Seeking to protect their cash cow, Cop City, Atlanta police have arrested three legal support organizers connected to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and charged them with “money laundering” and “charity fraud.” This comes less than a week before Atlanta City Council will decide on whether or not to allocate additional millions of taxpayer dollars to fund Cop City.
This move marks a new low for Atlanta police and prosecutors in their descent into totalitarian tactics. Since December, in addition to murdering one protester, they have pressed trumped-up domestic terrorism charges against practically every defendant they have arrested. Now, in order to ensure that defendants in the movement to protect the forest in Atlanta cannot get proper legal defense, they are attacking activists who help to raise bail and provide legal support.
This kind of repression is characteristic of explicitly totalitarian regimes like the government of Vladimir Putin. There are no well-known precedents for pressing such charges against those who raise money for bail funds and legal defense. If this effort succeeds, it could have far-reaching implications for a wide range of forms of activism and solidarity around the United States.
Reviewing other instances of trumped-up charges will show why defending legal support organizers is so important.
The J20 case is one of the most well-known recent examples. Emboldened by Donald Trump’s election, far-right prosecutors charged hundreds of people arrested at random at Trump’s inauguration with eight identical felonies, including two charges that did not even exist, legally speaking. Ultimately, all of those who went to trial were declared innocent and prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against over a hundred defendants, while a judge threw out the rest of them. But if those who coordinated legal support for those arrestees had themselves been targeted with trumped-up charges, it might have ended differently.
This is why Atlanta police and prosecutors want the arrestees in the movement to defend Weelaunee Forest to be defenseless against their blatant miscarriage of justice. Police and prosecutors know that, unless they cut off the support systems that protect activists, their strategy of pressing blanket domestic terrorism charges against everyone will likely fail.
Since February, prosecutors in Atlanta have been threatening to indict activists on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges. Although they have not done so, yet, the “money laundering” and “charity fraud” charges are either a substitute for those or a step towards a larger RICO case.
There are precedents for frivolous RICO charges, as well.
Corporations and police have repeatedly used RICO charges to intimidate perceived adversaries. For example, from 2016 to 2019, Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, brought RICO charges against the well-known nonprofit organization Greenpeace. Greenpeace ultimately succeeded in quashing these absurd charges.
It’s worth reading the verbiage of the original charges against Greenpeace in full, as it shows how lawyers and PR firms serving the interests of corporations and police will misrepresent even the most milquetoast nonprofit organizations as criminal cartels.
For example, the original criminal complaint against Greenpeace alleges that:
Over several decades, certain once legitimate not-for-profit groups have been corrupted by money raised from individuals and a network of foundations and special interests willing to “contribute” to advance their own political or business agendas. More recently, many smaller, more violent eco-terrorist organizations and radicalized individuals have begun exploiting the same lucrative business model using the proliferation of web-based fundraising tools to make money, much of which is diverted for personal gain and not used to further any environmental cause.
In its simplest form, this model has two components: (1) manufacturing a media spectacle based upon phony but emotionally charged hot-button issues, sensational lies, and intentionally incited physical violence, property destruction, and other criminal conduct; and (2) relentlessly publicizing these sensational lies, manufactured conflict and conflagration, and misrepresented “causes” to generate funding from individual donors, foundations, and corporate sponsors. These putative “environmental” groups accept grants and other consideration from foundations and special business interests who use the groups’ environmental mantle to advance their own ulterior agendas.
The market leader among purported international not-for-profits is a network called “Greenpeace.” The Greenpeace network has fraudulently induced people throughout the United States and the world into donating millions of dollars based on materially false and misleading claims about its misrepresented environmental purpose and the sham “campaigns” it mounts against targeted companies, projects, or causes.
Anyone who is familiar with the actual track record of Greenpeace—a legalistic nonprofit—will recognize how preposterous these allegations are. One could certainly accuse Greenpeace of directing funds away from more effective uses in the struggle against ecological devastation, but the idea that they might do so illegally is laughable. Likewise, if anyone is making “materially false and misleading claims,” it is the corporations and government institutions seeking to inflict damage on the natural environment for the sake of profiteering and police militarization—not environmental activists.
Despite the considerable financial power and state support of the corporation that brought these charges, the courts were compelled to conclude the matter in favor of Greenpeace. When we see police and prosecutors use similar language to misrepresent the defendants in Atlanta, we should bear in mind how readily they employ such smear campaigns.
Just like the charges against the J20 defendants and the RICO charges against Greenpeace, the charges against the three legal support organizers in Atlanta are hasty and poorly thought-out attempts to bully activists. To begin with the pettiest indication of this, the warrants for the three arrestees contain multiple typographical errors:
RECORDS AND REPORTS OF CERTAIN CURRENCY TRANSACTIONS
FRAUDULENT, MISREPRESESNTING [sic], OR MISLEADING ACTIVITIES REGARDING CHARITABLE SOLITATIONS [sic] PER 43-17-12
More significantly, the affidavit (which a careless judge seems to have dated “May 25, 2024”) alleges that the arrestees used funds for “various expenses such as gasoline, forest clean-up, totes, covid rapid tests, media, yard signs, and other miscellaneous expenses.” If this is their grounds for “money laundering” and “charity fraud,” this case is no stronger than the case against Greenpeace was.
However frivolous these charges are, they might still stick unless people around the United States mobilize in solidarity with the defendants. The authorities in Atlanta and the Republicans who govern Georgia are attempting to legitimize totalitarian tactics for suppressing social movements. If we let them succeed, they will not stop until they have crushed protest movements of all kinds, even those as innocuous as Greenpeace.
All around the world—from Russia to Turkey, from Hungary to the United States—authoritarianism is on the rise. In some places, this is taking place under the flags of nationalism and fascism; elsewhere, as in Atlanta and New York City, Democrat politicians are the ones channeling more resources to murderous police and attempting to set new precedents for repression. It’s up to us to stop them.
The National Bail Fund Network is collecting donations for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. You can donate to them here.
Supporters of the arrestees will mobilize in protest at the DeKalb County Jail at 6:30 pm today (May 31). Another Week of Action against Cop City will occur in Atlanta June 24-July 1.
- National Lawyers Guild statement
- Richmond Community Bail Fund statement
- Natasha Lennard discusses the arrests
- Unicorn Riot coverage of the arrests