Unicorn Riot Coverage of the Movement to Stop ‘Cop City’

When the city of Atlanta, GA approved the construction of a massive police training compound in 2021, the community responded. In the years since plans to build the country’s largest police training facility were first exposed, a diverse movement has erupted against the construction of what activists have dubbed “Cop City.”

The police training facility is not the only project aiming to deforest and develop the 381 acre area south of metro Atlanta known as Weelaunee, or the South River Forest. Ryan Millsap, owner of Blackhall Real Estate Phase II, LLC, believes he owns 40 acres of Weelaunee People’s Park (aka Intrenchment Creek Park) because of a land swap deal finalized on Feb. 11, 2021 with DeKalb County. Millsap hopes to build a new sound stage complex for high-budget film productions. An ongoing lawsuit questions the legality of Millsap’s ownership, and forest defenders have challenged the project, known to its opponents as “Hollywood dystopia.”

Since 2021, anarchists, abolitionists, activists and organizers across a broad spectrum have resisted these projects. Using tactics ranging from property destruction to occupying the forest to street demonstrations to gathering signatures for a referendum effort, people from Atlanta and beyond have delayed construction and made it known that they do not want “Cop City” or “Hollywood dystopia.”

Those in the movement have faced extreme repression. Beginning in December 2022, Georgia started charging people arrested in connection with the movement with state-level domestic terrorism charges. Weeks later, during an armed raid in Weelaunee, Georgia State Patrol shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán. Dozens of forest defenders have since been charged as “domestic terrorists,” and in September 2023 61 people were named in a RICO indictment claiming that the movement to defend the Atlanta forest is a criminal conspiracy.

Throughout the years, Unicorn Riot has been on the ground covering the struggle in all its facets.

This landing page has all of Unicorn Riot’s coverage from Atlanta, from regular updates on protests and repression to two deep-dive mini documentaries summarizing the movement — Defending the Atlanta Forest: Behind the Movement to Stop Cop City and ‘Tortuguita Vive’: A No-Compromise Movement Responds to Police Killing a Forest Defender.

A Timeline of Coverage

[Three most recent stories – more stories below]

During the summer of 2022, we produced a mini documentary summarizing the movement’s strategies and goals. Unicorn Riot heard from people on the ground in Atlanta about their diverse efforts to defend both the forest and the community from the Atlanta Police Foundation’s Public Safety Training Center.

On Jan. 18, 2023, police shot and killed forest defender Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán, claiming without clear proof provided that Terán shot at a Georgia State Patrol trooper during a SWAT raid on forest defenders.

We heard from some of Terán’s closest friends.

On the one-year mark of the police killing of Tortuguita we published a curated set of edited videos to provide context to the movement against the massive police training compound being built in what is colloquially known as the Atlanta Forest, exclusive insight into the the events of Terán’s killing on January 18, and detailed coverage of the movement’s response.

Video Highlights

[Chronological order]

Protesters March Through Atlanta to “Stop Cop City” [May 14, 2022]

Atlanta Police Discuss Using ‘Deadly Force’ On Environmental Protesters [May 17, 2022]

Contractor’s Truck Set on Fire by Atlanta Forest Protectors [July 30, 2022]

SWAT Teams Attack Atlanta Forest Encampments, Activists Charged with “Terrorism” [Dec. 13-14, 2022]

Work Crew Hired by Ryan Millsap Illegally Removes Trees in Atlanta Forest [Dec. 22, 2022]

Click here for Unicorn Riot’s coverage of the 5th ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action [March 2023]

Atlanta City Council Member Liliana Bakhtiari on “Cop City” [March 7, 2023]

Hundreds Oppose ‘Cop City’ Funding At Atlanta City Council Vote [June 5, 2023]

Nationwide Drops ‘Cop City’ Contract in Guerrilla Theater Satire [June 14, 2023]

Click here for Unicorn Riot’s coverage of the 6th ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action [June 2023]

Over 150 Protesters ‘March For the Forest’ During 6th ‘Stop Cop City Week of Action’ [June 29, 2023]

Indigenous Climate Activist Victor Puertas Remains in Custody Despite No Indictment [July 26, 2023]

‘Cop City’ Defendant Victor Puertas Has Been Held For Months Without Trial, But His Community Hasn’t Forgotten Him [Nov. 26, 2023]

A Timeline of Coverage

[Most recent to past, minus the most recent three stories]

March 2023 Week of Action (More here)

Atlanta, GA – Atlanta-area forest defenders, community activists and their allies from around the country and the world are initiating a ‘week of action’ against a proposed ‘Cop City’ urban warfare campus and a movie industry facility that would demolish much of the largest urban forest in the country.

