ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MARCH 4: Environmental activists hold a rally and a march through the Atlanta Forest, a preserved forest Atlanta that is scheduled to be developed as a police training center, March 4, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. Intent upon stopping the building of what they have called cop city, the environmentalists were evicted from the forest in January, resulting in the killing by police of Manuel "Tortuguita" Terán, a young activist and medic. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Retaliation against protesters trying to prevent the construction of an 85-acre facility police training complex escalated on May 31. At least 10 heavily armed Atlanta Police Department SWAT officers raided the home of and arrested three board members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a local mutual aid fund that has raised money to support activists facing arrest and prosecution since at least 2016.

Marlon Scott Kautz, Adele Maclean, and Savannah Patterson have been charged with money laundering and charity fraud in connection with recent fundraising efforts to provide bail and legal support for activists who are protesting the construction of a $90 million police training complex known  as “Cop City.” The three were released June 2 on a $15,000 bond per person after the judge overseeing their case expressed concerns about the free speech implications of the arrests.

The raid is just the latest in a string of arrests that have targeted the Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City coalitions. Activists argue that the facility, which will be used to train officers in urban combat, is a misuse of $67 million in city funding and will result in the destruction of Weelaunee Forest, one of Georgia’s “four lungs” and a critical piece of eco-infrastructure.

By March 2023, 42 protesters had been arrested and charged with state-level domestic terrorism charges, made possible by a 2017 amendment that broadened the state’s domestic terrorism statute. Three more activists were arrested on April 28 for placing flyers on mailboxes and initially charged with stalking, a misdemeanor, with the felony charge of intimidating a police officer added later. At the beginning of the year, Atlanta police also killed activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán while raiding a forest encampment. Autopsies reveal they were shot 57 times while their hands were raised.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations released a statement on May 31, declaring that they were arresting Kautz, Maclean, and Patterson on “charges stemming from the ongoing investigation of individuals responsible for numerous criminal acts at the future site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center & other metro Atlanta locations.”

Lawyers reviewing the case believe Georgia officials are pursuing racketeering (RICO) charges against those involved with the movement, according to a February statement from Kautz.

In a public statement on the day of the arrests, Gov. Brian Kemp said, “we will track down every member of a criminal organization, from violent foot soldiers to their uncaring leaders. We will not rest until they are arrested, tried, and face punishment.”

Many activists say these arrests represent a chilling escalation of tactics to suppress a political movement.

“This is fascism,” said Hannah Riley, the director of programming at the Center for Just Journalism, who has been organizing with Defend the Atlanta Forest since 2021. “This is severe state repression of a righteous movement, and it’s really terrifying to see it escalate.” 

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the California-based Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), says now is the time to be vigilant. 

“I’m very concerned that they are testing out more and more violent, more and more repressive strategies to suppress our movement in the hopes that they’ll get away with it,” she said.

Riley says escalating retaliation against protesters is a sign of just how thoroughly corporate interests have co-opted the city government. The police complex is the project of the Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit heavily funded by corporate donors

“I think the reason that we’re seeing these incredible acts that are antithetical to democracy is because Atlanta is a city run by corporations,” said Riley. “I think the fight to stop Cop City is pulling the curtain back on how undemocratic we are as a city.”

K Agbebiyi, the senior housing campaign coordinator of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, agrees. 

“The Atlanta Police Foundation is not actually [The Atlanta Police Department]. They’’re just  a nonprofit that gets to determine that we have to live in fear for doing things that are typically not as viewed as controversial, like raising money for bail.”

Activists say the facility will also enhance the Atlanta Police Department’s ability to escalate policing tactics in already over-policed low-income communities and communities of color.

On June 5, protesters gathered at Atlanta’s City Hall, where, during 15 hours of public comment, hundreds of people asked their representatives to vote no against the facility’s construction or send the proposal back to the committee. The Atlanta City Council ultimately voted to approve $67 million in funding in an 11-4 vote.

But activists say this isn’t the end. Commenters against the funding repeated the refrain, “Cop City will never be built.” Defend the Atlanta Forest has announced a Day of Action on June 8 and a week of action from June 24 to July 31

Brooks says that now is the time for solidarity, and what happens in Atlanta will reverberate across other movements.

“As an organizer, I find it helpful when the state shows us how far they’re willing to go to suppress our movements,” said Brooks. “I think that that helps us take them as seriously as they take us.”

Katherine Demby is a writer based in Queens. She covers law, race, politics, and culture. You can find her on Twitter at @kaye_demz.