For months, environmental and racial justice activists in Atlanta have challenged the destruction of a local forest to create a training center for police and fire services, commonly known as “Cop City.” Since the protests began, over 40 people connected to the Cop City protests—including three people who operated a bail fund providing legal support to demonstrators—have been arrested and charged under state law for “domestic terrorism.”
In justifying its actions, Georgia officials cited DHS’s characterization of Atlanta activists as “domestic violent extremists.” While DHS denied that it “designated” protesters as domestic violent extremists, it used that description and other inflammatory terrorism-related terms to describe Cop City protesters. As the Brennan Center has documented, DHS intelligence has a habit of taking isolated social media posts out of context and highlighting them in intelligence bulletins which are distributed to local police. This can result in exaggerated fears about social movements and serve as a justification for the unconstitutional or politicized suppression of activists and protesters.
The letter urges DHS to disclose the information it has collected and disseminated to Georgia law enforcement about Cop City protesters and to develop clearer policies on its definition and application of the “domestic violent extremism” label to ensure the protection of constitutional rights.