RICO Indictment of 61 ‘Stop Cop City’ Activists Criminalizes Dissent, Sets Dangerous Precedent

Interview with Paul Glaze, a spokesperson for the Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition, conducted by Scott Harris

On Aug. 14, Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis announced that former President Donald Trump and 18 others were indicted by an Atlanta grand jury under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, accusing Trump and some of his former top aides of orchestrating a “criminal enterprise” to reverse the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. Less than a month later, on Sept. 5, Georgia’s Republican Attorney General Chris Carr announced that same grand jury had indicted 61 activists under RICO, for their actions opposing the construction of a proposed $90 million 85-acre police training facility to be built in the Weelaunee Forest southeast of Atlanta. Those facing charges include a legal observer arrested at a protest, activists who distributed fliers and others who ran a bail fund.

During two years of escalating protest actions against what opponents call “Cop City,” police have made mass arrests, including 42 activists who were charged with domestic terrorism. In January, Georgia state patrol officerkilled 26-year-old Manuel Teran, who was shot 57 times while they cleared a forest encampment of protesters. Police claims of self-defense in Teran’s killing have been called into question by the county medical examiner’s office.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Paul Glaze, a spokesperson with the Vote to Stop Cop City Coalition. Here he discusses the dangerous precedent being set in this RICO indictment and other developments in the campaign to hold a citywide referendum to stop construction of the proposed Atlanta police training facility.

PAUL GLAZE: What we find is that as activists in the South is that a lot of the tactics that you will see happen across the country often kind of get test piloted down here. And what this is, is a very broad attempt to criminalize participating in movement. We know that because when they filed these RICO, these RICO charges, when they when they put this down, they dated it to the day that George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, which was almost a full year before anyone in Atlanta knew about Cop City.

So it’s not just about Cop City. In Atlanta, they say when someone tells you who they are, believe him. And Chris Carr is showing us who he is. And to be clear, this is a man who wants to run for governor and he’s got no clear lane, right? Brad Raffensperger, our secretary of state, is presumed to run and he’s the guy that stood up to Trump. And Kelly Loeffler is a former U.S. senator and she’s richer than God.

So you got this guy here who kind of needs to find a lane for himself and a way to stick out from the crowd. And he’s really just throwing everything in the kitchen sink that he can think of to be provocative. But it is dangerous because, again, we’re talking about people charged with racketeering because they got reimbursed for glue. Like $11.48-cent reimbursement because they got some poster supplies.

This is Chris Carr and so, you know, we take him at his word that he’s trying to criminalize protest writ large and any substantive opposition to the way that public safety is done in this country. And there’s a threat to him.

This is a guy who did a robo-call as the president of the Republican Attorney Generals Association recruiting people for Jan. 6. He could not be more clear about where he is coming from. And that is why I know sometimes it can feel like you need to run from that. We got to play it safe. You can’t run from someone like that. They only will take advantage of you doing so. You got to step up right then and just bop them on the nose.

SCOTT HARRIS: Paul, tell us about the referendum. You’ve gathered signatures to have a city-wide referendum on whether or not to proceed with this Cop City training facility. The mayor’s office, the officials there in City Hall have attempted to derail the move for a referendum. And I wonder if you’d talk about some of the tactics they’ve used, including signature-matching and similar things they’ve done to slow walk the whole process.

PAUL GLAZE: A lot of what you hear down here is like, “Oh, you’re doing it the wrong way. You got to go about it the right way.” So we said, “All right, so we settled our bet and we decided that we were going to try and pursue this citywide referendum to put this to a vote before the people.”

Immediately, the first thing you have to do is you have to go ask them for a form. You got to say, “Hey, I want to do this. Can you just give me the piece of paper that people sign and we’ll make copies and do the thing?”

And they stonewalled on that. And then they came up with some things that weren’t actual legal reasons, according to the law, that weren’t on the paper. “We need an extra space here. We needed an extra part of the form.” So we said, “All right, no that’s fine. We’ll do that. That’s fine. We’ll do that.”

We did that. We turn it back and they still slow walked it. Finally, we did it.

Immediately, the mayor comes out and says, “We know that if they do this honestly, they won’t be successful. There’s no way.”

And what that told us right then was that here in the cradle of a civil rights movement, a mayor of Atlanta was willing to set us up for voter fraud, because that’s what it is. When someone comes out and says, “You can’t do this and be successful unless you cheat,” they’re telegraphing what their next move is going to be.

So we went out and we got 116,800 signatures. And when we were all set to turn in, you know, this original deadline comes up and it’s time to turn these in and we’re getting ready to and all of a sudden we start getting these rumors out of City Hall that they’re going to use this process called signature matching, which is where they take the signature you wrote on the petition form and they compare it to whatever signature they have on file.

And usually that means the one you signed with the big stylus on an iPad when you went to get a driver’s license. And if there’s anything different, according to, you know, the opinion of the person looking at it, then they say, “Oh, we don’t think that’s the same person.” And they discount it.

And they said, “Oh, no, we’re not going to do that. We are going to compare them, right? But it’s not signature matching, we’re just going to look at the signature and compare it and if it doesn’t look like it’s the same, then there’s a problem.”

It’s this is kind of doublespeak the city has engaged in over and over. You know, they told us they were going to respect this process. And immediately they told the court that “Actually, you know, this whole thing’s invalid.” I mean, “You can’t cancel the lease. We’ve already signed the lease. We’ve signed the paperwork. What are we going to do, write new papers?”

This has gone back and forth every chance they’ve had. They have taken any and all opportunities to argue anything they can think of, even if it doesn’t make sense just to delay the process long enough that they can start laying down concrete.

They’re just trying to delay it long enough that they can put the foundations for this building down and start building it up and make it a moot point. We keep telling them the harder you make it to go the legal way, the more likely people are going to just go out there and stop it themselves.

For more information, visit Stop Cop City at stopcop.city, Stop Cop City Solidarity at
stopcopcitysolidarity.org, Atlanta Solidarity Fund: When activists face repression, we stand with them atlsolidarity.org, Defend the Atlanta Forest on Facebook at facebook.com/defendatlantaforest, Defend the Atlanta Forest on Twitter
@defendATLforest,  Defend the Atlanta Forest on Instagram at @defendatlantaforest and Vote to Stop Cop City at copcityvote.com.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Paul Glaze (19:26) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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