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr on September 5, allege a sweeping anarchist conspiracy to damage property, commit violence, and defraud donors. Notably, the indictment includes not only Stop Cop City activists but 2020 racial justice advocates. These charges are the latest escalation in the repression of the Stop Cop City movement.
The decision to portray movement organizing as a criminal conspiracy endangers activism everywhere. The allegations linking vandalism of a police facility in 2020 – months before the Cop City project was ever proposed – with people arrested for handing out flyers and writing ACAB on a form – is an attempt to instill fear among activists building solidarity between movements. Indeed, the indictment specifically cites the use of the word solidarity, and other tactics including providing emotional support to jailed activists and sharing information about the movement through zines and press conferences, as components of a conspiracy intended to spread “virulent anarchist ideals.” The constitution protects political speech, including anarchist speech, and treating ideology as a common thread pulling together a diverse array of alleged crimes runs into constitutionally fraught territory.
At the center of the alleged conspiracy are reimbursements made by a fund managed by the parent organization of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. Georgia alleges that reimbursing camping supplies and equipment needed to resist surveillance, both of which sustained the prolonged occupation of the forest, amounted to a misdirection of donor funds towards criminal activity. Put another way, the state alleges that providing for the material needs of protesters constitutes participation in a criminal conspiracy. Further aspersions are cast about the Scenes from the Atlanta Forest website. Some posts named in the indictment merely call for weeks of action in protest – including constitutionally protected protest.
The RICO charges build on Georgia’s continued repression of the Stop Cop City movement. Since 2021, Georgia authorities have arrested activists on felony charges for as little as handing out flyers. In December, five people were arrested for domestic terrorism using a similarly overbroad statute, when it appeared that at maximum these activists could only otherwise be charged only as trespassing. In Georgia, the domestic terrorism statute requires an underlying felony. We can assume that RICO was used to fill in the gaps in existing prosecutions. The indictment further captures a clearly-marked legal observer, bail fund organizers, and people who were arrested at a music festival for wearing black and having muddy shoes. The sprawling indictment is intended to deepen existing state repression of protest, and to generate further legal problems for activists accused of a wide variety of crimes.
In the press conference announcing the charges, Attorney General Chris Carr said: “it is important to remember that these acts of violence are in response to the fact that the residents of Atlanta have rightly chosen to build a public safety center.” After stating that Atlanta had repeatedly voted on Cop City, he skipped over the City of Atlanta’s tooth and nail fight against the democratic petition push to put the project directly on the ballot. The City of Atlanta has spent over $146,000 and is engaging in signature matching processes widely criticized by civil and voting rights groups as a form of voter suppression.
Stop Cop City activists have fought against the project through every channel available, from showing up hours early to city council public comment to forest occupation and other protest strategies. With this indictment, Georgia prosecutors are attempting to use scare tactic rhetoric about anarchists to collapse the diversity of organizing around Cop City into a nefarious plot underwritten by bail fund organizers and orchestrated by propaganda-writing anarchist hardliners.
These RICO charges should be seen as an assault on organizing, free speech, and protest. From levying domestic terrorism charges to arresting people protesting on a sidewalk, Georgia has fought to silence arrested protesters, intimidate other activists, and discredit the political movement as a whole. RICO charges are merely the next step in a long march to destroy the Stop Cop City movement. But if the trajectory of the movement continues, these charges will be met with resistance and courage, as activists continue their struggle for political change, despite prosecutorial repression.
Want to read more in-depth analysis of the indictment? Read Communications Director Cody Bloomfield’s Jacobin piece here.