Protesters Charged with Terrorism in Atlanta

At least 23 people, including a legal observer, have been charged with domestic terrorism as protests against “Cop City,” the massive police training facility, continue.

Protesters marching in Minneapolis after Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, aka Tortuguita, was shot and killed by police officers at a prolonged protest in an Atlanta forest against Cop City. (Chad Davis, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Peoples Dispatch

At least 23 protesters have been charged with domestic terrorism amid a week of action against the construction of “Cop City” in Atlanta, Georgia, a proposed $90 million police training complex.

Atlanta police detained 35 people and arrested 23 on the night of March 5, they claim, for vandalism against the Cop City construction site and violence towards police. Activists dispute this claim.

While video footage shows a small group torching the construction site and throwing fireworks towards police, according to activists, none of the 35 people detained were detained at the construction site itself. Earlier that day, demonstrators marched, and later attended a live music performance, as part of a larger week of action. Atlanta police detained protesters at these two peaceful events, activists say.

Construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, dubbed “Cop City”, deeply unpopular with residents since its first announcement in June 2021, has been opposed by activists in Atlanta and across the U.S.

The proposed training ground would cut down part of Atlanta’s South River Forest (also called the Welaunee Forest) to build, in part, a mock city for police across the nation to practice repression tactics. Activists have been occupying parts of the forest for over a year, which is where the live music performance on the night of March 5 took place.

A tree sit to prevent cutting of trees at the Old Atlanta prison farm and development of the land for a police training center, July 29, 2022. (Crowina, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Those fighting Cop City are now focused on getting the charges dropped against the 23 who were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. One of those arrested was a legal observer for the Southern Poverty Law Center. 


Georgia’s domestic terrorism law was passed in 2017 in part as a response to a mass shooting against Black churchgoers in South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

The law loosened the definition of “domestic terrorism” from an act intended to kill or injure at least 10 people to any felony intended to “intimidate the civilian population” or “alter, change, or coerce the policy of the government.” Many at the time warned that this would be turned against left-wing protesters, rather than white supremacists. 

In February, 11 activists were charged under the domestic terrorism law for throwing bottles and breaking windows.

“The US Department of Justice is the agency that has traditionally brought terrorism-related charges, but thirty-four states since 9/11 have enacted laws that make committing acts of terrorism and/or providing support to terrorists state-level felonies,” Jacobin reported. “Georgia authorities are trumping up property crimes and relatively minor vandalism by Cop City political demonstrators as acts of terrorism. If convicted, the activists could face up to thirty-five years in prison — which in the state of Georgia is a punishment similar to second-degree murder.”

Charleston church memorial after the mass killing by Dylann Roof, June 20.2015. (VOA, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia officials such as Gov. Brian Kemp are doubling down on the domestic terrorism charges. “Domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state,” Kemp said on March 6. “We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”

Activists are contending with the pervasive “outside agitator” allegation, which has dogged social movements against police violence, including the George Floyd protests in 2020. This narrative alleges that those behind such movements are not from the communities that they are protesting in, and are instead being sent in by shadowy or dangerous groups.

Stop Cop City protests in Atlanta on Jan. 22, days after the police killing of protester Manuel Teran, aka, Tortuguita. (Tatsoi, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

All but two of the 23 charged with domestic terrorism are from outside of Georgia. However, activists accuse Atlanta police of strategically arresting only those who are from out of state to bolster their narrative. Police detained 35 people but only arrested 23. Activists allege that the 12 people who weren’t arrested were weeded out because they were from Atlanta. 

“Simply because the police have chosen to systematically arrest people from out of state, doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is the truth,” said Reverend Keyanna Jones at an Atlanta interfaith clergy press conference on March 6, following the mass arrests. “I am a daughter of East Atlanta. I still live in East Atlanta. I don’t want Cop City,” Jones continued. “My granny owns a home that she’s been in for almost 50 years in the heart of East Atlanta Village. She does not want Cop City. My neighbor across the street does not want Cop City. The teachers at my daughter’s school do not want Cop City. And we are all from the community.”

