When author and environmental movement expert Will Potter saw the Atlanta police chief, Darin Schierbaum, tell a recent press conference “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an attorney to tell you that breaking windows and setting fires is not protest – it’s terrorism”, he could not believe his ears.
The problem, Potter told the Guardian, is that while you may not have to be a rocket scientist, “the reality is, it’s been difficult to come to an understanding of what terrorism is and what political violence is for decades”.
Schierbaum was speaking about a march through midtown Atlanta, Georgia, last Saturday night that began peacefully, only to see several protesters separate and begin breaking windows of businesses and lighting fire to a police car. The marchers were protesting “Cop City”, an 85-acre, $90m training facility planned for South River forest, a wooded area south-east of the city.
They were also protesting the fatal police shooting of Tortuguita, a fellow activist, less than a week earlier, on a raid in the Atlanta forest where dozens have been tree-sitting and camping for more than a year.
The march, arrests of 18 activists charged under a state domestic terrorism law, a series of raids on the forest in recent weeks and Tortuguita’s killing have escalated tensions over Cop City. They culminated Thursday afternoon in the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, declaring a state of emergency. Under the order, up to 1,000 national guard troops will be available until 9 February or upon further order.
These actions have also been matched by a strident rhetoric from police and politicians in Georgia, seeking to define a largely peaceful protest movement – often focused on environmental and racial justice issues – as terrorism and those who participate in it as terrorists. It has shocked many observers including Potter, who see a crude attempt to use as powerful tools as possible to crush opposition.
“I can’t help but think it’s to shut the protest down and remove them from the public spotlight,” Potter said of Kemp’s order Thursday.
Potter has looked at changing federal government approaches to pursuing terrorism charges against environmental activists in his book, Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. These efforts culminated in attempts to charge activists with domestic terrorism during the 2000s on at least 70 occasions – succeeding in only 18, according to a 2018 report by the Intercept.
On Saturday night, six activists in Atlanta were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, bringing the total since December to 18. All have been charged under a Georgia statute, marking the first time state law has been used this way in the history of environmental movements in the US.
On 18 January, Tortuguita also became the first environmental activist killed by police in US history, experts said. The Georgia bureau of investigation said Tortuguita, or Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, had shot an officer first, and in recent days has produced photos of a gun and a Firearms Transaction Record that appears to be in Terán’s name. The agency charged with investigating Georgia police shootings also said ballistics evidence from the wounded officer matches the gun – and that there is no body-cam or other footage of the shooting.
The arrests come on the heels of at least a year’s worth of rising public chorus from Kemp, law enforcement officials and others using the term “terrorist” to describe the protesters, even as opposition to the Cop City project has grown since Atlanta city council approved it in late 2021.
Eli Bennett and Joshua Schiffer, two Atlanta attorneys representing some of the activists, both told the Guardian the state statute is “overly vague”. Four of the 18 cases brought under federal domestic terrorism charges during the 2000s were dismissed due to allegations being too vague, according to the Intercept. “It’s too easy to abuse, and I strongly have issues with how domestic terrorism is thrown around” in the state law, Schiffer said.
Arrest affidavits obtained by the Guardian for seven activists arrested 18 January during the same police raid on South River forest in which Tortuguita was killed begin by alleging that the defendants were “participating in actions as part of Defend the Atlanta Forest (DTAF), a group classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as domestic violent extremists”.
But a homeland security (DHS) spokesperson responded to a query by the Guardian: “The Department of Homeland Security does not classify or designate any groups as domestic violent extremists” – adding that the agency also “regularly shares information” regarding perceived threats to the “safety and security of all communities”.
Meanwhile, a White House bulletin issued early in the Biden administration underlined: “The two most lethal elements of today’s domestic terrorism threat are (1) racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race and (2) anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, such as militia violent extremists.”
Potter’s work looks at several decades of efforts by corporate leaders to create a legal and policy framework for prosecuting groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, which in the 1990s used tactics such as vandalism and even arson to defend animals and the environment – but never harmed a person. In the mid-2000s, corporations such as Pfizer, Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline joined the United Egg Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and others in pushing Congress to consider these acts “terrorism”, he writes.
