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Southern Poverty Law Center Attorney Among 23 Rioters Charged With Domestic Terrorism

Atlanta, GA – A 28-year-old Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) attorney is one of 23 rioters facing domestic terrorism charges in connection with the violent attack on police at the site of the future law enforcement training center on Sunday.

Rioters attacked police with explosives and bricks and set construction equipment ablaze during a “coordinated attack” at the site of the future Public Safety Training Facility on March 5, investigators said.

Security footage released by the Atlanta Police Department (APD) showed the rioters shooting fireworks and various other projectiles at officers as they frantically tried to shut a perimeter gate at the site.

The group also hurled Molotov cocktails, large rocks, and bricks at the officers during the attack, the APD said.

Among those arrested in connection with the uprising was 28-year-old Atlanta resident Thomas Jurgens.

According to Jurgens’ recently deleted LinkedIn profile, he was hired by the SPLC’s Economic Justice Project in September of 2021, The Washington Times reported.

He previously worked as a legal intern at the DeKalb County Public Defender’s Office and spent a stint as an assistant public defender in Florida prior to joining the SPLC, according to the news outlet.

The left-wing SLPC touts itself as a watchdog for “domestic hate groups and other extremists,” which it tracks on its “hate map,” The Washington Times reported.

In a joint statement released Monday, the SPLC and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) referred to Jurgens as nothing more than “an NLG Legal Observer” acting as a “trained witness of police conduct.”

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

“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 group added. “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.”

Jurgens is the only one of the 23 rioters arrested on Sunday who has an address registered in the Atlanta area, according to The Post Millennial.

The Atlanta Police Department identified the other 22 alleged terrorists as 34-year-old Robert-Paul Frederique from Quebec, Canada, 25-year-old Dimitri Leny of France, 30-year-old James “Jamie” Marsicano of North Carolina, 48-year-old Priscilla Grim from New York, 46-year-old Victor Puertas from Utah, 19-year-old Kayley Meissner from Wisconsin, 22-year-old Ehret Nottingham from Colorado, 25-year-old Zoe Claire Larmey of Tennessee, 27-year-old Luke Harper of Florida, 25-year-old Max Biederman of Arizona, 27-year-old Kamryn Pipes from Louisiana, 26-year-old Samuel Ward from Arizona, 31-year-old Amin Jalal Chaoui of Virginia, 30-year-old Mattia Luini of New York, 25-year-old Maggie June Gates from Indiana, 24-year-old Emma Bogush of Connecticut, 22-year-old Jack April Beamon of Athens, Georgia, 22-year-old Grace Martin of Wisconsin, 42-year-old Colin Dorsey from Maine, and Massachusetts residents Alexis Papali, 48, Ayla King, 18, and Timothy Bilodeau, 25.

“All of these arrests are part of ongoing state repression and violence against racial and environmental justice protesters, who are fighting to defend their communities from the harms of militarized policing and environmental degradation,” the NLG declared. “Each of these instances, including the many protesters charged with domestic terrorism, make clear that law enforcement views movement activists as enemies of the state.”

Demonstrators have been protesting the training center, which they’ve dubbed “Cop City,” for months.

Investigators said the mob of “violent agitators” had attended the South River Music festival near the future training center on Sunday prior to changing into black clothing and heading to construction grounds at around 5:30 p.m., WAGA reported.

The APD said the rioters “used the cover of a peaceful protest” at the training facility “to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers.”

By the time the situation was under control, the rioters had “destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment” by either vandalizing them or setting them ablaze, the APD said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene to help quell the violence.

The site remained on lockdown as first responders rushed to douse the fires ignited by the group, WAGA reported.

“The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm,” the APD said. “Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests.”

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said the rioters’ violent assaults “will not be tolerated,” WAGA reported.

“When you attack law enforcement officers, when you damage equipment – you are breaking the law,” he said.

No officers were injured during the violent clashes on Sunday, WAGA reported.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp condemned the rioters’ violent actions and said they have repeatedly placed the surrounding community at risk of harm.

“They chose destruction and vandalism over legitimate protest, yet again demonstrating the radical intent behind their actions,” Kemp said.

