The state of Georgia is using the RICO organized crime statute to crush Stop Cop City protests.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office filed RICO (racketeering-influenced and corrupt organizations) indictments against 61 individuals alleged to be part of the Stop Cop City Movement.
The indictments were filed Aug. 29, but went unannounced and unnoticed until the Atlanta Community Press Collective broke the story on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, Tuesday morning.
The RICO charges are the latest event in a years long protest movement against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City” by opponents.
Activists with the Stop Cop City Movement long warned that RICO indictments would be used against the movement. The Atlanta Solidarity Fund issued a press release on Feb. 27 announcing that RICO indictments were forthcoming. The Atlanta Police Foundation, the organization responsible for construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, told its Board of Directors and contractors for the project that it expected indictments against Stop Cop City activists in early February.
“The notion that RICO would be invoked to punish protestors engaged in a widely-supported challenge to a government decision is a giant leap in the wrong direction,” said attorney Don Samuel in February. “Threatening peaceful protestors with a seizure of their money and a twenty-year prison sentence not only mocks the purpose of the statute, it represents an assault on the most important and cherished rights of all American citizens: the right to protest, the right to seek redress of grievances, the right to enlist friends, colleagues, and the community to change government policy because the citizens want change.”
Three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund who were arrested and charged with charity fraud in May are also included in the indictments. The 109-page indictment filing broadly paints the Solidarity Fund organizers as the center of the RICO conspiracy, blaming the three for every post to website scenes.noblogs.org, reimbursing indicted and unindicted alleged co-conspirators for various supplies. In addition to RICO charges, each of the three Solidarity Fund organizers have also been charged with 15 counts of money laundering from transactions dating back to Jan. 12, 2022, for as little as $11.91 for the purchase of glue.
All 43 individuals previously charged with domestic terrorism are listed in the indictment. Other indicted individuals include three who were arrested in April while allegedly passing out flyers with the names of the Georgia State Patrol officers who killed environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran in January; five arrested for criminal trespass in the Weelaunee Forest in May 2022; and at least three arrested in Cobb County protesting construction company Brasfield & Gorrie, the general contractors for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center construction project.
Several individuals with no previous arrests associated with the Stop Cop City movement were also included in the RICO indictments.
The indictment contains dozens of allegations for acts ranging from throwing Molotov cocktails to an individual signing their name as “ACAB.” Prosecutors have provided no evidence of these charges in an open court.
One of the individuals charged in the RICO conspiracy is Thomas Jurgens, who was acting as a legal observer at a music festival March 5. Jurgens was arrested while wearing a bright yellow hat marking him as a legal observer.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, where Jurgens works as a staff attorney, issued a statement after Jurgens’ March arrest, saying, “We are outraged that police officers present at the protest refused to acknowledge Tom’s role as a legal observer and instead chose to arrest him. We are confident that the evidence will demonstrate he was a peaceful legal observer.”
All the RICO charges are dated May 25, 2020, the date George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officers. In previous bond hearings for Stop Cop City activists, Deputy Attorney General John Fowler argued that the Stop Cop City movement is directly connected to the George Floyd Uprising that took place over the summer of 2020. The indictment filing alleges that the autonomous zone created by protesters in the wake of the killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta Police Department Officer Garrett Rolfe in a Wendy’s parking lot is also connected to the Stop Cop City Movement.
Scott McAfee, the judge originally assigned to the RICO case, recused himself Tuesday. McAfee’s recusal filing stated he had, “regularly collaborated with the Prosecution Division of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and discussed aspects of the investigation that led to this indictment,” while in his previous role with the Georgia Office of Inspector General (OIG).
According to their website, “the State of Georgia Office of the Inspector General promotes transparency and accountability in state government.” It is unclear why McAfee was collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office while working within the Inspector General’s office.
Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the grand jury used to indict former President Donald Trump and his associates on RICO charges in August was also used to indict the Stop Cop City activists. While Trump’s indictments are being prosecuted by Fulton County District Attorney (DA) Fani Willis, the Fulton DA’s office does not appear to be prosecuting the Stop Cop City RICO cases.
The Fulton RICO cases are not the only cases the Georgia Attorney General’s Office will be prosecuting against Stop Cop City activists. In June, DeKalb County DA Sherry Boston announced that her office was withdrawing from the prosecution of 42 cases related to the Stop Cop City Movement. “It is clear to both myself and the Attorney General that we have fundamentally different prosecution philosophies,” Boston told WABE’s Rose Scott.
Boston stated she did not believe charges would hold up against all the protesters and said her office would “only proceed on cases that I believe I can make beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Cop City Vote Coalition – the organization behind a referendum effort that seeks to cancel the lease for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center at the center of the Stop Cop City Movement — issued a press release condemning the indictments, which they called “authoritarian.”
“The Cop City Vote coalition strongly condemns these anti-democratic charges,” said the press release. “We will not be intimidated by power-hungry strongmen, whether in City Hall or the Attorney General’s office. [Georgia Attorney General] 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 Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) issued a call for lawyers to represent those facing RICO indictments.
“We are urgently seeking licensed Georgia attorneys available to represent community members and fulfill our mission to protect the right to dissent,” SCHR announced on the X platform.
None of the 61 individuals indicted have been arrested on the new charges as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Atlanta Community Press Collective (ACPC) is an abolitionist, not-for-profit media collective. ACPC’s goal is to make the day to day workings of local government accessible to the public and to provide an independent voice in a local media landscape increasingly dominated by corporate interests.