For over two years, defiant struggle has been waged against plans to turn a forest near Atlanta into a massive police training center, which people call Cop City. In that time, anti-Cop City protesters have been hit with vicious and even murderous repression. On August 29, that repression went to an even more brutally oppressive level, when 61 people involved in different kinds of anti-Cop City protests were indicted under Georgia’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. They face up to 20 years in jail for crimes of speech, political organizing and just protesting!
This is a fascist move by this system’s repressive apparatus. Establishing a precedent of using RICO laws against legitimate, just protest has ominous implications. It must be opposed by anyone claiming to have any commitment to rule of law.
Those under attack from this indictment need to be supported and defended. This indictment is an outrageous assault on the right to protest. It is an attack on simply telling the truth about the crimes of this system. This is a BFD—a big fascist deal. It needs to be confronted in the context of everything going on right now—the rapidly escalating moves to tear up the norms that have defined this system of exploitation and oppression for decades.
If you want to understand what is behind this outrage—and you need to—you need to engage the work of the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian on the profound crisis this system is facing. AND, the potential for something terrible or something emancipating to come out of this situation.1
RICO: A “Catch-All” Weapon in the Hands of This System’s Repressive Apparatus
RICO laws were first passed at the federal level 50 years ago. Now dozens of states, including Georgia, have their own RICO laws. They are supposedly aimed at, and were originally used to go after Mafia type criminal organizations. These laws allow the repressive apparatus of this system to bring criminal charges against people—with no connection to each other—and implicate them in a vast "criminal conspiracy." And, then, on that basis, hit them with charges that carry much more severe penalties than if people were just charged with a normal crime.
On August 14, Trump and 18 of his cohorts were indicted by Fulton County (Atlanta) District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, under Georgia’s RICO law for being part of a broad conspiracy to attempt to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia. As Andy Zee warned on The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show, RICO laws are “a catch-all weapon in the hands of this system's repressive apparatus and not something to be celebrated even in this case [the indictment of Trump].”
Willis, celebrated by liberals for the RICO indictment of Trump, has been a frenzied champion of using RICO laws to shred civil liberties and attack free speech. In real ways Willis “set the table” for the use of RICO against Cop City protesters. She has used RICO laws against rappers who face massive charges for their song lyrics and has used social media posts to unjustly sweep up wide swaths of youth accused of gang association.
Only two weeks after being used to indict Trump, the same Georgia RICO law is being wielded, in this case by Georgia’s Republi-fascist state Attorney General Chris Carr to attempt to intimidate, silence, isolate, tie up in legal defense, and crush a just struggle against police brutality and repression. The law is being used to threaten to put dozens of people in jail for up to 20 years simply for their association, in any shape or form, with the movement against Cop City.
Systemic Violent Repression of a Just Struggle
Cop City would replace a large forested area next to Atlanta’s Black community. A wide range of people, from different races, walks of life and political perspectives, in different forms of protest, have waged determined, defiant struggle to stop Cop City. The Cop City Vote Coalition2 describes itself as “made up of people of many different beliefs, including those who want to abolish policing and create alternative public safety models, and those who don’t necessarily want to abolish policing but oppose the environmental devastation and militarized policing that would result from Cop City.”
Cop City, as planned, features a compound that simulates an inner-city community with a convenience store, a nightclub and a home; this will be a staging area for pigs to train for and rehearse the kind of terror and violence the U.S. Army carries out around the world, against communities of the oppressed in this country.3
Police repression against opposition to Cop City has included a massive and fatal police assault on protesters in the forest on January 18, 2023, when Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán was shot dead in a hail of 57 bullets from Georgia police.4 In March, police raided a Defend the Forest music festival with guns drawn and detained 35 people, charging 23 of them with “domestic terrorism” for alleged vandalism against property. In June, a SWAT squad with guns drawn raided the home of activists in the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, an organization that raises bail money and defends arrested activists; three people were charged with money laundering for those activities.
Why are the powers that be in Atlanta, and higher up in the ruling class, so hell-bent on spitting on public sentiment and brutalizing and murdering to stop protests against Cop City?
