The Southern Poverty Law Center defended a staff lawyer charged with domestic terrorism during the violent Antifa-style siege on the planned Atlanta police training center, saying he was serving as a “legal observer” for the leftist National Lawyers Guild.
SPLC lawyer Thomas Webb Jurgens, 28, was one of 23 suspects charged in the Sunday attack on the construction site, where police said black-clad rioters set equipment on fire and hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails, bricks and fireworks at officers.
“An employee at the SPLC was arrested while acting — and identifying — as a legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild,” said the center in a statement. “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.”
Critics charged SPLC officials with fomenting the same sort of hate they profess to decry with their “hate map,” which lists 733 groups ranging from neo-Nazis and racist outfits to mainstream conservative groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council.
J. Christian Adams, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, criticized the center Tuesday for rationalizing the actions of its legal staffer.
“Shame on @splcenter for making excuses for violence at event with #SPLC presence,” tweeted Mr. Adams, who heads the Public Interest Legal Foundation. “Only excuses. Should SPLC go on their own #hatemap?”
Atlanta police said the protest began peacefully, but that activists changed into black clothing and attacked construction equipment and officers at the site of the $90 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
The National Lawyers Guild, which acts as the “legal arm of social movements,” called the arrests “part of the ongoing state repression and violence against racial and environmental protesters, who are fighting to defend their communities from the harms of militarized policing and environmental degradation.”
The ongoing protests at the construction site have been linked to Antifa, the so-called anti-fascist collective that organizes through decentralized “affinity groups.”
The SPLC does not list Antifa on its map of 733 U.S. “hate groups” and has defended the anarchist collective, dismissing its actions as “skirmishes and property crimes.”
Kyle Shideler, senior analyst for homeland security and counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy, said the protests appear to include anarchist and environmental activists, and “certainly there is reason to believe that Antifa is among that group.”
“Antifa social media accounts have promoted the ‘cop city’ protests, and individuals associated with previous Antifa actions have been arrested there,” Mr. Shideler said. “Many of the tactics used against police, including the use of pepper spray, improvised explosives using commercially available fireworks, and Molotov cocktails mirror those used by Antifa in previous actions.”
He added that the effort to frame law enforcement officers as “fascists” and undermine their support in the community is “part and parcel of Antifa’s reason for existing.”