Over 60 People Indicted on RICO Charges in Atlanta, Allegedly Promoting ‘Anarchist Ideas’

Atlanta, GA — Georgia prosecutors have indicted 61 individuals under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, for their alleged participation in the #StopCopCity movement and for, as they put it, promoting “virulent anarchist ideals.”

The indictments were handed down by a grand jury last week but only made public this morning after being discovered by the Atlanta Community Press Collective. The same grand jury also indicted five individuals on Domestic Terrorism charges and indicted three Atlanta Solidarity Fund activists on 15 counts each of money laundering. 

“Defend the Atlanta Forest is a self-identified coalition and enterprise of militant anarchists, eco-activists, and community organizers,” the indictment reads. 

“Based in Atlanta, this anarchist, anti-police, and environmental activism organization coordinates, advertises, and conducts ‘direct action’ designed to prevent the construction of the Atlanta Police Public Safety Training Center and Shadowbox Studios (previously known as Blackhall Studios) and promote anarchist ideas.”

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office is prosecuting the cases, which are filed in Fulton County, where Atlanta is the county seat.

The indictment even includes a short history on anarchism and anarchist organizing principles, at least as the prosecutors understand them. The narrative entitled “Anarchy Background of the Defend the Atlanta Forest” reads like a high school book report on the history of anarchism and is reminiscent of political prosecutions of activists and radicals such as the Haymarket anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti, and prosecutions during the Red Scare.

The “major factor in anarchist mutual aid,” explained Georgia prosecutors, “is the absence of government and the absence of hierarchy. Indeed, an anarchist belief relies on the notion that once government is abolished, individuals will rely on mutual aid to exist. In doing so, anarchists believe that individuals will work together and voluntarily contribute their own resources to insure that each individual has its own needs met.” 

Prosecutors also explained, at length, that “the anarchist ideology” also includes violence, including violence targeting law enforcement. The indictment did not include any statistics about the number of people believed to have been harmed or killed by anarchists. The number of people killed each year by law enforcement, on the other hand, is well known.

An excerpt from page 25 of the indictment.

The indictment goes on to allege that those involved in the movement to defend the Weelaunee Forest have participated in “vandalizing of private property, arson, destruction of government property, attacks on utility workers, attacks on law enforcement, attacks on private citizens, and gun violence.”

Prosecutors list May 25, 2020, the day that George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, as the beginning of the alleged “Defend the Atlanta Forest Enterprise.” Prosecutors say that the national movement that emerged following Floyd’s murder also gave birth to the #StopCopCity movement. 

Those indicted include many people previously charged for their participation in the movement, including those previously charged with domestic terrorism, three individuals previously charged with distributing fliers in Bartow County, Georgia, several people arrested during a rowdy protest outside the Cobb County offices of contractor Brasfield & Gorrie, and those charged with money laundering for their work with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, among others. The list of indictments also includes several people who have not previously been charged in connection with the movement.

“The state is setting themselves up for a bigger fall when they fail,” activist Charley Tennenbaum, who is one of those indicted on RICO charges, told Unicorn Riot, “which I still believe is the ultimate outcome of the state’s legal fight.”

Charley said that although the new indictments are stressful, they ultimately feel prepared for the legal battle to come: “I can speak for myself personally that I feel prepared for this.”

(Before the RICO indictment, Charley was arrested in April on a felony charge for distributing fliers associated with the #StopCopCity movement.)

The indictments list 225 “overt acts in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy,” which include actions ranging from throwing Molotov cocktails and punching police officers to requesting reimbursements for $14.08 for a lock for a trailer from the Forest Justice Defense Fund. Under RICO, it is not a requirement that such “overt acts” be illegal on their own.

The indictment also alleges for the first time that Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean, and Savannah Patterson, the three activists arrested in May for their work on the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, are responsible for posting content to the Scenes From the Atlanta Forest blog. The blog is a submission-based platform that frequently posts communiques claiming responsibility for attacks and vandalism on the property of those seeking to destroy the Weelaunee Forest. 

The indictment alleges that posting submitted articles is part of a conspiracy, but includes no evidence that the three activists are responsible for running the site. 

The indictment includes one act that simply involved writing some letters on a piece of paper: “On or about January 18, 2023,” the indictment reads, an activist “did sign his name as ‘ACAB.’ This was an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

An excerpt from page 82 of the indictment.

