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Defend the Atlanta Forest (DTF)

Insurgency Overview

Defend the Atlanta Forest, also known as Atlanta Forest Defenders, (DTF) is part of a decentralized social movement to fight against the militarization of local police forces and the expanding film industry in South Atlanta, Georgia. DTF seeks to maintain the Weelaunee Forest’s current footprint through eco-activism and the occupation of proposed construction sites (1). The DTF’s ‘occupiers’ began their operations in late 2021 when they conducted marches to protest the proposed construction of the emergency services training facility nicknamed “Cop City” (2). After city council members voted to proceed with construction, small cells of protestors made tree stands, roadblocks, and outposts inside the forest. Occupiers use themselves to block construction equipment from entering the site and recon for police patrols in the area (3). DTF has also established a supply chain to bring logistics, such as food, camping equipment, and medical supplies, from supporters to the occupiers (4). On a few occasions, DTF has used violent force in retaliation to police activity inside the proposed construction site (5).

History & Foundations

The Muscogee People, a confederation of several Native American tribes, originally inhabited the land that the Weelaunee Forest sits on today. After the American Revolution, settlers began to migrate to the area, causing a rise in hostility between all parties that inhabited the land. These hostilities would eventually lead to a breaking point after a war between federal troops and the tribes who resisted assimilation into American society. This conflict resulted in the founding of DeKalb county. During the 1900s, the land was transformed into a prison farm where primarily minority prisoners worked to grow crops for the greater Atlanta area (6).

After international protests broke out over the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, Atlanta City officials advocated for the construction of a 300-acre tactical emergency services training facility in the Weelaunee Forest. Once construction plans were publicly announced, activists participating in the 2020 Protests organized again to vocalize their concerns through marches. These marches would later create the foundations of the DTF movement (7). Despite public backlash and a lack of proper permits, the Reeves Young Construction Company (the company contracted with the project) started using heavy machinery to clear trees from the proposed site (8).

Now working under the name DTF, eco-activists, anarchists, and anti-police advocates occupied tree stands in the area. Intending to prevent further equipment from being brought in by the Reeves Young contractors, activists began using themselves to block equipment from entering the forest. Eventually, they would use torched construction company vehicles and other means to establish permanent roadblocks leading to the site (9). This escalation in DTF actions led the local sheriff’s office to close off the park for public access and increase the number of officers tasked with patrolling the forest, escorting construction workers to the site, and raiding occupied tree stands. Despite the park being closed by officials, DTF members cleared the barricades to open it back up to the community and announced that the park would now be renamed the Weelaunee People’s Park (10). Police presence increased as a result.

During one of the construction escorts, officers claimed to have been attacked with Molotov cocktails and pelted with rocks, causing police officials to announce later that they would “shoot to kill” if met with deadly force. Almost two years later, these claims would become a reality when Atlanta State Troopers – who were conducting a raid to dismantle DTF tree stands in the area – shot and killed activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán nicknamed Tortuguita, whom Atlanta officials claimed opened fire on officers. However, no evidence has come out due to Georgia State police not being required to use body cameras during duty (11). Tortuguita’s death sparked national outrage, causing vigils to be held nationwide and leading to a protest breaking out in Downtown Atlanta. This protest in the heart of Atlanta resulted in offices associated with the construction of the training facility to be vandalized, a cop car being set ablaze and 1,000 Georgian National Guard soldiers to be put on standby (12).

Vigil held in honor of Tortuguita. Photo by Liam Coyle, @coyle_mi on Instagram

Objectives & Ideology

DTF operates as a decentralized movement of individuals with various ideological views, ranging from anarchists and anti-fascists to eco-activists. Despite this range of different views, all DTF members believe that cop city will introduce a new age of militarized policing to suppress resistance to current power structures leading the world into an ecological disaster. Wanting to fight against this threat of authoritarian control, anarchists have become a prevalent part of the fight against the training facility (13). As told on the DTF website, “Defend the Atlanta Forest is a fight for the future of the Atlanta forest. DTF is a social movement, not an organization or group of people. As such, it has a changing and diverse participation from grassroots groups and individuals dedicated to fighting the creeping dystopia of police militarization and ecological ruin. As a slogan Defend the Atlanta Forest is a declaration of opposition to the destruction of South River/Weelaunee Forest and the construction of both the Cop City training compound and Blackhall Studios’s Soundstage Complex.” (14)

Military & Political Abilities

Due to DTF’s decentralized nature and despite being labeled as a domestic terrorist organization, they have been able to achieve a wide array of different attributes, such as the ability to establish logistical support, compile open source intelligence to detect police activity around the forest, organize protests, provide medical support, and most importantly maintain sufficient manpower consisting of individuals for all around the country to occupy a large area of forest (15). DTF also continue their efforts past DeKland county borders with national outreach tours, the vandalization of any company facilities associated with the construction of Cop City, and an accumulation of around 69,000 followers across their social media channels (16). Due to these efforts, the slogans of DTF can be seen worldwide in the form of protest signs, banners, and graffiti.

