Southern Poverty Law Center Lawyer Arrested and Charged with Domestic Terrorism for Atlanta ‘Cop City’ Attack

A Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lawyer was arrested and ultimately charged with domestic terrorism over violence that erupted in Atlanta Sunday. The arrest and charges concerned protests of a planned training facility for police officers in the city. 

“An employee at the SPLC was arrested while acting — and identifying — as a legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). The employee is an experienced legal observer, and their arrest is not evidence of any crime, but of heavy-handed law enforcement intervention against protestors,” said the SPLC in a Monday statement. 

The lawyer, Thomas Webb Jurgens, was among 23 individuals suspected of domestic terrorism released Monday by the Atlanta Police Department. The protest turned violent Sunday when protestors of a planned police training facility hurled Molotov cocktails and bricks at the planned police training facility and set cars on fire. 

According to the police department, all suspects were from another country or from out of state, except for two, including Jurgens. 

The SPLC continued its statement about the incident saying, “This is part of a months-long escalation of policing tactics against protesters and observers who oppose the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest to build a police training facility. The SPLC has and will continue to urge de-escalation of violence and police use of force against Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities — working in partnership with these communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.”

In a statement, the Atlanta PD defended the arrest saying, “On March 5, 2023, a group of violent agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers. They changed into black clothing and entered the construction area, and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers.”

“Cop City” development has been disparaged since its approval in 2021

Nicknamed “Cop City” by its critics, anti-police activists and environmentalists had derided the planned $90 million training complex for law enforcement personnel since 2021, when the Atlanta City Council approved the complex. 

Protesters and activists claim the complex will destroy the South River Forest and promote the militarization of the police department. 

The SPLC has described itself as a “catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.” 

The SPLC has designated mainstream Christian and conservative organizations as “hate groups” and put them on a list along with Ku Klux Klan. In 2019,  a former SPLC staffer argued the organization uses its “hate group” labeling as a conduit to “bilk” donors. 

The Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian nonprofit labeled a ‘hate group’ by the SPLC, was targeted in 2012 by a man who fired a gun inside the group’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. A security guard subdued the man before he could kill anyone. 

The individual told investigators his motivation to carry out the attack was seeing the FRC listed as an anti-gay group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website.