Bernard E. Harcourt | Criminalizing Cooperation: Indictment, Clerk No. #235C189192 (Aug. 29, 2023)

By Bernard E. Harcourt

The 110-page indictment returned on August 29, 2023, against 61 persons accused of racketeering practices under the Georgia RICO statute for their opposition to the police training ground outside Atlanta is a stunning document that chills cooperation, protest, free speech, and democratic debate. Everyone should read it. I have posted it here.

It begins with a lesson on anarchist ideology, on “mutual aid and solidarity,” and then goes on to accuse the targets of essentially conspiring to promote an ideology: anarchism.

Proof that a target is planning a criminal act includes “memorizing” or “writing” the telephone number of the legal assistance project on their arms. In order words, the prosecutors are flipping the logic on its head and using it as a sword: people usually write a phone number on their arm to call an attorney when they engage in peaceful protest because the police have so often engaged in illegal kettling or other tactics and illegally arrested protesters. Any reasonable person engaging in protest today should do that, given the frequent strong-arm tactics of anti-protest police in cities like New York, Chicago, or Atlanta. But instead of interpreting it as a defensive act, the prosecution is using it as proof of illegal premeditation.

The indictment overreaches on protest and free speech in an astounding way. It is clearly indented to quash political protest against any state institution. Here is how it starts:

Anarchy is a philosophy that is opposed to forms of authority or hierarchy. Beginnings of anarchist ideals date back centuries, though usage of the term “anarchy” did not exist until the 1800s. Over time, various philosophical forms of anarchy have emerged. Numerous anarchist philosophies exist, though anarchists are not required to subscribe to one particular belief of anarchy. Rather, the notion of anarchy, being grounded in an anti-authority mindset, primarily targets government because it views government as unnecessarily oppressive. Instead of relying on a modicum of government structure, anarchy relies on human association instead of government to fulfill all human needs. Some of the major ideas that anarchists promote include collectivism, mutualism/mutual aid, and social solidarity, and these same ideas are frequently seen in the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement.

Mutual Aid is a term popularized by anarchists to describe individuals who exchange goods and services to assist other individuals in society without government intervention. Closely related to collectivism, mutual aid is not a new term, nor is it limited to anarchy. However, the major factor in anarchist mutual aid 1s the absence of government and the absence of hierarchy. Indeed, an anarchist belief relies on the notion that once government is abolished, individuals will rely on mutual aid to exist. In doing so, anarchists believe that individuals will work together and voluntarily contribute their own resources to insure that each individual has its own needs met.

Social solidarity is another term that is embraced by anarchists that is tied closely to mutual aid and collectivism. Social solidarity is the idea that individuals can live together without government and can provide for each other. The notion of social solidarity relies heavily on the idea of human altruism; that is, individuals will voluntarily offer goods, services, and resources without anything compelling it. Anarchists often shorten the term “social solidarity” simply into the term “solidarity,” and it is frequently woven into the speeches, statements, and writings of anarchists. In addition to the term “solidarity,” and other anarchist terms, anarchists often weave the term “mutual aid” and “collective” into their jargon and writings. […]

The spread of anarchist ideas is conducted through word of mouth, internet, and written form. As with any political ideology, the promotion of anarchist ideas exists and is spread on the internet. […]

In addition to handing out documents, individuals who join Defend the Atlanta Forest are offered financial, personal, and emotional support to remain loyal to the movement. […] The discussions of support often refer to providing “mutual aid” and “solidarity.”

Most “Forest Defenders” are aware that they are preparing to break the law, and this is demonstrated by premeditation of attacks. […] Preparation includes, but is not limited to, […] memorizing or writing the Atlanta Solidarity Fund’s phone number on their body in case of arrest. Shortly afterward, in an effort to de-legitimize the facts as relayed by law enforcement and to keep the loyalty of the Forest Defendants, members of Defend the Atlanta Forest often contact news media and flood social media with claims that their unlawful actions are protected by the First Amendment. […]

Anarchist zines instruct its members on how to effectively promote its political messages while also promoting the false idea that the group is non-violent. These publications are used to teach and influence Defend the Atlanta Forest members and recruits on how to deal with the media to promote its political message.

— Indictment in State of Georgia v. Jack Morgan Beamon, et al., Aug. 29, 2023

The indictment is an attack on small non-profit practice. It describes in ominous tones the “fiscal hosts” that are institution familiar to all of us in in the non-profit area. They allow people to use the administrative capabilities of an established host organization to facilitate their grant receipts and expenses when they are too small to have a full administrative office. The indictment states:

The Open Collective is a platform for “fiscal hosts.” The website for the Open Collective describes a “fiscal host” as “an organization that welcomes others to operate through their structure, so projects can use the host. The host provides administrative services, oversight, and support.” In this instance, the Network for Strong Communities acted as the “fiscal host” for the Forest Justice Defense Fund.

That is, of course, common practice for small organizations that do not have their own administrative capabilities.

The indictment lists a number of overt acts (225) in furtherance of the conspiracy. A few of those involve lethal weapons and so involve serious allegations. However, many of the overt acts are ordinary forms of protest. So for instance:

On or about January 18, 2023, CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS did take photos and video of police officers as police attempted to remove Reynolds from the treehouse. The photos and video were subsequently posted on social media. This was done to spread the message of Defend the Atlanta Forest. This was an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

On or about January 18, 2023, GEOFFREY PARSONS did sign his name as “ACAB.” This was an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

Following the racketeering charges, the indictment charges multiple counts of money laundering aimed at the operations of the bail fund, which is going to chill any organization or association that gets involved in financial transactions to support political protest.

You can read the indictment here: Indictment in Stop Cop City August 29 2023