Stop Cop City Sticker in Zürich, Switzerland. Photo by Liam Coyle, @coyle_mi on Instagram

Approach to Resistance

DTF’s approach to resistance has changed throughout the years. They initially focused on political activism, such as petitions and call campaigns, to voice their concerns to officials related to the project. However, due to the lack of concrete results, DTF has transitioned into primarily focusing on direct action tactics (17). These direct action tactics include the occupation of the proposed construction site, attendance to protests in order to show presence/activity in the area, the construction of roadblocks to prevent construction equipment from reaching the site, the establishment of community outreach events in the Weelaunee People’s Park, and the tracking of police activity in the area. Due to DTF being decentralized with no clear leadership, individuals linked to the DTF movement also participate in the vandalization of company facilities that are involved in the construction of Cop City. Members have also reportedly set fire to construction equipment in the forest, despite DTF media platforms not officially calling for nor instigating these actions (18).

Potential Alliances

While DTF lacks any official alliances, primarily due to its decentralized structure, they have a large number of groups and individuals who organize actions in solidarity with DTF’s efforts. One of the most prominent groups is the Atlanta-based organization named Community Movement Builders (CMB). CMB describes itself as a Black-member-based collective of community residents and activists serving the black working-class and poor black communities. They respond to threats to lower-income black communities in Atlanta, such as gentrification, displacement, and over-policing, which they believe Cop City would only worsen (19). CMB works together and in solidarity with DTF to organize community outreach events, petitions, and rallies within the Atlanta area (20). DTF has also received support from out-of-state groups and collectives. Firestorm Books in Asheville, North Carolina, has established supply drive events which are used to get donations from the community to help occupiers maintain a presence in the Weelaunee Forest (21). Besides pre-established organizations, individuals working in solidarity with DTF have sent communiques claiming to be responsible for arson and vandalism attacks on companies associated with the training facility (22).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - DTF. FAQ (Continued). Accessed February 25, 2023.

(2) - DTF. FAQ (Continued) . Accessed February 25, 2023.

(3) - It's Going Down. “Resistance to Defend Atlanta Forest from 'Cop City' Continues despite Police Raid.” It's Going Down, April 28, 2022.

Scenes. “New Truck Blockade in Atlanta Forest.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, June 5, 2022.

Scenes. “Bulldozer Stopped in ATL Forest by Horde of Forest Defenders- Call to Action.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, June 5, 2022.

(4) - DTF Weekly Supply Drive. Instagram. @defendatlantaforest, July 1, 2022.

(5) - FOX 5 Atlanta. “Police Claim Molotov Cocktail Thrown at Officers near 'Cop City' Site, Protestors Deny Attack.” FOX 5 Atlanta. FOX 5 Atlanta, May 18, 2022.

(6) - DTF. A Brief History of the Forest. Accessed February 24, 2023.

DTF. A Brief History of the Forest (Continued). Accessed February 24, 2023.

(7) - DTF. FAQ (Continued) Why Are People Defending the Forest. Accessed February 25, 2023.

(8) - 14, Enough Is Enough. “Scenes from the Atlanta Forest: Reeves Young and APF Employees Forced out of Forest Machinery Attacked.” Breaking News. Anarchist Federation, January 19, 2022.

(9) - Scenes. “New Truck Blockade in Atlanta Forest.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, June 5, 2022.

Scenes. “Bulldozer Stopped in ATL Forest by Horde of Forest Defenders- Call to Action.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, June 5, 2022.

Scenes. “News: Work Stopped, Treesit Starts in the Atlanta Forest.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, January 20, 2022.

(10) -

(11) - “Gbi Investigates Officer Involved Shooting Following Multi-Agency Operation at Site of Future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.” Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Accessed February 27, 2023.

(12) - Williams, Ross. “Kemp Declares State of Emergency; National Guard Troops on Standby in Wake of Atlanta Protest Damage.” Georgia Recorder, January 27, 2023.

Scenes. “March/Vigil in Vancouver, Canada.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, January 30, 2023.

(13) - STOP COP CITY: Atlanta's Militant Forest Defenders. YouTube. Rose Warfare, 2022.

(14) - DTF. FAQ (Continued). Accessed February 25, 2023.

(15) - “Blackflag ALT.” n.d. Map. Https://

(16) - DTF. Defend The Atlanta Forest Midwest Tour. July 8, 2022. Https://

“Action against Bank of America Stop Cop City.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, February 20, 2023.

(17) - Scenes. “Atlanta Councilwoman 'Not Scared' after Protests on Her Property.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, December 25, 2021.

(18) - Scenes. “3 Machines Burned in Honor of Tortuguita to Defend Weelaunee.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, February 19, 2023.

Scenes. “Windows Smashed at Atlas Office in Augusta.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, February 9, 2023.

(19) - “Home.” Community Movement Builders, February 16, 2023.

(20) - “Stop Cop City.” Community Movement Builders, March 1, 2023.

(21) - “Defend the Atlanta Forest Supply Drive!” Firestorm, July 24, 2022.

(22) - Scenes. “Category: Communiques.” Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, February 28, 2023.

Additional Resources


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