We get an update on the armed police SWAT team raid and arrest of three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which has been raising money to bail out protesters opposed to the construction of a massive police training facility known as Cop City in the Weelaunee Forest, one of the city’s largest green spaces and the former site of a prison farm. Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savannah Patterson were charged with money laundering and fraud. The arrests come as 42 protesters face charges including domestic terrorism for opposing Cop City and just days before the Atlanta City Council is set to vote on the project. These new and unprecedented arrests are a clear attack on “the infrastructure of the movement,” says Kamau Franklin, founder of the organization Community Movement Builders and a vocal Cop City opponent. He joins us from Atlanta for the latest on the protests and the state repression campaign against them.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we go to Atlanta, Georgia, where a police SWAT team, guns drawn, raided the Atlanta Solidarity Fund on Wednesday and arrested three people who had been raising money to bail out protesters opposed to the construction of a massive police training facility known as Cop City.
Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savannah Patterson were charged with one count each of money laundering and charity fraud. Warrants allege the three were, quote, “misleading contributors … to fund the actions in part of Defend the Atlanta Forest, a group classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as Domestic Violent Extremists.” As proof of money laundering, the warrants cite reimbursements from April 2021 to March of this year that total less than $7,000 and were for “forest clean-up, totes, COVID rapid tests, media and yard signs.” The Atlanta Solidarity Fund issued a statement that it’s existed for seven years, quote, “with the sole purpose of providing resources to protestors experiencing repression.” To be clear, none of the arrested Cop City activists have been designated as domestic violent extremists, nor have they been convicted, just charged.
In March, prosecutors charged 23 forest defenders with domestic terrorism after clashes between police and protesters, lless than two months after Atlanta police shot dead Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, a 26-year-old environmental activist. An autopsy concluded they were sitting with their hands raised up in front of their body when police shot them 57 times.
In response to the arrests Wednesday, the National Lawyers Guild issued a statement, quote, “in firm solidarity with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and all of the Stop Cop City activists unjustly targeted by law enforcement,” unquote. They noted, quote “Bail funds exist to protect people’s right to dissent. They are necessary, legally sound resources that help people more safely access their constitutionally protected rights to speech and assembly by lowering the risks of financial ruin or indefinite jail time,” unquote.
The arrests come just days before the Atlanta City Council is set to vote on the fate of Cop City. Officials recently admitted the public cost of the project will top $67 million — twice as high as originally stated.
For an update, we go to Atlanta to speak with Kamau Franklin, founder of the organization Community Movement Builders.
Kamau, welcome back to Democracy Now! I mean, can you lay out what happened? As we look at this image of a SWAT team moving in, guns drawn, charging this group, ultimately — the authorities — with charity fraud, certainly someone like George Santos, who was just recently arrested, there wasn’t a SWAT team that moved in on him. Can you talk about what took place?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Sure. Thanks for having me.
So, what took place was an escalation by the authorities, the state of Georgia, the city of Atlanta, on the infrastructure of the movement. So, approximately at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, along with SWAT teams — there’s reports that there were personnel from Homeland Security there — decided to back a truck up in a residential neighborhood, an armored vehicle, with armored police personnel, SWAT teams, to basically go in, guns drawn, as you stated, to arrest people on what essentially is — would be considered a white-collar crime and/or a financial crime, in terms of what the charges would be.
But this use of violent force against the Atlanta Solidarity Fund really shows that the real intent has nothing to do with any criminality, which has never taken place with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, but this is really another way of destroying and attacking the infrastructure of organizing a movement, particularly against those who have been organizing against Cop City.
AMY GOODMAN: Wouldn’t this, to say the least, be a deterrent to people who might want to donate to the fund?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, apparently, this is the hope of the Atlanta police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and, again, the governor, Kemp. But already the movement has stood strong. We found an alternative bail fund, a national bail fund, which is stepping in to support movement organizers and the folks who were arrested who were part of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund.
But, yes, the very attempt is to ruin the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, an organization, as stated, that’s been around for over seven years, way before the Stop Cop City organizing and activism, way before even the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. These folks have been around organizing and supporting movement activists and organizers, making sure that anyone who was arrested in Atlanta had an opportunity to receive bail, and instead of being locked up and waiting trial, that those folks could defend themselves on any specious charges. Once they were out, they could resume their lives. They could resume being active in organizing. They are, you know, basically a needed infrastructure for organizing a movement, which the state and the city has gone after and attacked.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Marlon Kautz, one of the three Atlanta Solidarity Fund organizers who were arrested on Wednesday. But they were speaking in February, after information surfaced that Georgia prosecutors were preparing RICO charges against activists who oppose the construction of Cop City in Atlanta. He’s currently in jail.
MARLON KAUTZ: We understand that this movement is as broad as society itself. It includes environmental activists, community groups, faith leaders, abolitionists, students, artists, and people from all over. But police, prosecutors and even Governor Kemp have been trying to suggest in the media and in court that the opposition to Cop City is actually the work of a criminal organization whose members conspire to commit acts of terrorism. In essence, they’re trying to concoct a RICO-like story about the movement.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Kamau Franklin, Marlon Kautz and the two others arrested remain in jail from Wednesday?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yes, they still are in jail. They have a bail hearing coming up today at 1:00.
And I should say, based on what Marlon was talking about, we’ve heard rumors for months that the other parts of the infrastructure of the movement would be attacked. We’ve come out with different videos showing support and acknowledging that this information, although could not be verified at the time, was something that was sort of laid at our doorstep, that other parts of the movement to stop Cop City would be attacked, because the city and the state were scared that, through all of their tactics, the movement has not gone away. In fact, it has grown.
And so, we think that the attack, when it finally did happen, you know, it came at a time when, as you stated, the city of Atlanta, through the City Council, is about to vote to give funding to this training center, to Cop City, after it was exposed that instead of $30 million, it would be $67 million — double the cost — which they have lied about for two years, telling the public that it would be — and I say in air quotes — “only $30 million.” In addition to that, the last City Council hearing, hundreds of people turned out to speak. Many were turned away. Over a hundred people were turned away from speaking. It was the largest gathering at City Hall to make comment and protest any ordinance and/or bill that the City Council has ever introduced. They knew that a repeat of that was going to happen this Monday, June 5th, when they’re actually going to be voting on the resources, giving the resources to the Atlanta Police Foundation, a private foundation itself, which probably is the real entity that’s a criminal nonprofit entity. That is what we think prompted the move by, again, the city and the state and the police and the district attorney of DeKalb County to move now to again further criminalize this movement in the face of massive protest against Cop City.
AMY GOODMAN: Kamau, we just have 30 seconds. This would be the largest police training facility in the country. Some would say, “Isn’t good for police to be trained?” Why are you so opposed, and so many, from Indigenous people, protesting the use of land, to environmentalists, overall, to people who are deeply concerned about police brutality?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Because we understand that this Cop City is not just for training. The officer that killed Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta had over 2,000 hours of training. This is not about the training of police. This is about the militarization of police, the overpolicing of Black communities, and the attacking of movements and organizations that oppose police violence. This is an extension of that, and that’s why we are against Cop City, because we know this is not about training, this is about police militarization and the overpolicing of Black communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Kamau Franklin, founder of the organization Community Movement Builders, speaking to us from Atlanta, Georgia.
Coming up, the billionaire Sackler family gets legal immunity as a federal appeals court rules the OxyContin makers can be shielded from prosecution for their role in creating and fueling the deadly opioid epidemic. Back in 30 seconds.