FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - Sixty-one people have been indicted in Georgia on racketeering charges following a long-running state investigation into protests against a proposed police and firefighter training facility in the Atlanta area that critics call "Cop City."
In the sweeping indictment, prosecutors allege the defendants are "militant anarchists" who have supported a violent movement that prosecutors trace to the widespread 2020 racial justice protests. The Aug. 29 indictment under the state’s racketeering law, also known as a RICO law, was released by Fulton County officials on Tuesday and was brought by Republican Attorney General Chris Carr.
Prosecutors normally use racketeering laws to target gangsters. Carr identified the defendants as members of "Defend the Atlanta Forest," which Carr identified as an extremist group. The 109-page indictment, accused the defendants of committing arson and damaging property in Atlanta and in other locations around the nation. Carr said the majority of the people indicted are from out of state.
"The 61 defendants together have conspired to prevent the construction of the Atlanta public-safety training center by conducting, coordinating and organizing acts of violence, intimidation and property destruction," Carr said.
The "Stop Cop City" effort has gone on for more than two years, and at times veered into vandalism and violence. Opponents say they fear the Atlanta-area training center will lead to greater militarization of the police and that its construction will exacerbate environmental damage in a poor, majority-Black area.
The majority of those indicted were already facing charges stemming from their alleged involvement in the movement. More than three dozen people face domestic terrorism charges in connection to violent protests. Three leaders of a bail fund have been accused of money laundering. And three activists were charged with felony intimidation after authorities said they distributed flyers calling a state trooper a "murderer" for his involvement in the fatal shooting of an environmental protester in the woods.
In linking the defendants to the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors have made a huge series of allegations. That includes everything from possessing fire accelerant and throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers, to being reimbursed for glue and food for the activists who spent months camping in the woods near the construction site.
Activists leading an ongoing referendum effort against the project immediately condemned the charges, calling them "anti-democratic."
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced 61 people have been indicted on racketeering charges following a long-running state investigation into protests against a proposed police and firefighter training facility in the Atlanta area that critics
"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," the Cop City Vote coalition said in a statement.
Real trouble began in May 2022 when several protestors were arrested after reportedly throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers.
More protesters were arrested in December after they allegedly threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs at nearby fire stations.
On Jan. 18, Georgia State Patrol troopers shot Manuel "Tortugita" Teran while clearing an activist camp at the site of the future safety training center.
After his death, a protest turned violent, and a police car was set on fire and protesters broke windows at several businesses. Five people were arrested that night.
Twenty-three people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after a violent clash between police and protesters in March.
Three people who helped organize protests were arrested in May and charged with money laundering and charity fraud.
Another person was also arrested in June after protesters threw rotten meat outside an Atlanta bank.
There haven't been any protests lately, but a group of opponents is trying to put the plans for the center on the ballot. They have been trying to collect the signatures needed -- almost 60,000.
The Atlanta City Council approved the training center in 2021, saying a state-of-the-art campus would replace substandard offerings and boost police morale, which is beset by hiring and retention struggles in the wake of violent nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the summer of 2020.
Activists nationwide have joined the protest movement, arguing that the 85-acre center would train officers to become more militarized and quell dissent, all while hundreds of trees are cut down, worsening flooding and climate change.
The city tasked the private Atlanta Police Foundation with building the complex, promising to pay $67 million over time. The remainder of the $90 million complex would come from private funds. Foundation work is ongoing, with the complex projected to be completed in 2024.
A spokesperson for Mayor Andre Dickens would not comment since the A.G. brought the charges. The mayor’s office says it’s working alongside state and federal partners to provide protection for members of the grand jury.
The Cop City Vote Coalition sent the following statement about the indictments:
"Today, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, who used his platform to recruit for the January 6 insurrection, announced blatantly authoritarian RICO charges against 61 people.These charges, like the previous repressive prosecutions by the State of Georgia, seek 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.
"Further, the documents use the day George Floyd was murdered as the date the alleged criminal acts began. This is months before anyone was even aware of Cop City, and is a clear assault on the broader movement for racial justice and equity. Carr’s actions are a part of a retaliatory pattern of prosecutions against organizers nationwide that attack the right to protest and freedom of speech.
"The Cop City Vote coalition strongly condemns these anti-democratic charges. 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.