More Draconian Than You Thought: A Look at Georgia RICO Then and Now

Featuring Ellen Barfield and Palta

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on
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More Draconian Than You Thought: A Look at Georgia RICO Then and Now
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If two people sit down for a cup of coffee in Georgia, they might leave with RICO charges. That’s how our first guest this week, Ellen Barfield explains the draconian Georgia RICO – that’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) charges that her husband faced over a decade ago, and that are now being levied against the organizers of Stop Cop City. Ellen outlines her experience fighting these charges and her understanding that these charges are there simply to handicap organizations that the establishment doesn’t like. In the second half of the show, Palta with Stop Cop City and Defend Atlanta Forest joins the show to give us updates on the ongoing attack of organizers by both the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia. Palta explains the normalization of fascistic logic, the anti-democratic moves both inside and outside of City Hall, and what folks are planning to do once and for all to Stop Cop City.

Video of Interview with Ellen Barfield

Video of Interview with Palta

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Ellen Barfield

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks everyone for joining us back here at the Project Censored Radio Show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Ellen Barfield, who currently serves on the National Boards of Veterans for Peace, the War Resisters League, Military Families Speak Out, and the Center on Conscience and War. And on climate issues, she works primarily with the anti-fracking group, Beyond Extreme Energy.

She spent four years in the U. S. Army from 1977 to 1981, stationed during that time in Germany, South Korea, as well as U. S. bases. Curiosity about why so many U. S. troops were in those nations very long after the hot wars there led her to activism challenging the huge number of U. S. bases worldwide, nuclear weapons, and militarism in general.

As she has for over 35 years, she supports struggles for justice, challenging racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Ellen has participated in peace delegations, too, and solidarity work with Palestine, Iraq, Korea, and Nicaragua. Ellen, thank you so much for joining us.

Ellen Barfield: Thank you, Eleanor. It’s very good to be here.

Eleanor Goldfield: So, Ellen, we could, and we should, have you on the show to discuss your impressive career in fighting the powers that be. But I’ve actually asked you on today to discuss your personal connection with Georgia RICO charges. That’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.

And listeners might be familiar with that term with regards to former President Donald Trump or indeed Stop Cop City. And in the second half of the show, folks will hear from a member of Stop Cop City and Defend Atlanta Forest to discuss the RICO charges that they’re facing.

And it bears mentioning that the Georgia RICO charges are different than the federal RICO charges and Georgia’s are more intense. The federal act was established to target organized crime activities like money laundering, bribery, drug trafficking, and other serious offenses. But Georgia’s version says that attempting or soliciting any of the mentioned crimes can count as a predicate act.

And while some might say that Trump represents the poster child for the supposed aim of RICO, community organizers and social justice activists represent a twisted perversion of the stated goals of RICO.

And since one of the things that we aim to do here on the Project Censored Show is offer important context to issues in the media, I’m very glad, Ellen, that you were able to join us to discuss your personal experience.

So first off, can you take us back to late February 2009 and describe how your husband was first targeted by this legislation?

Ellen Barfield: Yes, he was an anesthesiologist, professor of anesthesia at medical schools all his career, but after he had retired, one of the things he volunteered for was to work with an organization called the Final Exit Network, which does not assist suicide, never did. What it did do, and still does to some extent, although they were frightened enough to back off, but what they did and still do is counsel people about methods of self-deliverance and accompany them when they do whatever they do.

The Final Exit people don’t do anything. They have First Amendment rights to speak to people, give them information and just the personal right to be with them, and that’s what they do. They don’t assist suicide. They are aware that people get to the end, approaching the end with terrible conditions they don’t want to live through every last painful breath of, and they provide counseling and accompaniment, not assistance.

So, obviously, that is iffy for some people, and it happens that Final Exit was incorporated in Georgia. It also happens that I’m originally from Georgia, so I had some particular interest, but nothing direct about this.

But we found out that the Georgia RICO is way worse than the federal RICO. What I have said basically is that if two people sit down for a cup of coffee in Georgia, and some authority overhears them and doesn’t like what they’re talking about, wham, they get hit with a RICO charge.

It is very much used to be able to report as terrible, dangerous, awful, racketeering, corrupt, yada, yada, and of course, to threaten the organization and the people, and that’s exactly what happened. Final Exit, as I said, was incorporated in Georgia. How convenient.

So, there was a man who had mouth or throat cancer from being a smoker and he had had surgery and he still had a hole in his cheek and was dripping saliva and his idiot doctor claimed he was cancer free months after surgery, which you got to go five years before they’ll even say that, and even that’s not true. I have personal experience, which I won’t go into, not myself, but a loved one who came back with a metastasis long after five years, but anyway, a few months is ridiculous. But the doctor said that. The man was divorced, but his wife and he were still interacting a fair amount. She found a Final Exit network flyer in his apartment after he died and called the authorities.

