The Defend the Atlanta Forest movement staged a protest at the construction site of the planned police training compound known as “Cop City” on Thursday morning. The activists broke into the site and chained themselves to a bulldozer in an effort to halt construction. This action is part of ongoing efforts by the Stop Cop City protesters to prevent the construction of the facility, which would be the largest police training facility in the nation and would result in the destruction of crucial forest land in a majority Black community.
The protest holds renewed significance as it comes just two days after Georgia prosecutors announced extreme charges against 61 other movement activists. The charges, filed under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), are seen by activists as an attempt to criminalize the movement and discourage further resistance. In response, activists on the ground are choosing solidarity and standing their ground.
All five protesters, including two Unitarian Universalist clergy members, were arrested by the DeKalb County Police. The police also confiscated a drone belonging to a documentary crew attempting to film the protest, raising concerns about potential infringement on press freedoms.
The RICO indictment against the movement portrays it as a criminal enterprise, citing activities such as “mutual aid,” writing “zines,” and “collectivism” as evidence of a criminal conspiracy. Many individuals named in the indictment also face domestic terrorism charges, which activists argue are based on flimsy grounds. Some individuals facing RICO and money-laundering charges were involved in raising and distributing donations to support arrestees and provide materials for First Amendment activities.
The activists involved in Thursday’s action delivered what they called “The People’s Stop Work Order” against Cop City construction. They highlighted the undemocratic actions of the government, which has continued construction despite over 100,000 Atlanta residents signing a ballot initiative calling for a referendum on the issue.
The ongoing efforts by police, government leaders, and prosecutors to suppress the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement have been met with resistance. Activists maintain that the charges and prosecutions are meant to chill the movement and undermine its legitimacy.