Atlanta activists warned the public in February that they believed state prosecutors were planning on indicting them under the state’s RICO laws, based upon leaked information. Nearly seven months later, their predictions have come true.

The Stop Cop City Vote coalition criticized the charges on the platform X (formerly known as Twitter), saying “these charges, like the previous repressive prosecutions by the State of Georgia, seek to intimidate protestors, legal observers, and bail funds alike, and send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government.”

The indictments come in the midst of a court battle over a proposed referendum vote on the #StopCopCity project. The proposed referendum would allow residents of Atlanta to vote on whether the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center should be built. The City of Atlanta has repeatedly filed motions in court attempting to suppress the effort to collect enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, including continually attempting to raise the bar for the number of signatures activists must gather.

“It seems like the timing is politically motivated with respect to the referendum and the successes we’re winning there despite the state’s ongoing demonstrations of exactly why we do not want to fund a Cop City,” said Charley Tennenbaum. “Their tactics of using fear and oppression times with our successes.”

In June, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced that she would formally withdraw from Georgia state cases connected to the protest at the proposed police training center site, citing differences in prosecutorial philosophy. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has defended the charges brought against activists and insists those cases will continue to be pursued at the state level. The recent RICO indictments are signed by Carr and Deputy Attorney General John Fowler.  

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, targets organized criminal enterprises and was created in the 1970s to more effectively prosecute the mafia. Since then, RICO statutes have been used against participants in the 2019 college admissions scandal, anti-abortion groups, insider traders, and now, environmental and climate justice activists.

Rather than charging individuals with specific crimes they committed, RICO indictments target alleged criminal organizations in which people collaborate to commit a series of interrelated crimes in furtherance of a common criminal goal. For charges to stick, prosecutors must prove that those charged engaged in a “pattern of racketeering” activity involving “at least two acts” in furtherance of “one or more incidents, schemes, or transactions.”

Georgia recently leveraged its RICO statute to charge rappers Young Thug, Gunna and dozens of others for their alleged participation in a street gang known as Young Slime Life, or YSL. In that case, the Fulton County District Attorney alleged in their indictment that participants in the group engaged in a slew of criminal activities in furtherance of a common enterprise, including murder and multiple charges of aggravated assault and armed robbery.

If found guilty, those charged under Georgia’s RICO law face “not less than five nor more than 20 years imprisonment” in addition to fines totaling “the greater of $25,000.00 or three times the amount of any pecuniary value gained by him or her from such violation.”

The same grand jury that handed down the RICO indictments also issued indictments of five individuals on Domestic Terrorism charges. Although a total of 42 individuals have previously been charged under Georgia’s Domestic Terrorism statute for their alleged participation in the movement to defend the Weelaunee Forest, until now, none of those charged have been indicted. 

The five indicted under the Domestic Terrorism statute were all charged in Fulton County following a January 21, 2023 demonstration called by forest defenders in response to the police killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a 26-year-old forest defender who went by the name Tortuguita. During the demonstration, a police car was set afire and prosecutors allege that protesters attempted to break into a building at 191 Peachtree street tower, which contains the offices of the Atlanta Police Foundation.

The five indicted on Domestic Terrorism charges are also indicted on one charge each of Arson in the First Degree. The indictment alleges that the five “did travel to the City of Atlanta during a ‘Night of Rage,’ did possess means of fire and explosive by possessing accelerant and a lighter, and did attempt to break into the 191 Peachtree Street tower, contrary to the laws of this State, the good order, peace, and dignity thereof.”

The RICO indictments come shortly after Atlanta activists released a parody called “The People’s RICO,” in which the people of Atlanta allege that the city, the Atlanta Police Foundation, and its funders are involved in a racketeering effort to build Cop City.

“After an extensive investigation,” they declared, “we’ve determined that there is an active criminal enterprise with clear intentions to extort and conspire to destroy our treasured South River Forest.”

Despite its novel and legally questionable claims, the new RICO indictment seems guaranteed to instill fear in activist circles in Georgia and beyond. According to defendant Charley Tennenbaum, this is exactly why it’s necessary for those fighting Cop City to be confident and to keep taking care of each other.

It’s important for us to remember that supporters and people can continue to hold in solidarity, to express love and support, donate to fundraisers, do care work,” said Charley. “We’re winning and that scares them.”

Read the 109-page indictment here:

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