So the Georgia Bureau of Investigation got involved and they set up a sting with two Final Exit people. Staff or volunteers, I’m not sure which, in Georgia, where they used this man’s case for a guy who turned out to be a cop to say, Oh, I’ve got pancreatic cancer and I don’t want to live with it. Oh, could you help me? And they recorded it and they used it as their evidence.

They arrested those two people in Georgia. My husband as the National Medical Director and the Regional Director, the Southeast Regional Director, who also happened to live in Baltimore, and they showed up at my husband’s office with a SWAT team of Baltimore homicide cops along with some GBI people. Homicide cops, for God’s sake! Even if it was assisted suicide, that’s not a homicide.

And they showed up at our house also, where fortunately I happened to be. So they didn’t break down our door because the other guy’s door, they broke down. And his junior high daughter showed up a few, a little while later, fortunately she called him and he said, go to the neighbors, I know what’s happening. We’ll deal with it.

But that outrageous kind of behavior in and of itself was the beginning of understanding how outrageous they were being. So my husband and the other guy were held for several days, arraigned, or at least had a hearing on a Friday, and promised, and did go, to Georgia to be arraigned there. And, okay, legal procedures will ensue.

At some point, we came to understand that the RICO charges had been part of the deal. And we’re like, what? This isn’t the mafia. What are you talking about?

But okay, we came to understand what it allowed them to do was confiscate Final Exit Network’s money because it was incorporated in Georgia and banked in Georgia.

Another thing they did, and I assume this is happening with Cop City people too, is that they took the organization’s documentation of clients and they went all over the damn country looking for other people to bring other suits. And there were some other suits brought, but, you know, just outrageous, way over the top legal, not even legal, it shouldn’t be legal, procedures to harass and shut down the Final Exit Network.

And that’s so very clearly what they’re doing with Cop City also is: no, you can’t have your money. No, you can’t have your public standing as decent people and no, you’re going to face a lot, yes, you’re going to face a lot of terrible legal threats for years to come. So here we go.

Eleanor Goldfield: And I’m curious because you’re you’re in Baltimore. And I assume that your husband was as well. I mean, it’s Georgia State RICO charges, so how does that, wouldn’t that be cross state lines? Was the FBI involved? How did that work?

Ellen Barfield: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was involved. I don’t know that the FBI was, maybe. But, as I said, they dragooned Baltimore homicide cops into doing the home invasion and the office invasion.

And interestingly here at home, and I’m ashamed to admit it was the first time I faced it even though I philosophically knew it, I forgot right away to say where is your search warrant? But I did remember it. And I did start demanding it and they said later, later, later, but the bureau, Georgia Bureau of Investigation guys were actually pretty decent, and they said, yes, we have one, and we’ll get it to you. And they did not even bother my computer. They said, that’s your computer, not your husband’s, right? I said, yes. They said, okay. They looked in his office. His computer was at his office downtown, not at home. So yes, they looked at it, but not here. They went through some paperwork. A business card that affiliated his name with Final Exit. They took Some a documentation of some expenses he was due to be reimbursed for, and they took his calendar, which had some notice of some meetings with Final Exit to prove that yes, he really was who they thought he was, but they were pretty good.

But the homicide cops, of course, were aggressive and ugly, and way too many of them. And our good friend, the head of the Maryland ACLU showed up outside on the street and wanted to get in to counsel with me. Larry also worked, volunteered with the ACLU, so they knew him, and she wanted to talk with me and they wouldn’t let her in. And they threatened her with arrest. So she said, I’ll call you later. And she did. And it was ACLU attorneys who helped through the arraignment process and to get him outta jail, but, they were way over the top, way outrageous.

And again, this is exactly what’s happening with the Cop City people.

Eleanor Goldfield: So what happened next? I mean, when you found out that there were RICO charges, what were the next steps in the process?

Ellen Barfield: Well, we got over picking our teeth up off the floor, first of all, and then we slowly came to understand, oh, the money. Okay, now we get it.

The money and the handicapping, the total handicapping of the organization at that point. And we came to hear about going all over the country looking for other cases, which was, you know, knock on somebody’s door and say, we’re here to find out if you’re still alive. And if you are, if you want to bring a suit against these people who are threatening to kill you, I mean, please. But that’s what we heard and what we found out outrageous. And all of that was over time.

And you know, nothing legal happens quick. That’s part of the ability they have is to shut down whatever you’re doing for the duration of the legal proceedings. It’s part of the problem.

And so we waited and we heard and we learned and eventually, and it was approximately a year after those initial arrest. Oh, Final Exit Network, not the individual arrestees, but Final Exit Network, has a day in court with the Georgia Supreme Court. And we were physically there to hear it. It was the first thing they heard in the morning, and they were still, you know, half asleep, sipping on their coffee, not paying much attention.