Broadening definitions and sentencing guidelines arising from these efforts resulted in a situation where “even writing pro-animal slogans on the sidewalk in chalk” could get you charged with terrorism, said Ryan Shapiro, co-founder of Property of the People, a national security-oriented nonprofit organization focused on transparency that has released thousands of FBI and CIA documents exposing government overreach.
Similarly, Bill McKibben, author of 20 books on climate change and other subjects, wrote this week that, according to Georgia’s domestic terrorism law, “lie down in front of a police car and you’re a terrorist who could spend many many years behind bars”.
Shapiro shared documents with the Guardian obtained through FOIA showing that lack of agreement on legal frameworks around terrorism inhibit DHS’s work.
In one email chain between a DHS agent and a regional director from 2021, the former says: “The lack of a consistent, applicable definition of DVE [domestic violent extremism] that has been coordinated and agreed upon” is the “greatest challenge in preventing … the DVE threat”. The agent goes on to write:, “Anyone can fall into any category based on an independent interpretation of what DVE term is being implied.”
The case in Georgia arises from another thread in the recent history of approaches to domestic terrorism, Shapiro noted. “The post-9/11 downward creep of national security justifications has provided local police with counterterrorism powers previously limited to the FBI and other federal agencies,” he said.
An additional aspect of the ongoing conflict in Atlanta worth noting is that activists opposing both the training center and separate plans to expand a film studio on the South River Forest land approach the issue from “two of the most targeted groups” by the FBI for decades, Shapiro said. Those are the racial justice and environmental movements.
The arrest affidavits appear predicated on the notion of arrestees allegedly belonging to a group that the state has linked to acts such as burning construction vehicles needed for the training facility or film studio, as well as vandalizing other property.
“Language matters,” said Potter. “Terrorism and violence have meanings. It’s misleading to characterize broken windows, even arson, in the same breath as murdering people in a nightclub.” Potter pointed to other political movements throughout US and global history that have used similar tactics – including women suffragettes and gay rights activists, he said. “How we evaluate these things really depends on how we see the movements,” he said. “We’re going to look at the tactics of prior movements differently now, because they’re more mainstream.”
Moving forward, another aspect of this movement may prove challenging to pursuing domestic terrorism charges due to supposed affiliation in a group, Potter noted.
Opposition to development in South River forest has included neighborhood associations, established environmental groups, local schools, Atlanta-area citizens, and many others, he said. As for those who have chosen to stay in the forest, attracting the most attention of law enforcement (and media): “They don’t have an official leader. They don’t have a spokesperson. We don’t know who’s classified as a member … or not,” Potter noted.
“It’s like trying to turn a political movement into a criminal organization,” Bennett said.
Why are people protesting in Atlanta? ›
One of the groups behind the protests, called "Stop Cop City," has demonstrated against the training facility for months. They say the center is further militarizing the police and will threaten the lives of marginalized people.What is Cop City in Atlanta? ›
The marchers were protesting “Cop City”, an 85-acre, $90m training facility planned for South River forest, a wooded area south-east of the city.Why are so many moving to Atlanta? ›
The city boasts some of the best businesses, highest rates of job growth, and most desirable neighborhoods for families, making it well worth it to move to Atlanta. As you consider all of your options, we put together everything you need to know about moving to Atlanta, GA.What are the biggest issues in Atlanta? ›
Crime is residents' top perceived issue facing metro Atlanta, according to the 2021 Metro Atlanta Speaks survey, released today by the Atlanta Regional Commission. One in three respondents said crime is the biggest challenge facing metro Atlanta, up from 16% in the 2020 survey.Where will Cop City be? ›
The facility's proposed location is the Old Atlanta Prison Farm (OPF), which a 2021 study found to be the site of past atrocities committed by the prison system.What city is police academy based on? ›
The Academy itself was previously the site of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in Etobicoke, and has since become the Lakeshore campus of Humber College. The studio scenes were shot at Lakeshore Film Studios; the city scenes were filmed in various parts of Toronto.Is Georgia part of Interpol? ›
“The National Central Bureau of Interpol was established in Georgia on September 29, 1993, after the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia joined the international criminal police organization- Interpol. Interpol of Georgia has a leading position among the member countries of Interpol.What salary do you need to live comfortably in Atlanta? ›
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North Buckhead is the safest neighborhood in Atlanta and includes the areas of Argonne Forest, Brandon, Brookhaven, Brookwood Hills, and Buckhead Village. An affluent residential area just north of Atlanta's center, North Buckhead is home to roughly 9,000 residents, making it one of the city's largest neighborhoods.
