Sixty-one activists have been indicted in Georgia on racketeering charges for protesting against the construction of what is known as “Cop City,” a massive $90 million police training facility being built on 85 acres of the South River Forest near Atlanta.
The ridiculous charges try to paint the loose grouping of protesters as a criminal conspiracy, and include charges of money laundering and domestic terrorism. Protesters have been arrested for simply handing out flyers and making public speeches opposed to the construction of the facility. In June, the Atlanta prosecutor Sherry Boston announced that her office was withdrawing from the case because they disagreed with the excessive criminal charges.
What’s really going on here is quite clear. The Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, who calls the alleged defendants “militant anarchists,” is simply part of a general escalation of attacks on activists across the country. These racketeering charges along with the domestic terrorism charges are just a useful legal catchall that the courts can use against activists. The indictment even targets the words activists used while talking to people as they handed out flyers, claiming that “members use disinformation, incomplete information, and propaganda to try to successfully radicalize the civilian.” These wide-open allegations could apply to anyone who talks to people on the street as part of their organizing and outreach efforts. And that is exactly the intention – this case is not just about the 61 activists, but is aimed at activism everywhere.
Coming off of years of explosive protests against police violence, fossil fuel extraction, militarism, and more, the government has continuously used the courts to intensify their crackdown on activists, testing the limits of the criminal charges they can throw at people. Even if the charges don’t stick, they can still tie people up in court for months or even years.
This is not new. The state has always been willing to ramp up the criminalization of activism and resistance whenever dissent within the population increases. And today, as the climate emergency intensifies, as corporations increase their attacks on workers, as the courts continue to eviscerate people’s basic rights, as mass shootings terrorize people in schools and out, resistance to this system is growing, and the ruling class knows it. And so they rely on the tools at their disposal, including their court system, to do whatever they can to discourage protests.
But in the process, they can also overplay their hand, and ultimately increase the outrage against this system. And in the end, the only effective way to resist this nationwide government crackdown on dissent is through more dissent.