The local organization Defend the Atlanta Forest said, “It is not illegal to travel for a protest. It is not illegal to travel for a music festival.”

The Atlanta Police Department claims protestors initiated the violence at the March 5 event, saying, “Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests. … The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm.” 

However, in one clip taken in the Welaunee Forest, an officer is heard announcing, “come forward with your hands up or you are going to get shot. I don’t know how else to put it, you’re going to get hit with a bullet.” Activists also claim to have heard police say, “I swear to God I will f-cking kill you” and claim that a state trooper pointed a gun into a children’s bouncy house.

Police also slapped domestic terrorism charges on protesters following unrest in reaction to the police killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, an anti-Cop City activist also known as Tortuguita, on Jan. 18.

Police claim Tortuguita fired first at officers, injuring one. However, recently revealed body camera footage strongly suggests  that the injured officer was shot, accidentally, by police themselves. “You f-cked your own officer up,” a state trooper is heard mumbling following gunshots. Activists still demand that more footage be released regarding Tortuguita’s murder. 

This article is from Peoples Dispatch.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

13 comments for “Protesters Charged with Terrorism in Atlanta

  1. Peter M
    March 10, 2023 at 23:45

    The only terrorism that will be allowed is state terrorism.

  2. Piotr Berman
    March 10, 2023 at 14:04

    There are quite concurrent protests in Tbilisi, Georgia and Atlanta, Georgia. In both, the protesters want to “alter, change, or coerce the policy of the government.”

    One notable difference is that US government has an official position in respect to protests in Georgia near Caucasus, but not about Georgia near Appalachians. Second difference is that people are getting arrested in Tbilisi for “minor hooliganism”, while in Atlanta, for terrorism.

    Another noteworthy aspect is that protests in Tbilisi were triggered by a preliminary parliamentary approval of a law COPIED FROM US LAW. Earlier, Russia copied that law about NGOs with foreign funding, but the concept is much older and American. In short, US defends democracy by condemning practices either copied from USA or milder. Within the collective West, that works after a fashion because of media domination, but outside, this hypocrisy gets derision it deserves — so much for “soft power”.

  3. Anon
    March 10, 2023 at 12:16

    Tnx CN for running this people’s Dispatch
    (*uncapitalized to differ from DA’s legal… fact is:
    PatAct merely formalized 20th Century recurring minimization of common cit’s previous Bill of Right protections)
    Cop City content above just latest example!

  4. Ray Knowles
    March 10, 2023 at 09:27

    WE have to draw a line between peaceful protest and the destruction of property, even when those doing the destruction are doing so for what they believe is justifiable.

  5. J Anthony
    March 10, 2023 at 08:40

    What more proof do we need that we are sliding into fascism, here and abroad?

  6. Paula
    March 9, 2023 at 23:16

    “We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”

    Wow, that’s a two finger point back at you, dude.

  7. Coortz
    March 9, 2023 at 22:16

    Doesn’t Atlanta have a mayor? I’ve read a couple dozen news items on this and have yet to see her referenced at all. Kind of odd.

  8. rgl
    March 9, 2023 at 22:07

    At this rate, soon jaywalkers will be charged under terrorism laws. The word is loses all meaning when the US gov’t classifies *everything* as terrorism.

    • Valerie
      March 11, 2023 at 04:07

      Very well said rgl.

  9. Lois Gagnon
    March 9, 2023 at 16:31

    The war on terrorism was always meant to be used on domestic dissenters. We live in an openly fascist country.

    • Paula
      March 9, 2023 at 23:17

      I think that’s what all these new prisons are being built for.

  10. Alan
    March 9, 2023 at 15:36

    Terrorism? Whatever happened to freedom of assembly? It used to be in the Bill of Rights.

  11. March 9, 2023 at 12:52

    Pretty soon, publishing these kind of articles will be prosecuted as domestic terrorism.

Comments are closed.