For over a year the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has characterized protesters and activists opposed to the construction of Atlanta’s new police training facility, commonly known as “Cop City,” as “domestic violent extremists” (DVEs). The Brennan Center has previously explained the harms of designating protesters as DVEs.
Georgia authorities have engaged in a crackdown on Stop Cop City protestors, and the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) appears to have fueled that effort with intelligence assessments, social media monitoring reports, and counterterrorism messaging. Our letter makes public a previously unreleased I&A intelligence report obtained by the Brennan Center via open records request. We also detail a particularly concerning report issued by I&A only weeks before Georgia authorities killed a protestor under contested circumstances. In that document I&A calls criticism of environmental damage and “anti-law enforcement sentiment" DVE narratives and attempts to paint a nationwide picture of terror by labeling apparently unrelated acts of vandalism as incidents of domestic violent extremism. Rhetoric in reports like these invites law enforcement to more harshly police and prosecute individuals based on their political opinions.
I&A is a long-troubled intelligence agency with broad authorities to target people in the United States and threadbare protections for constitutional rights, such as those rights to speech and association enshrined in the First Amendment. I&A has focused its efforts on journalists, racial justice demonstrators in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, people simply reacting online to hot-button social issues, and other social media monitoring that bases inquiries on commonly held political views. Without urgently needed and serious change, I&A will likely continue to abuse its authorities. We and our co-signers call on Congress to investigate DHS’s misuse of its counterterrorism authorities, demand DHS release all records related to its targeting of the Stop Cop City movement, and adopt robust legislation to curtail DHS intelligence abuses.