As we wrote earlier in Revolution:
“Cop City” is not designed to train pigs to prevent crimes against individuals. It is designed to enable them to control and occupy neighborhoods. The plans for Cop City tell you that those who rule over this system foresee and are preparing for social and political earthquakes that will rock their system of exploitation and oppression. But it also tells you that the rulers of this country fear the potential of those on whose necks they have their knees. Potential to not just resist, but bring down this whole system.
A Fascist Indictment Targeting Radical Ideas, Protest, and Truth
The RICO indictment is focused on criminalizing political opposition to Cop City. This includes people who authorities claim adhere to and promote “anarchist ideas.” It alleges the defendants are united and cohered around “the idea that individual needs are subordinate to the good of the whole society.” And “anti-government, anti-police, and anti-corporate” views.
Putting the good of society above individual needs is not the basis for a criminal enterprise, it is a value that every decent person should respect! Stop to consider the implications of criminalizing those sentiments!5
In addition to targeting values that in many cases represent fundamental human decency, the supposed criminal conspiracy depicted in the indictment includes all kinds of activities that are perfectly legal. The indictment targets “memorizing or writing the Atlanta Solidarity Fund's phone number on their body in case of arrest.” And, offering “emotional and personal support” to arrested protesters including “letter writing campaigns and encouragements of ‘solidarity.’"
An attorney for the defendants told Rolling Stone magazine that by the standards of the indictment, “nearly any organizing effort against unjust public policies” would be criminalized.
Pause and think here, and envision, what that means for the way things are rapidly heading in America. This indictment aims to outlaw, and would lead to outlawing, the spreading of ideas like the greater good of society is more important than individuals. Outlawing “anti-police” or “anti-corporate” views. And outlawing—as the attorney notes—nearly any organizing effort against public policies.
You, reading this, are faced with a choice: accepting this… or refusing to accept this. Silence is acquiescence, and violence.
The RICO indictment would make it a crime to tell the truth about police brutality and murder. It accuses activists of using “websites, social media, and statements to traditional media to sow disinformation and propaganda.” But the only real example they give of “disinformation” is bullshit! The indictment says that “In the weeks following [George] Floyd's murder, Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by Atlanta police in a Wendy's parking lot … While the Brooks shooting was justified [emphasis added], it caused anti-police violence tensions to boil over, and it further flamed political tensions surrounding policing.”
The police murder of Rayshard Brooks was not “justified.” And people were right to expose this! Rayshard Brooks was a 27-year-old unarmed Black man shot and killed by Atlanta police in 2020 for sleeping in his vehicle in a Wendy’s parking lot and events that followed when police harassed him for that. And this killing was part of an epidemic of police brutality and murder. (See “Atlanta: Police Murder a Black Man—AGAIN! People Rise Up to Say NO MORE!” at revcom.us.)
World’s Most Violent Murderous Power Screams “Terrorism and Violence” Against Those They Claim Vandalized Property
Overwhelmingly, incidents or actions alleged as “violent” in the indictment involve damage to property, not to people. And, as part of the thread throughout the indictment of criminalizing ideas that elevate the rights of people over the rights of property owners (as cohering a supposed criminal enterprise), the indictment quotes and invokes as evidence the following (attributed to an activist in the movement to stop Cop City):
Are we more concerned about the "violence" of destroying construction machinery and police property, or about the violence of capitalist exploitation, environmental devastation, and police murder? What do we do when it's liberal Democrats, rather than Republicans, who are leading the efforts to destroy an urban forest, suppress residents' right to vote, and expand the police state? Do we truly believe that Cop City is a matter of life and death, and, if we do, what are we willing to do to stop it?
Consider, again, seriously here: What does it mean for the kind of world this RICO indictment is aiming for when that sentiment and those values—putting human life above property—is turned into a crime?
The indictment also claims that some of the defendants took actions defending themselves or others from police brutality. For example, it charges that activists camping in the forest built “dangerous, sharp traps designed to injure approaching individuals.” This from enforcers of a system that installs razor wire intended to slash, injure or kill asylum seekers on the Mexican border. And, with no mention of the fact that in at least one defining instance, those “approaching individuals” in the Atlanta forest were murderous thugs, that is, police, who executed Tortuguita in a hail of bullets!