What percentage of Atlanta is black owned? ›
|Rank||Metro||Percentage of population that is Black|
Every two years, cities count their homeless population. In Atlanta, of the 2,017 homeless counted in 2022, the majority were adult, Black men. More than a third (37%) reported a serious mental illness. Thirty-two percent reported a substance use disorder and 20% were veterans.What is the hippest neighborhood in Atlanta? ›
Little Five Points and Candler Park are some of the hippest neighborhoods in Atlanta. Little Five Points has more bohemian vibes than L5P, as its residents call it, but together they make some of the best areas for young professionals to live.Where will cop be in 2023? ›
2023: COP 28/CMP 18/CMA 5, Dubai, UAE
COP 28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates. The summit will be held at Expo City Dubai from November 4-6th, 2023. The UAE started working to promote itself as the future host and hired PR and lobbying agencies to launder its international reputation.
In November 2022, the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt will host the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 27), with a view to building on previous successes and paving the way for future ambition to effectively tackle the global challenge of climate change.How do I get to COP26? ›
With online registration, you can access the COP26 Platform immediately. You can choose to register in person upon arrival at the conference. After in-person registration, you can enter the COP26 physically, in addition, you will also have access to the COP26 Platform.How much does a Police Officer make? ›
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Oscar Winner Tom Hanks admitted to Kevin Pollak in an interview that he had auditioned for the film and was completely turned down by the producers. While he stated that he had auditioned for any part in the film, he was probably more suited for the Mahoney role if he was cast.Which state police academy has become the best police academy? ›
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Abkhazia and South Ossetia mutually recognise one another as independent states, and both are also recognised by two other Russia-backed non-UN member states: Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria.
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The two countries have had no formal diplomatic relations since August 2008, largely due to the Russo-Georgian War and Russian recognition of separatist regions.Which country owns Interpol? ›
Headquartered in Lyon, France, it is the world's largest international police organization, with seven regional bureaus worldwide and a National Central Bureau in all 195 member states.What are they protesting in Atlanta? ›
The protests come in response to a planned $90 million, 85-acre law enforcement training facility – dubbed “Cop City” by its opponents – and just days after the police killing of 26-year-old activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán near the site of the training center.Why is human trafficking so high in Atlanta? ›
"The same ready access to commercial air and ground routes that draws businesses and travelers to Atlanta also entices criminals engaged in human trafficking." There are numerous events and conventions in Atlanta that bring many people to the city which also exemplifies the issue.What was the riot in Atlanta about? ›
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Georgia's Human Trafficking Crime Unit
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Sherman's goal was to destroy the Army of the Tennessee, capture Atlanta and cut off vital Confederate supply lines. While Sherman failed to destroy his enemy, he was able to force the surrender of Atlanta in September 1864,boosting Northern morale and greatly improving President Abraham Lincoln's re-election bid.What city is most known for human trafficking? ›
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WorldPopulationReview.com has an interactive map that allows you to view up-to-date human trafficking statistics by state. According to their data, there are 4 states that have the highest rates of human trafficking in the United States: California, Texas, Florida, and New York.What is the biggest human trafficking city in the US? ›
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The impact of the fall of Atlanta was instrumental in the eventual victory for the Federal forces. It boosted morale in the North and insured the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln which meant that the war would continue to the South's capitulation.What caused the burning of Atlanta? ›
The destruction of Southern rail lines devastated the Confederacy. On November 15, 1864, United States forces led by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman burned nearly all of the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, United States.Why was the city of Atlanta burned during the Civil War? ›
Through October, Sherman built up a massive cache of supplies in Atlanta. He then ordered a systematic destruction of the city to prevent the Confederates from recovering anything once the Yankees had abandoned it. By one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the city was ruined.