But as our person gave, I think it was 20 minutes, but whatever time frame, gave the presentation about what, how we saw all this as opposed to how they saw it, you could see the Supreme Court justices sort of sit up and lean forward and get a little thought crease in their foreheads. You know, Oh, this is interesting, it’s not just more garbage that we have to sift through of an early morning. And it happens, and of course, it took a while, but the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously overturned The RICO charges and said, you have done nothing to document why you think Final Exit Network’s procedures are racketeering influenced and corrupt behavior, so give the money back.

So they did, but it took nearly a year, and of course it was very handicapping in the meantime. And as I alluded to Final Exit has stepped back a fair amount from the boldness that they used to have because of terror. That’s part of what the so-called legal system, justice system does is frighten people into not doing what they’ve been doing.

So Final Exit still functions, but not nearly as boldly as they used to.

Eleanor Goldfield: And in terms of your husband’s personal experience, what happened with him with regards to the RICO charges? What effects did it have on him directly?

Ellen Barfield: Not much because they did just not ever pursue, probably drop but I’m not sure, but just not ever pursue anything against the four individuals who were arrested.

It became clear that they were really going after the organization. And so, from Georgia, he had no personal impact other than being nervous for a good while until it did seem to pull back. Now, because of that, going all over the country and looking for other cases, he was charged in Arizona and actually tried in Arizona and acquitted because he had never physically been to Arizona or met with the woman who had hastened her own death.

Another guy was convicted of a much reduced charge, which entailed a year’s probation and then that was gone. So, and the other two people had pled out because they had health issues and couldn’t really deal with the extended legal proceedings. So, four people involved there too, just coincidentally. He also was charged in Minnesota where he and another person years before had counseled and accompanied a woman who’d had a terrible automobile accident and never really recovered and was in a lot of pain and wanted to go ahead and end her life. And they still claimed that they were going to try my husband, but he died. So they couldn’t do that.

And again, that was also largely aimed at the organization. And if I recall correctly, they had to pay a fine, a few tens of thousands of dollars, not massive amounts. For an individual, it would have been. Organizationally, it was not great, but okay. So there again, it was really more into the organization.

But that business of going all over the country seeking, you know, bugging people: are you still alive and do you want to bring suit? And I would assume, I’ve been following Cop City fairly closely because of the Georgia connection and because I so totally support saving the forest, avoiding yet another militarized police training facility. It’s just outrageous.

And so I’ve been following it to some extent, and I’m sure there are, I know, in fact, I have friends who’ve been down there from all over the country. I’ve not been able to go, but I know other people have, and I expect that’s part of what has happened or will happen with regards to Cop City resistance is that people from all over will be threatened with even RICO charges, if not it’s illegal for you to share funds or, you know, all the things they’re doing.

That’s part of what our so called justice system does is harass people. Frequently, the charges either go away or are much reduced, but the initial charges are really outrageous. And that’s what goes in the media. That’s what people hear who don’t know diddly about it. They just hear oh, this is really awful, how dare they, and then later if it gets reported at all it’s, oh, it’s very minimal on the back page: well, they couldn’t really sustain that case, so they dropped it. Who hears that? Not many.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. And do you feel that this whole ordeal contributed to your husband’s death?

Ellen Barfield: Absolutely. Absolutely. What happened here in Maryland was no lawsuit against him. They couldn’t get any family to sustain one. We got told by several families whose loved ones he had accompanied: they came and wanted us to bring suit against you. And we said, hell no. We said, we were very grateful for him being with our loved one. We don’t want to bring a suit against him.

So they went to the Maryland medical board and said, we want to take away his license to practice medicine. We claimed that he was improperly practicing medicine. And sadly, Final Exit wouldn’t help him on that, because some of the cases he had accompanied were under a previous organization called the Hemlock Society, not Final Exit itself. So they said nope.

He did get legal assistance through the Quaker meeting where he was attending. Someone they knew helped him with the paperwork and it wasn’t free, but it was somewhat reduced. So it didn’t bankrupt us or anything, but, you know, Final Exit should have done it very definitely. They didn’t, but he went to court and the court upheld the removal of his license.

So we appealed it and the attorney couldn’t even be with him on the appeal, but he did the paperwork. So, Larry and I were in court together hearing the judge at the appeal, and the judge very interestingly, apparently personally really sympathized and even said Dr Egbert is ahead of his time.

But the judge also didn’t feel like he could overturn the medical board. So he upheld the removal of the license. Now that didn’t have a practical effect because Larry was no longer actually employed. But he was definitely still Dr. Egbert, had been for 60 years, and was doing all kinds of volunteer work with medical organizations and doctors organizations.

And when they took away his license, so he was suddenly Mr. Egbert, it was certainly an emotional blow.

And for many reasons, and it’s a long story I won’t go into, he died about a year later. He had a heart attack while having an asthma attack on a hot summer night here in Baltimore. Less than three miles from the incinerator, which pollutes the air terribly, Baltimore air is very bad.

