Crushing Dissent in Atlanta: The Weaponization of RICO Against Protesters

In an era when grassroots movements are on the rise, Atlanta’s “Stop Cop City” movement finds itself in the crosshairs of an audacious power play. A whopping 61 individuals have been indicted under Georgia’s RICO law in what many see as an attempt to stifle protest and criminalize community solidarity.

For the uninitiated, this movement has been vocal against a massive 85-acre, $90 million police training facility, arguing that it would further militarize the police and deprive the local community of valuable resources. The indictment describes this diverse and decentralized movement as a “militant anarchist” enterprise, pulling in vague references to the global protests against racial police violence in 2020. What’s alarming is the lumping of these disparate activists under the broad and sinister label of an organized criminal enterprise.

But wait, it gets wilder.

The indictment serves up a buffet of confusion. In one corner, it has whole pages talking about “anarchist” ideas like something out of a right-wing wiki. The “evidence”? The presence of “zines” – essentially homemade magazines – in the protest site. Yeah, you read that right. DIY magazines are now being framed as incriminating proof. And in another corner, the document accuses activists of supporting each other – emotionally, financially, and mentally. As if mutual aid and caring for your community are crimes. Micah Herskind, an activist associated with the movement, hit the nail on the head: The authorities seem to have a problem with community-led solidarity that operates outside of the government’s oversight.

Among those indicted, there’s a legal observer from the Southern Poverty Law Center (just doing their job, mind you) and even three folks who handed out flyers to remember a fallen activist, “Tortuguita.” The prosecutors seem to be keen on presenting any form of resistance, no matter how benign or constitutionally protected, as part of a large-scale criminal conspiracy.

The list goes on, with defendants being charged on the basis of being active on anonymous message boards or, get this, exchanging minor funds for camp supplies. The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which supports protesters, saw this coming miles away. Their forewarning? The state was spinning a narrative where protest is synonymous with crime.

What’s more, while this colossal indictment is flying around, there’s no concrete evidence presented in court. Attorney General Chris Carr, the Republican behind this, has a track record. Remember when he indicted Trump and his pals over Georgia’s election results? Yeah, same guy. His latest statement? “Looking the other way when violence occurs is not an option in Georgia.” But, hold up – since when did activism become equivalent to violence?

The local Democrat prosecutor, Sherry Boston, had her doubts about these cases, opting to step back. For many, this felt like a red flag about the nature of these charges.

Let’s not miss the larger picture. At the heart of this, beyond the legal wrangles and the state’s attempts at suppression, is a forest. A beloved forest that the community doesn’t want destroyed for yet another police facility. And while the legal battles rage on, activists hold on to a glimmer of hope – the majority of such mass arrest charges often don’t stand up in court.

The message is clear from activist communities and groups like the Center for Popular Democracy: The fight against Cop City represents a battle for free speech and the right to dissent.

And maybe, just maybe, Atlanta’s voters will get the final word on whether their forest becomes the next “public safety” training facility. If anything, this saga serves as a stark reminder: Never underestimate the lengths those in power will go to in order to silence the voice of the people.