Since the beginning of 2023, prosecutors in Georgia have threatened to charge activists protesting against a planned police militarization facility known as “Cop City” with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Last week, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr indicted 61 people on RICO charges in Fulton County.
In indiscriminately lumping together scores of arrestees, many of whom have ostensibly never met, into a fabricated conspiracy case, the prosecution is attempting to criminalize protest itself. This case represents politically driven repression aimed at suppressing all forms of activism and dissent, in the style of Vladimir Putin. It should be of interest to anyone who is concerned about civil liberties such as the freedom to protest or the freedom to advocate against police brutality and authoritarianism or in favor of preserving the environment.
The indictment does not seem to indicate that prosecutors have any previously unreleased information at their disposal indicating the existence of a conspiracy, in the sense that the word is ordinarily employed. Rather, they have brought new charges against those whose names they already had as the result of previous arrests, and are now clumsily endeavoring to frame them as participants in a cohesive criminal enterprise.
The defendants include 42 people already charged with “terrorism” for allegedly participating in the movement to #StopCopCity, many of them on the basis of actions as simple as entering a forest or posting to social media; three more people already charged with felonies for allegedly distributing handbills; and another three people charged last May with “money laundering” and other crimes for organizing legal support for activists. None of these previous charges has resulted in a single conviction.
The only thing that connects all of these indictees is that they all appear to have been arrested or detained at some point, however randomly, on suspicion of protesting against the government’s plan to destroy the Weelaunee Forest.
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