So, yeah, he didn’t die right then from the emotional struggle, but it was part of what led to his deterioration and death, absolutely.

Eleanor Goldfield: So, in your experience, I mean, you mentioned the money aspect, but did the prosecution, when the Supreme Court of Georgia was hearing this case, did they seem to care at all that it was overturned, or was there kind of this feeling, well, we got what we wanted, so we ruined this person’s life, or we ruined this organization, so whatever, it’s fine, I wasn’t expecting it to stick.

Ellen Barfield: That’s an excellent question, and I can’t say as in having seen any documentation, but yes, that’s exactly what we assumed.

They got what they wanted by tarring the organization, making it basically unable to function for about a year and pulling a good bit back. That case in Arizona I mentioned was a woman who had had longstanding serious mental health issues, not physical, and they used to help people like that. Not somebody who just said I’m depressed and want to get out of here, but somebody with long documented problems, and they don’t do that anymore. And that’s a shame.

But that certainly was part of the intention, probably not even really consciously thought of, but yeah, if we can get them to pull back from what they used to do, that’s a win.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And so, kind of wrapping up here, because you’ve been through this and you’ve gotten to the other side, what advice would you give to folks who find themselves in the midst of this right now?

Ellen Barfield: Be aware that making very serious charges stick is not their purpose. They want to frighten you. They want you to back off, even get you to testify against each other. For heaven’s sake, don’t do that. Stand firm.

Understand that this is to terrify you, not really to throw you in jail for the rest of your life. What they want to do is to get the project held up, stopped, and yes, they’re going to harass individuals and it sucks and you’re going to have a hard time for a while, but no, you probably won’t do any jail time. They might try to fine you, but, you know, it is an organizational effort, so even that will probably be covered.

The main thing is to shut down the effort to try to Stop Cop City. And you all know how very important that is. So please don’t be terrified by this. The purpose of it is to obstruct the good work, not to really punish individuals for being involved.

And it will be, they will tell you a bunch of lies. They will misrepresent and threaten, but the real purpose is to back off on resistance to Cop City, not to punish you. So try to stand firm, stand together.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful message and a powerful way to wrap up here.

Ellen, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us and sharing your story.

Ellen Barfield: Thank you, Eleanor. It’s really important.

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Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Palta

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks, everyone, for joining us here at the Project Censored Radio Show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by Palta, a member of Unity and Struggle, an anti-state communist collective. He’s also a forest defender, an immigrant, and lifelong Georgian, and has been involved in this movement for over a year now, with a background in labor organizing prior to working with StopCopCity and Defend Atlanta Forest. Palta, thanks so much for joining us.

Palta: Happy to be here, happy to be here.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I, I wanted to start off right now with the most recent charges, the RICO charges that were brought against 61 folks a few weeks ago. And I was wondering if you could sort of contextualize where we’re at in that fight.

For folks who haven’t read the indictment, I mean, it’d be funny if it weren’t actually a thing that was being thrown at people. But if you read the indictment, it kind of sounds like an ad for mutual aid and anarchism because the government’s basically saying, “and they believe in solidarity and supporting each other and mutual aid.” And I’m like, I mean, first, you’re not wrong. And secondly, I’m sorry, what’s the bad part?

So I was wondering Palta, can you contextualize what’s going on here and how StopCopCity and Defend Atlanta Forest are responding?

Palta: To your point, it kind of reads more like a political manifesto and mind you, an amateurish one, but that’s the state trying to understand anarchism, right?

Basically what’s going on here, like you said, 61 folks are being indicted under Georgia’s Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. There’s actually been a recent update in which the indicted individuals will be arraigned on November 6th, 2023, but there is no actual date in which the RICO indictees will need to turn themselves in, so that’s one part of the update of what’s going on.

Another thing to mention is that right now legal stuff is being organized, there is a robust legal support structure both of lawyers and of activists that are providing some other forms of support for the people there. And there’s just lots of preparation because right now there is no clear timeline of when folks are supposed to turn themselves in.

Mind you, for folks that don’t know, Georgia right now, specifically, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is dealing with now three RICO cases: StopCopCity, YSL, FreeYSL, and, of course, the Trump one, so there’s a lot of stretched capacity right now. So, a lot of the RICO procedure stuff is very muddled and very unclear from what I’ve heard, and it kind of just reflects the lack of capacity of the state right now, because they’re dealing with three RICO cases, they’re putting a lot on their plate.

So that’s basically the updates in terms of what’s going on timeline wise. I guess I can talk a little bit specifically about the RICO itself, like, what the document contains. You mentioned a little bit of it, but yeah, it’s a whole mess to be honest with you.

Like I said earlier, it reads more like a political manifesto than a “neutral” legal document. And I put that in quotes because no legal document is really neutral. They do support the ideologies of the state or the structures of the state itself.

But yeah, there’s some like glaring errors, like one big one is on who owns the land and that’s like literally the first paragraph of the indictment in which the RICO states that the APF owns the land of the forest, which is actually not true. It’s the city of Atlanta. And they’re leasing the land to APF.

