Domestic terrorism charges after protesters attack US police centre

GEORGIA (AFP): The US state of Georgia on Monday charged 23 protesters, including a Frenchman and a Canadian, with domestic terrorism after they stormed a police training center and threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at officers.

According to police, “violent agitators” launched a coordinated attack against officers and burned construction equipment at the site of the Atlanta facility nicknamed by opponents as “Cop City.”

The center, being built on 85 acres (34 hectares) of forested land in DeKalb County, has been a target of fierce opposition since officials unveiled their proposal in 2021, with tensions over the plans steadily rising.

“This wasn’t about a public safety training center, this was about anarchy, and this was about the attempt to destabilize,” Atlanta police chief Darin Schierbaum said during a late-night press conference.

Thirty five people were detained, according to a police statement, with an update saying 23 of those arrested were “charged with domestic terrorism.”

Security video from a facility entry point showed people dressed in black gathering at a fence and throwing rocks and explosive devices toward police, who were struggling to lock the gate.

Schierbaum said no officers were hurt in the incident.

“When you throw commercial-grade fireworks, when you throw Molotov cocktails… at officers, your only intent is to harm,” he said.

“This is not a protest. This is criminal activity.”

Police in Atlanta, the state capital of Georgia, said in a statement that “the agitators destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment by fire and vandalism.”

More protests were expected this week.

Of those charged by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), two were foreign nationals, while just two others were listed as residents of the state of Georgia, according to the police statement.

The rest were residents from across the United States, including Arizona, Massachusetts and New York.

The facility has been the focus of multiple protests by opponents who fear environmental damage and also say the center would worsen relations between police and communities of color.

In January, a protester was killed in an apparent exchange of gunfire with police, and an officer was seriously injured, according to the GBI.

Several arrests were made last year, encampments set up near the site were raided by police and removed, and some protesters were arrested on “domestic terrorism” charges for throwing rocks and bottles at police.

The domestic terrorism charge is punishable by up to 35 years in prison.