The governor noted that many of the rioters who have been causing problems in the downtown area and at the construction site are from out of state, WAGA reported.

The attack on the officers on Sunday night was “just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we’ll always back the blue,” Kemp added.

“Domestic terrorism will not be tolerated in this state,” he said, according to WAGA. “As we continue to respect peaceful protest, we will also continue to ensure safety in our communities. We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”

Rioters have been occupying the site of the future police and fire training center for the past year.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said law enforcement officers were clearing the encampment on Jan. 18 as part of an “operation to identify people who are trespassing and committing other crimes on the property,” when they encountered a man inside one of the tents, FOX News reported.

“Officers gave verbal commands to the man who did not comply and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper,” according to the GBI. “Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting the man.”

The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

He was later identified as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, who went by the name of “Tortuguita,” WAGA reported.

Investigators said they recovered the suspect’s handgun at the scene, as well as multiple shell casings, FOX News reported.

The injured trooper was evacuated from the area and transported to a local hospital with a gunshot wound to his abdomen.

He underwent emergency surgery and has since been stabilized, the GBI said.

The GBI said ballistic investigators matched the bullet that wounded the trooper to the gun Teran used during the shootout, WAGA reported.

Investigators said they located and removed approximately 25 campsites during the Jan. 18 sweep.

“Additionally, mortar style fireworks, multiple edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks, and a blow torch were recovered,” the GBI noted.

Police arrested seven rioters in connection with the Jan. 18 incident.

GBI Director Michael Register said the encampment has been an ongoing problem and that the rioters are “endangering the community and the citizens around this area,” FOX News reported.

Rioters called for violence against police in the wake of the shooting, with several groups rallying followers on social media, according to the news outlet.

A joint task force comprised of the GBI, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia State Patrol, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, DeKalb County Police Department, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Department of Natural Resources, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been working for months to combat the occupation of the site and the ongoing illegal activities occurring there, according to the news outlet.

Eight rioters were arrested at the property in May of 2022 after throwing a Molotov cocktail at officers while they were trying to remove them, CNN reported.

Vandals destroyed surveillance cameras in the area a couple months later, then someone fired shots on the technician who showed up to repair them, according to WAGA.

In August of 2022, law enforcement officers were seen standing guard while Georgia Power repaired a damaged transformer at the property.

Police and construction crews had gotten into a confrontation with rioters there earlier in the week, according to WAGA.

Construction equipment at the site went up in flames the following month.

When the task force went to the property on Dec. 13, 2022, to take down some of the barricades the group had set up to block entrances to the site, rioters confronted them and allegedly “threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside the neighboring fire stations with rocks and bottles,” according to the GBI.

“Task force members used various tactics to arrest individuals who were occupying makeshift treehouses,” the agency said, according to CNN.

The GBI said the task force located “explosive devices, gasoline, and road flairs” while clearing the area, WXIA reported.

The rioters, who have touted themselves as forest defenders, established the encampment to protest the future training facility they refer to as “Cop City,” WXIA reported.

They have had the semi-permanent encampments at the site for approximately one year.

Police ultimately arrested five rioters during the December confrontation, all of whom are now facing domestic terrorism and other charges.

The GBI said there had been multiple recent clashes between the group and police or other public service personnel at the site prior to the arrests made in December.

“[The Atlanta Police Department] and other agencies had made several arrests over the past few months for the ongoing criminal activity at the site location,” the GBI said, according to WXIA. “Some of the criminal activities include carjacking, various crimes against persons, destruction of property, arson, and attacks against public safety officials. Law enforcement continues to address the criminal acts committed by the individuals that continue to occupy the area of the proposed training site.”

The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) said it plans to build the $90 million, state-of-the-art complex on 85 acres of the site, and that the remaining 180 acres will remain undeveloped, WXIA reported.

The facility will include a burn building, a mock city, and a shooting range, according to CNN.

The demonstrators argued that the project would destroy one of the largest forested areas of the city, and that the land is historically significant to the Muscogee Creek Native Americans who once lived in the area.

The site was also the location of the Old Prison Farm, where unpaid inmates worked the farmland as a “dignified” means of imprisonment, WXIA reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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