Eleanor Goldfield: And sorry, what’s APF stand for?

Palta: The Atlanta Police Foundation. It is a corporate funded, kind of like non profit police advocacy group that strong arms politicians to give more money to cops. And it’s also most notably funded the surveillance infrastructure that exists in Atlanta right now, which is one of the most surveilled cities in the United States. So yeah, that’s APF. Their RICO was wrong about who owns the land.

Like you said in the intro, the document seems to use mutual aid and solidarity as parts of the conspiracy. And it’s kind of troubling in many ways because, you know, it condemns these ideas, right? These are, I mean, yes, they list it as anarchist, like I’m an anarchist, so I also obviously believe in this, but mutual aid and solidarity aren’t just exclusive ideas. No one group owns that. It’s derived from anarchist texts, sure, but we believe in mutual aid, regardless of your political affiliation. Solidarity, I mean, what’s going on with the UAW strike right now, right, that’s solidarity, that’s not a criminal act, right.

But it is troubling that the state is using these terms as forms of, oh, what’s the quote that they put? “An overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.” It’s troubling because you could be giving gas money to somebody and that’s an overt act that furthers the conspiracy. You can give people, you can give someone a free meal, right? And that framing is really dangerous because it literally criminalizes movement, just movement in general, whatever that looks like.

And that, that points to a turn. I mean, granted, the United States has never been good, but it’s getting worse, right?

Another thing to probably mention that’s really critical is the date that they said this movement started, which again, it’s factual errors galore here between the, the land stuff and now this. They said that this movement started the day that George Floyd was murdered, and that’s just not true.

For one, the movement started around April or May of 2021, when activists and community organizers revealed to the public these plans for Cop City. But it does also point to something very interesting, that the state is connecting the dots between the George Floyd Rebellion and Stop Cop City, Defending the Atlanta Forest.

And in some ways, in terms of like a thought through line, it is true, because the George Floyd Rebellion happened because a pig murdered a black human being and the largest uprising in decades occurred on the subject of police and instead what we got in response was politicians wearing kente cloth and kneeling in the Capitol building and police budgets going up, like skyrocketing.

Now we’re having proposed cop cities all over, not just in Atlanta where we’re struggling right now. In Sandy Springs, a town north of Atlanta in Henry County, which is part of the Atlanta metro area in Georgia, in Pittsburgh, in San Mateo, California, in Baltimore. I mean, even Hawaii had a cop city proposal that was shut down, recently. Awesome stuff.

But, yeah, the state sees the stop cop city movement, and therefore George Floyd as a fundamental threat to its standing, right? So what do you do in response? Instead of funding schools, instead of funding libraries, instead of having essential services such as the COVID Medicare stuff that was cut, right? All these kind of programs that actually help with social well being, they’re just giving money to cops.

Like in NYC, we see services being cut while NYPD gets robots. So, you know, this is part of this pattern. So as organizers, we also need to acknowledge this. And as people in general, you don’t even have to be an organizer, as people in general, we have to recognize that the Stop Cop City movement is part of the legacy of George Floyd in terms of a through line.

But factually speaking, it’s not true in the sense that the movement started when George Floyd was murdered. That’s not true. But the state is basically trying to connect all these dots and put it part of the conspiracy and therefore charge people that were or not involved with George Floyd uprising stuff to defend Atlanta Forest stuff. Again, to kind of create this web of conspiracy.

And lastly, and I know I’ve been talking a lot. So if you have any questions on this… but lastly, another thing to mention is when it comes to the RICO charge, it’s a direct response to how the state has struggled to contain this movement.

Again, the way that they frame this is that this is one kind of centralized orb with a leader, like I remember during the domestic terrorism indictments, I think it was the AG, but it was someone related to like the legal process side of things was claiming that the leader doesn’t enter the forest. Which for one, we have no central leader. Like there isn’t the CEO of Stop Cop City, you know, it’s bullshit. But that also shows how the state doesn’t understand a decentralized, horizontal, autonomous movement.

RICO is their best shot at trying to contain this movement, because right now they’re targeting infrastructure, you know, the solidarity fund, they’re targeting the fact that we have a robust reimbursements system of sorts, or at least that they’re claiming. They’re targeting specific things that give the movement like critical infrastructure, right? So that’s what kind of the state is doing right now. And by kind of labeling this as a centralized org, and labeling this as some kind of conspiracy, what they’re also doing in trying to contain the movement, they’re also trying to criminalize just movement work in general.

