Nearly two dozen people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after allegedly destroying equipment and throwing fireworks at police officers in the latest development in a months-long dispute outside of Atlanta.
Environmental and anti-law enforcement activists have been protesting the construction of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which opponents have termed “Cop City.”
Tension at the site has been ongoing for months as self-proclaimed “forest defenders” have occupied the area and sought to resist construction efforts.
In January, violent street protests followed the death of a forest activist named Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran after he allegedly fired on law enforcement officials, as reported by The Dallas Express.
The most recent arrests came on the first day of a planned week-long protest that began at 11 a.m. March 4. One of the speakers at a rally the morning of March 4 said, “When the city of Atlanta brings repression, they need to expect rebellion,” according to Defend the Atlanta Forest.
A music festival was held that night in a cleared portion of the forest when a contingent of protestors allegedly traveled to the construction site. They allegedly began throwing various projectiles, including explosives, at law enforcement officers and construction equipment.
In a press release, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) explained, “On March 5, 2023, a group of violent agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers.”
“They changed into black clothing and entered the construction area and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers,” the statement continued.
APD alleged, “The agitators destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment by fire and vandalism. … The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm.”
The release noted that 35 “agitators” were detained and 23 arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, of which only two were actually from Georgia. Two of the protestors were internationals, with one coming from France and another from Canada.
In a now-deleted statement provided to the Defend the Atlanta Forrest account on Twitter, a movement representative claimed, “A crowd of 1,000 festival-goers cheered on chanting ‘WE ARE ALL FOREST DEFENDERS’ and ‘COP CITY WILL NEVER BE BUILT’ as a march of 350-400 protesters circled the stage and left towards the site of the proposed Cop City destruction project.
“This protest was part of an uprising in response to Tortuguita’s murder, a measured response that successfully reclaimed the Weelaunee Forest from the hands of its destroyers, and *literally* stopped the ongoing construction of Copy City,” the statement read.
Addressing the violence, the statement said, “Forest defenders were able to push out the police without causing them physical harm, and dismantled the machinery that they used to kill the forest and its human and non-human inhabitants.”
The statement denounced police response, alleging that one law enforcement officer threatened, “I’m gonna f—ing kill you,” and tased “an older person trying to walk away from them.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp condemned the violent protestors in a statement provided to The Dallas Express, saying, “They chose destruction and vandalism over legitimate protest, yet again demonstrating the radical intent behind their actions.”
“As I’ve said before, domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state. As we continue to respect peaceful protest, we will also continue to ensure safety in our communities. We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice,” the governor continued.
Kemp previously had declared a state of emergency in late January, as reported by The Dallas Express.
The Atlanta Antifascists organization told The Dallas Express, “Despite the array of forces ranged against the forest defenders, we predict that the struggle will continue despite Kemp’s murderous attempts at repression.”
Reacting to the events, U.S. Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-TX) wrote on Twitter, “Let’s be clear about something. This is not a ‘protest,’ this is domestic terrorism.”
“There’s a war on cops, there’s a war on the rule of law, and there’s absolutely zero accountability,” he said.
Speaking of congressional action, Hunt added, “We should get curious about who these domestic terror groups are, who funds them, who provides them with equipment, and who helps transport them from city to city.”