An activist group that has categorized conservative and Christian organizations as “hate groups” was slammed for blaming the police when one of its own staffers was charged with domestic terrorism in Atlanta’s “Cop City” clash.
The Southern Poverty Law Center exposed its political bias in its public response to the arrest of its attorney Thomas Jurgens in a press release that described the law enforcement response as “heavy handed,” said Cully Stimson, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
“The SPLC’s press release immediately does exactly what you shouldn’t do if you’re a neutral and detached organization and not a police-hating, capitalist-hating, hate monger group,” Stimson told Fox News Digital.
“They should have said, ‘We understand that one of our employees was arrested, and we will respect the legal process. And we’ll let that legal process play out.'”
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The SPLC released its press statement Monday evening, one day after the attorney and 22 others were arrested, saying Jurgens, who wasn’t named, identified himself as a “legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild.” The SPLC added that Jurgens’ 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 statement 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.”
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Jurgens was released on bail Tuesday, the SPLC said in a second press release Tuesday evening.
“We are pleased that the DeKalb County assistant district attorney (ADA) agreed to a consent bond for Tom Jurgens,” SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang said in the press release. “As we previously stated, Tom was performing a public service, documenting potential violations of protesters’ rights. We are outraged that police officers present at the protest refused to acknowledge Tom’s role as a legal observer and instead chose to arrest him. We are confident that the evidence will demonstrate he was a peaceful legal observer.”
Police said “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.”
Jurgens was one of 23 people charged with domestic terrorism Monday after violence broke out in the city over the planned construction of a police training facility dubbed by its detractors as “Cop City.” Protesters lobbed fireworks, bricks and Molotov cocktails at police officers Sunday and set a bulldozer and other equipment on fire, videos of the scene show.
Stimson said that if such an incident played out where an employee of a “major organization” was arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, that company would come out with a statement saying, “We don’t discuss personnel matters, and we’ll let the legal process play itself out.”
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Left-wing protesters have been pushing back against the planned police training facility since 2021, when Atlanta first approved building the $90 million complex by moving into the woods where the facility will be located.
The planned construction has since galvanized both environmentalists and anti-police groups to stand together to try to shut the project down. Environmentalists say the 85-acre complex will destroy the South River Forest, while anti-police activists say the complex would promote the militarization of the police department.
Protests at “Cop City” previously hit a fever pitch in January, when a state trooper shot and killed an environmental activist named Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, 26, who reportedly went by the name Tortuguita and identified as nonbinary. Teran was shot after allegedly refusing demands from authorities and firing a gun at state troopers. One trooper who was wearing a protective vest was shot in the abdomen and injured.
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The violence on Sunday came after protesters announced they would carry out a “week of action” against the complex, which will include an amphitheater, classrooms and training areas for police to carry out simulated crime situations, such as shootouts.
The arrest and charge against Jurgens have set off a firestorm of criticism against the SPLC on social media by critics and conservatives. The SPLC has repeatedly come under fire in recent years for designating mainstream conservative and Christian organizations as “hate groups,” putting them on a list alongside organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.
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Critics are now asking if the organization will officially list itself as a “hate group” after Jurgens’ charge.
Stimson pointed to how the SPLC designated the Family Research Council, a Christian nonprofit that promotes traditional family values, as a hate group. In 2012, a man with a gun walked into the organization’s headquarters and attempted to “kill as many people as possible,” according to prosecutors. The man later told the FBI he did so because the SPLC listed the nonprofit as an anti-gay group on its hate map.
Stimson said the SPLC posted a “wishy-washy statement” soon after the attack but never removed the Family Research Council from the so-called hate map, while a violent group such as Antifa is not on the map.
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Stimson added that if the shoe were on the other foot and a right-wing protester was arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, the U.S. would be looking at a media “frenzy.”
“If this was a Heritage employee or somebody who was a staffer for Sen. [Ted] Cruz,” Stimson said, “the mainstream media would be in a frenzy. It would be on the news 24/7, above the fold of every major newspaper, a ‘See, we told you’ sort of a confirmation bias story over and over and over again.”
When asked for comment on Stimson’s remarks and social media calls for the SPLC to designate itself a hate group, the SPLC directed Fox News Digital to its second press release in which Huang highlighted that the left-wing group is “respected for tracking and exposing far-right extremism and hate.”
“Extremists will exploit any opportunity to criticize us because we are committed to exposing their hateful ideology,” Huang said. “We will continue to expose and take on the most extreme, racist actors in our country and to defend the rights of all people — including protesters — to express themselves peacefully. Challenging far-right extremists is critical to our charge to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.”
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