Seemingly out of the blue, and unrelated in any organizational sense to the movement against Cop City, the indictment throws in a major section making accusations about protest that erupted in the wake of the police murder of Rayshard Brooks. It claims that the presence of “gang members” (read: Black youth), some reportedly armed, was connected to the tragic shooting death of an eight-year-old child. Refuting the completely unsubstantiated, distorted assertions and lies in this section of the indictment is beyond the scope of this article. But by throwing this incident into the pot, the RICO indictment aims to paint people protesting and demanding a stop to police brutality and murder, specifically protests by armed Black people, as guilty-by-association with gang violence.6
And here we see an indication of the breadth of the sweep of fascist RICO laws as they are being applied in Atlanta. The response from the Cop City Vote Coalition makes the point that the indictments “use the day George Floyd was murdered as the date the alleged criminal acts began. This is months before anyone was even aware of Cop City, and is a clear assault on the broader movement for racial justice and equity.” In other words, the RICO indictment accuses anti-Cop City activists of engaging in a criminal enterprise even before they were aware of plans for Cop City or began organizing against it.
Indeed, the supposed “cohering criminal enterprise”—in other words, what ties all these people together in their "conspiracy"—is nothing more or less than defending people from, and opposing, police brutality, repression, and murder.
We Need a Fundamentally Different System
The RICO indictment of anti-Cop City activists and people who intersected with that movement brands people who simply hate and oppose police brutality, repression and murder as criminals. It is a blatant and shocking shredding of the most basic rights supposedly guaranteed in this system’s Constitution.
The fact that this has not been condemned by Biden, Georgia’s two Democratic senators, or the so-called progressive icon Stacy Abrams illustrates that despite irreconcilable differences the Democrats have with how the Republ-fascists are moving to ratchet up police terror, they are on their own mission to do that as orchestrated by Joe Biden’s mantra of “Fund the police! Fund the police…” And the main backers of Cop City have been Democratic Party elected officials.
The underlying reality that people need to confront is that even the “best” interpretation of this system’s Constitution cannot change the fact that it is a constitution created by slave owners and other exploiters, to serve exploitation and oppression. That Constitution never was, and never can be, a tool to defend meaningful rights for the people. Resistance to the escalation of fascist repression can only prevent the nightmare this system has in store, and lead to real freedom, if it breaks out of the straightjacket of the exploiters’ view of freedom and is aimed at something much different and better.
So long as we are still living under the rule of this system of capitalism-imperialism, we will defend people against attacks on their lives and on the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. But we need a whole different system, with a whole different Constitution—the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—which will provide much greater rights for the people, including the basic right to have the fundamentally determining role in a new society and government whose purpose and goal is to eliminate all exploitation and oppression, everywhere.
In sharp contrast to the vicious repression carried out by THIS system, here is how the new revolutionary power would view and treat the rights of the people, in the system brought into being by the revolution (from We Need and We Demand: A Whole New Way to Live, A Fundamentally Different System):
A Whole New Dimension of Freedom and Rights of the People
The role of government institutions established with this new socialist Constitution, including the police and military, will no longer be to contain, control, repress, brutalize, murder and slaughter people, here and all over the world. Instead, these radically new institutions will safeguard the rights of the people and give backing to the masses of people in moving to abolish all forms of discrimination and inequality, all relations of oppression and exploitation. They will defend the new, emancipating society against attempts to sabotage, attack and destroy it, and will support people throughout the world fighting for the goal of emancipation.
As set forth in this Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, the people in this new society will not only be allowed but encouraged and enabled to fully speak their minds politically, to express themselves freely through artistic and other means, to dissent and protest with constitutional and institutionalized protection of their right to do so. They will be provided with the means for doing this, because this is an important part of creating an atmosphere where people can “breathe” and feel at ease, and where they will be inspired to join with others in grappling with what will, and what will not, contribute to the emancipating transformation of society and the world as a whole.