Like, a bail fund isn’t… a conspiracy thing, mutual aid isn’t a conspiracy thing. Solidarity, like giving a fuck about other folks isn’t like a conspiracial thing, but that’s what the state is at right now. They’re desperate, you know, and it speaks to the level that the state is in right now.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. Thank you for all of that context. I think that’s really important. And also I like that you pointed out the decentralized aspect because I think, being a history nerd, if you look back at movements that have had a clear figurehead, it’s super easy to pick off that figurehead, and then the movement scrambles, and it, and it’s very disorganized, but if you don’t have a singular leader, it is so much more difficult, and as you pointed out, that’s why you would just have to throw a bunch of RICO and terrorism charges at people, because you’re like, well, I have no central person to go after, so I’m just going to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

And that leads me to the next point, what is the feeling with folks with regards to is this going to stick? Because I remember I spoke with Steven Donziger, who’s a legal expert about the terrorism charges and he was like, Oh, they’re not going to stick, but that’s not the point. The point is to scare people and to get them to sit down and shut up.

What is the feeling with these RICO charges with regards to to the folks who are facing them?

Palta: Yeah, I mean, I can’t speak for everyone in the movement, but the general feeling is that this is ridiculous, right? Like, the overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy is kind of like a meme now, because it’s just ridiculous, you know?

People were being connected to RICO for getting a reimbursement for buying glue, like, art supplies, getting gas money. It’s almost farce, how ridiculous this is.

But that being said, I mean, look, one could say that like, oh, these charges won’t stick, but there’s a history of RICO being used in movement stuff, and there’s a history of serious charges in general being used in movement work, in general.

I mean, we could talk about the Dakota Access Pipeline stuff, right? The goal isn’t to try to get 61 people, or even 30 people, under domestic terrorism or RICO. The goal is, yes, the fear, but then also to put the full weight of the state onto a few individuals, too, right? That’s something we have to acknowledge as well.

It’s like, we know it’s ridiculous. We know that these charges shouldn’t stick, but we should also acknowledge that the state is enacting bits of violence themselves. You know, it comes in scales, right? It’s, it’s either assassination, like what happened to Tortuguita, right? Or it’s literally fucking up people’s lives through these kinds of things, to have these things looming over people.

So whether it sticks or doesn’t, it’s still a form of violence, right? And it’s still affecting people’s lives. And sure, maybe 95 percent or 99 percent of people’s charges won’t stick. But there’s a possibility that one or two people will get the full brunt of the law. And that’s, that’s enough for me at least to be like, yeah, this is serious, regardless of the odds that it will stick or not.

And another thing to consider is the fear element. To be honest with you, when the domestic terrorism charges first came through, people were very nervous to do actions after that, because people were freaking flyering in the county where one of the Georgia State Patrol officers that murdered Tortuguita were living at and they got freaking charged with domestic terrorism, you know, so it did have some kind of bone chilling effect on us.

I think the RICO stuff while people are a little bit nervous and people are still trying to figure out what all this means, both as individuals and as organizers in general, it hasn’t had that same effect. And we can see a great example of that with the action that happened a few days after the RICO charges were announced in which five really brave organizers chained themselves to construction equipment on the site of Cop City, and prevented construction for an hour and a half.

And what’s crazy about that is that they got charged with misdemeanors. Now, getting charged in general sucks, but in comparison to domestic terrorism, in comparison to RICO, the misdemeanor’s pretty fucking solid, right? So, in many ways, it shows the state’s bluff to charge us with these serious charges. But it also shows our own tenacity and our own bravery to continue pushing forward.

I mean, still, we got Block Cop City coming up. We still have this referendum going on, so the general mood of the movement while, you know, laughing at this, and acknowledging this is serious stuff still, we’re still pushing forward because at the end of the day, we are fully, clearly aware that the state is trying to silence us in many different ways, not just with the RICO and the domestic terrorism, but we can even see that with the referendum stalling right now, which is not on the organizers there, it’s the state doing the stalling right now.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for putting through that lens, because I think that’s important. I mean, again, if you look historically, there are lots of instances of people being harassed to the point of, like Huey P. Newton, for example became addicted to drugs because the harassment that he was getting from the state was so extreme that he sought solace in drugs, and Aaron Schwartz, for instance, killed himself because he was facing so much time in jail.

I mean, even if you are not in a prison cell, the state has ways to mentally and emotionally push you over the edge. So I think that is important to highlight that.

And with regards to the referendum, I wanted to ask about that because it seemed like a few days ago, there was some kind of vote by the Atlanta City Council: okay, we’re ordering you to count these votes. And then that didn’t happen. What is going on with that situation?

Palta: Yeah. One thing I will also mention to your previous point earlier too, like the state using legal bullshit to stall movements out, we could see that with the IWW back in the early 1910s 1920s, you know, the free speech fights in which people are being charged for just soap boxing, and how that really messed up the IWW and again, the difference between centralized and decentralized kind of organizing right.

But I digress. To answer your question with the referendum, it’s kind of stalled out. So, the referendum folks on September 18th, I believe you can correct me if that’s the wrong date, submitted 114,000 signatures to the city clerk.

The city has refused to start processing these signatures in the sense that they will do the verification and go through that whole process of verifying whether there’s enough signatures for the referendum to become an election reality.