Sunday, March 12: As the sun began to come up over Weelaunee People’s Park, family and friends of Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán led a memorial ceremony attended by several hundred mourners. Tortuguita’s mother Belkis Terán, father Joel Paez, and brother Daniel Paez addressed the crowd before everyone marched into the South River Forest where they spread their slain relative’s ashes throughout the forest that they died to defend.

Saturday, March 11: At around 7:30 a.m., Atlanta Police raided and searched the property of the Lakewood Environmental Arts Foundation (LEAF Center), which had served as a hub for street medics and was letting some who traveled to attend the week of action to camp on their land. Police reportedly awoke everyone present at gunpoint with a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), detaining 22 people but only arresting one person on an old traffic ticket from another county. Police claimed to have a search warrant but did not present one when asked. After they left, tents and food/medical supplies were found to have been destroyed and several vehicles on site had their windows smashed.

At around 10 a.m., a ‘#StopCopCity ‘Weelaunee Youth Rally and Festival’ led by children and families met at Brownwood Park before marching through the surrounding streets. The march then returned to the park where music was playing, food was served, and children enjoyed arts and crafts and facepainting stations.

After the youth event, a press conference was held to address the morning raid on the LEAF Center as well as the news about the independent autopsy of Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán.

Friday, March 10: Daily morning and afternoon protests continued against the Atlanta Police Foundation and its corporate sponsors. At approximately 6 p.m. eastern time, news broke that an independent autopsy found that slain forest defender Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán was sitting down with their hands up when shot 13 times by Georgia State Patrol during a raid on tree-sitters and protest camps in the forest on January 18. Georgia authorities still claim, without evidence, that Terán shot first.

Thursday, March 9: A crowd of hundreds attended a Black and Indigenous-led rally outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. center before marching to the Atlanta Police Foundation headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

Wednesday, March 8: Protests in downtown Atlanta continued, with groups of demonstrators passing out literature to passersby in the busy area packed with office towers and restaurants.

When protesters were passing out leaflets 300 feet from the Atlanta Police Foundation office at 191 Peachtree St, Atlanta Police Lt. Neil Welch ordered them to disperse or face arrest. When questioned by Unicorn Riot about the legal basis of the dispersal order, Lt. Welch said that the crowd was both “big” and “small.”

That evening, upwards of 100 people joined a vigil and noise demo outside the DeKalb County Jail in Decatur, GA to show support for the 22 arrestees from Sunday, March 5 who were swept up at the music festival and charged with “Domestic Terrorism,” mostly without any individualized evidence. Messages were shouted to the crowd from arrested protesters inside the jail, and other detainees at the jail showed their appreciation for those outside by lighting cloth items on fire and tossing them out their cell windows.

Tuesday, March 7: Protesters denounced ‘Cop City’ outside the office of the Atlanta Police Foundation and visited locations of corporate sponsors of the project including AT&T and Georgia State University. A large group of heavily armed police closely followed the crowd, outnumbering them and behaving in a threatening and intimidating fashion.

Monday, March 6: An interfaith group of clergy orated against the ‘Cop City’ project outside Atlanta City Hall before joining the public comment session of a City Council meeting to denounce the urban warfare training facility.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum also made a presentation to City Council, offering selectively cherry-picked evidence to defend the ‘Cop City’ project and advance the misleading narrative that those resisting deforestation/construction were all “outside agitators” engaged in “domestic terrorism.”

When questioned by UR’s reporter inside City Hall after his presentation, Chief Schierbaum declined to respond to claims that his officers were selectively arresting people from out of state in order to further the “outside agitator” narrative.

Unicorn Riot also heard from Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari about how the Atlanta Police Foundation has been dodging city council inquiries about concerns with the ‘Cop City’ project.

UPDATE: 3/6/23 – According to the Atlanta Police Department press release, there were at least 35 people detained from Sunday night’s massive police mobilization. Unicorn Riot also learned that of those arrested, approximately 22 were charged with state-level domestic terrorism charges, moving the total number of people connected to the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement who are facing domestic terrorism charges to around 42.

Sunday, March 5: Police Action near ‘Cop City’ Opponents’ Gathering:

After the largest march to date through the Atlanta Forest, police have mobilized near an anti-‘Cop City’ music festival along Constitution Road, near the RC Field. Some festival-goers and protesters were arrested in the woods, as armed state police swept the area. At its height, there were about 500 people attending the festival.

Earlier in the evening a group of people headed for a security outpost used to surveil parts of the forest construction area, were able to overrun the facility and set equipment/infrastructure on fire.

Saturday, March 4: ‘Week of Action’ opens with rally and march

Check out our live coverage from the rally below:

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