September 8, 2023, New York – In response to the Georgia attorney general’s sweeping RICO charges targeting Stop Cop City/Defend the Atlanta Forest activists, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
Atlanta’s power structure has escalated its crackdown on the courageous activists opposing construction of the largest proposed police training facility in the country – the corporate-funded, militarized compound known as Cop City. With a breathtakingly political and sweeping indictment made public on Tuesday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr charged 61 activists with violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. In other words, Georgia is claiming that the diverse collection of activists, mutual aid groups, bail funds, and movements critical of unchecked policing mobilizing in the name of racial, environmental, and economic justice are engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
The absurdity of the charges doesn’t mitigate their danger: they reflect tactics used broadly to criminalize dissent and social justice activism since the first Red Scare – one of the most repressive eras in U.S. history. The activists are being sent to Fulton County Jail, whose horrific conditions have led to six deaths in the last two months alone. We stand in solidarity with these persecuted activists and with all the protesters enduring mounting state violence and repression as they seek to protect their communities and the forest from Cop City.
The RICO charges should be seen in the context of a far-reaching, long-standing effort by state and corporate power to quash protest by criminalizing it. Whatever the movement – racial justice, immigrant rights, labor, environmental, LGBTQIA+, Indigenous sovereignty, tenants rights, prison and police abolition – activists face surveillance, infiltration, censorship, harassment, brutality, police and politician-encouraged vigilantism, and, increasingly, felony charges that carry long prison sentences.
In particular, the state has used the legal arsenal of the “War on Terror” to suspend the rights of protesters and organizers for social change. While the “War on Terror” has always been domestic as well as global – the state unconstitutionally rounded up Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim after 9/11 – it has metastasized into a central means of ruling-class control over those who pose a threat to its profits and its power, especially activists from marginalized populations. Many of the 61 activists charged on Tuesday were already facing domestic terrorism charges. Like anti-terrorism statutes, RICO laws, in their vagueness and elasticity, are dangerous weapons in the hands of prosecutors and corporations bent on silencing dissent. We have seen this before: during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, for example, one of our clients, Indigenous organizer Krystal Two Bulls, faced RICO charges, and the pipeline owner sued Greenpeace for allegedly violating the RICO law. Those cases were dismissed.
The political persecution in Georgia prosecutors’ 109-page indictment is dangerous in its own right. Back when he was deploying federal agents to snatch Movement for Black Lives activists off the streets, Trump usually claimed to be confronting “Marxism.” Now, according to this indictment, the ideology driving the Cop City protesters is “militant anarchism,” which it defines poorly and demonizes. Another target of the indictment is the sharing and pooling of resources, or what activists refer to as mutual aid. For activists, mutual aid is an essential way to secure and provide for basic needs amid a political struggle; for the state of Georgia, it is evidence of a conspiracy. The indictment is a direct attack on the lifeblood of social movements: solidarity.
Prosecutors may have also revealed what truly animates this indictment: backlash against the Black-led 2020 protests triggered by the police murder of George Floyd. Activists have long maintained that Cop City, far from a scheduled, standard upgrade, is the establishment’s repressive response to the 2020 protests. Indeed, the indictment backdates the anti-Cop City effort to the 2020 protests, which happened nearly a year before plans for the police training compound were even announced. Like Cop City itself, the indictment is born of backlash, white supremacy’s response to the shock of seeing such large Black-led, multi-racial protests across the country and globe.
The ferocity of the backlash is a sign of the movement’s power. The 2020 protests scared the police and the ruling-class forces they serve. The Stop Cop City protests are doing the same, not least because they have widespread support. That is why organizers are aiming to put a referendum on the ballot: we are in a battle between democracy and plutocracy. The RICO charges will not deter the opposition to Cop City. Their defiant struggle carries on, and the Center for Constitutional Rights is proud to support it.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.