There was an emergency injunction filed by the Stop Cop City referendum campaign to basically start the process of verifying the signatures, despite this kind of legal confusion that’s going on, this kind of stalling that’s happening. And the judge denied that emergency injunction in the sense of basically telling the city of Atlanta to start verifying the signatures, but did have an interesting critique on the city of Atlanta: basically why did you lie and approve this in the first place?

In short, the city of Atlanta, the city clerk, allowed the referendum to happen, in terms of the petition signature and gathering to start, and now that we reached the end of the road, the city is like, well, I don’t know, maybe, maybe, maybe we don’t allow this to happen. Or maybe we wait until the 60 day extension period ends and that’s when we start counting.

The campaign wanted to do it earlier because they exceeded everybody’s expectations and got 114,000 signatures in like two-ish months.

So right now that’s what’s happening. The city is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees, and hiring anti-democratic lawyers to basically invalidate the referendum petition.

As for the city council doing this vote, that didn’t happen. There was some movement for city council members to initiate this referendum because they have the legal authority to do that. There’s like two methods of doing it: either the city does it themselves through the city clerk, right? And I’m sure there might be some corrections here or some specificities that I’m missing out, but there’s that method, and then there’s the other method which city council can have the vote, be like, hey, we’re going to initiate this referendum. None of that has happened.

Instead, we saw the city council pass this, basically this ordinance digitizing the signatures and then allowing those signatures with the names and addresses of people who signed the referendum to be accessed via open records requests. So the privacy of the people that signed the referendum is basically non existent.

One thing that should be noted that Kendra-Sue Derby, who is part of the Atlantans for Safety/Atlantans for Effective Government, and part of the Dickens campaign requested a fully signed petition through agora, meaning that she was requesting all the information unredacted of who signed the signatures, where they live, what’s their name, and everything. And it should be also noted that various media organizations also made that same request that Kendra-Sue Derby did, sans Al Jazeera, which just requested the number of people that signed, wanted a confirmation on the number.

So that’s really troubling because it’s another form, like I was kind of mentioning earlier with the RICO and the domestic terrorism stuff, as another form of intimidation.

The state right now is using processes, mostly in the legal world, to intimidate people in movement, to intimidate people that are in the periphery of movement, right? 114,000 Atlantans signing a petition to Stop Cop City means that there’s a huge number of people that are against this project. So, how do you intimidate that? How do you intimidate 114,000 people?

You say that now anyone could look at your data, look at where you live, and that you signed the Sock Cop City thing, right? So, there’s that going on.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I’m a little confused about, and of course that’s the idea, right, it’s supposed to be confusing. But, so the city council vote that was unanimous, that came across as an order to count these votes was not, basically. What was it, just for show to be like, actually, we’re not that bad, or what was even the point of having a vote? Did that vote do anything?

Palta: No, it didn’t. That’s the funny thing. Yeah, it really was symbolic in many ways, you know, but the whole thing about digitizing. It’s typical with government, it’s typical with the state. I mean, we saw this again, like with the George Floyd uprising, you know, we had the “George Floyd bill” or something like that, right, which basically was effectively another police funding bill. All these things where you know, we call the master bedroom, no longer the master bedroom, but the main bedroom, like all this BS to show that things are moving, but nothing’s happening. We haven’t fundamentally changed anything, as Joe Biden once said, I don’t know if folks remember that line: nothing will fundamentally change. And it’s the same, it’s the same case here. Nothing has fundamentally changed.

The signatures are not being counted or verified right now. There’s a possibility that that the referendum might miss its November election goal, because the idea was that this would be in the November general election, this year, but now it’s a possibility that it could be pushed back to March where it’s primary season, which has notably less turnout in general when it comes to elections like that.

And yeah, I mean, okay, cool. We’ve digitized this information, but there was no stipulations that ensured the privacy of the people that signed this referendum. And that’s a really fucked thing. Even so called, or, no, they’re progressive, let’s be real about that. These progressive folks are saying, well, this is great, we, we did this, you know, we’ve got Liliana Bakhtiari [Atlanta City Council Member] saying that, right? But in reality, it’s not. Because there were no protections made, where there’s some form of redaction to get those names and addresses off. You know, if you want an open records request, valid, I mean, that’s what the movement’s been doing with the APF, with the mayor’s office and all these other things. We have the right to access information, right? But at the same time, the state shouldn’t have the right to get information of people’s political opinions on something and have access to their addresses and their names and stuff like that, because that just opens a door, you know.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, it’s, it’s thought crime. Totally.

Palta: Yeah.

Eleanor Goldfield: Man, if Orwell could see us now.

So I’m also curious because you mentioned, the folks locking themselves down to equipment, and I know that Block Cop City is coming up in November, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about Block Cop City, and what that’s about, and also plans for the future.

Palta: Yeah, one last thing, sorry to go back to the referendum for a second, but one last thing to mention about the referendum. So Andre Dickens [Atlanta Mayor] sent a letter back to Raphael Warnock [US Senator from Georgia] after Raphael Warnock asked for some clarifications on the process. And I just want to throw some quotes here that shows Andre Dickens being his Trumpian self, right?

He’s claimed that this has been the most inclusive, transparent and progressive process in the country, that Atlanta’s procedures have been designed to maximize the ability of residents to use the referendum process while ensuring that anti-democratic operators don’t abuse the process.

One, that’s a lie, it’s not been transparent, as we just discussed. And two, the claim of anti-democratic operators, it’s really kind of like pointing to this belief that anything that isn’t done by him or done by normal state channels is this kind of anti-democratic stuff.

Again, it points to why did you commit these direct actions? Why do you occupy the forest? Why don’t you have dialogue? Why don’t you go through state channels? Well, people are going through state channels through the referendum, and we’re still being labeled as anti-democratic here.

Eleanor Goldfield: Which is funny because they’re anti-democratic in their stonewalling of your attempt to use proper channels.

Palta: Yeah, it’s projection. It’s projection, it’s insane. Andre Dickens referring to signature gathering as vastly different from voting in this letter to Raphael Warnock. It’s like what Trump did before the 2020 election saying, you know, I don’t know about these mail in ballots, these could be fake ballots, you know, immigrants, they’re voting, and they’re not citizens, so that’s weird.

And it’s the same kind of fascistic logic that is starting to become normalized, right? We see this with Andre Dickens. We see this with a lot of mayors across the country. We see this with say governors across the country, and we even see shades of that with Biden, right? So again, kind of distorting reality and they’re saying one thing and doing another. It’s just very normalized. And it’s not normal. It shouldn’t be but it is. Because that’s what the state does, especially post 2020.

But yeah, sorry, Block Cop City, right to your question. Basically, just to give a general overview, Block Cop City is an a non-violent direct action that will occur on the site of cop city to stop construction.

The idea is to get thousands of people to get onto the site of cop city and do a kind of people’s injunction, a stop work order, basically. Very similar to what those five activists did right but in a larger scale.

And basically it’s this question of, okay, we tried the legal channels, we occupied the forest for about two years. We got a martyr out of that, unfortunately. What now? Where do we go from here? The referendum as previously mentioned has been stalled out by no fault of anyone’s own other than the state, other than Andre Dickens and Governor Kemp and all these other actors.

So what do we do now? And this is an answer to that. The idea is to go on a 70-city tour across the nation informing people what’s going on, encouraging people to come through, and to help us because right now Atlanta is under a lot of pressure, just both as organizers and just as a city in general, and we need help.

So it’s a call to action nationwide. You’ve heard about Cop City in the news, you’ve heard of ACPC reporting on this, it could happen here reporting on this, Unicorn Riot reporting on this, other channels reporting on this, what are you going to do now? Because as mentioned previously, we’re seeing cop cities everywhere now, right? Pittsburgh, Sandy Springs, Henry County, Baltimore, North Texas at one point. Chicago has its Cop Academy, right? So we’re seeing this trend here. What are y’all gonna do about it?

And it’s not like in a shady way, it’s just true. What are you gonna do about it? And there’s also plans to have a local Atlanta info tour as well to just get people to come through locally too. Because again, this is both a local and a national movement.

And I think any politician, any reactionary, anyone that’s against the movement to Stop Cop City is disingenuous when they say that this is an outside agitator thing that’s happening in Atlanta, and, there was that one racist that told, I think it was the head of the Georgia Working Families Party, who is Asian American, to go back to her country. Like, we’re dealing with that, right?

So, all of this to say, you know, look at yourselves. Like, y’all are building Cop City, y’all are building Cop Cities, and the people that are going to be coming to Cop City, 40 percent of which, thereabouts, will be from out of town, or out of the state rather. So I mean, if anything, they’re the outside agitators, right?

So all that said, with Block Cop City, it’s nonviolent direct action. Like get there, put our bodies on the line. Because again, we’ve tried all these channels and they’re denying and denying and denying. So what else are we going to do?

Block Cop City is going to be a whole weekend of action, like similar to the weeks of action that occur. So November 13th is going to be the day. And then during that weekend, there’s going to be a build up to that, you know, getting people together, having community stuff, but also getting ourselves ready for this thing.

Eleanor Goldfield: Awesome. And, I believe that’s blockcopcity.org, correct?

Palta: Yes, it is. Yeah. Blockcopcity.org. There’ll be more information posted as the date gets closer, but there is a good bit of information already out there.

Eleanor Goldfield: Awesome. Well, Palta, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us and giving us all of this important context because of course, this is context that you will never hear on corporate media. So I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Palta: No, 100%. Thank you for organizing this interview and thank you for having your interest in this topic and, reporting on what’s going on. Appreciate it.

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