After two years of relatively fewer riots, the U.S. has seen a rocky start to 2023, with unrest hitting several cities in January. The harrowing death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis last month may not lead to the generalized mayhem of 2020, but the themes of this year’s protests—anti-police sentiment and radical environmentalism—are part of an emerging pattern.
That overarching theme is systemic disruption. The ideologues manipulating Nichols’s suffering to send the message that policing itself is racist want to abolish the law enforcement infrastructure that underpins society. Environmental radicals target the free-market economic system that does the same.
So far, the protests related to Nichols—a 29-year-old black motorist who died in Memphis on Jan. 10 after a savage beating by five black police officers following a traffic stop—have been mostly peaceful so far. Not as when CNN claimed in 2020 that a violent demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was “mostly peaceful.”
The Nichols protests have been taking place sporadically since the video of the beating was released on Jan. 27, and the marchers have, by and large, heeded the Nichols family’s call for peace.
Atlanta, however, saw more heated action. There, rioters smashed property, causing as yet unreported damage. And there again, “independent journalist” David Peisner pondered on CNN, “Is property destruction violence?”
The cause of the Atlanta unrest was the Jan. 18 shooting death of a 28-year-old tree-dwelling activist by the name of Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, whose nom de guerre was Tortuguita or “little turtle." Police say that they fired at Teran in self-defense after he shot an officer.
The officer had to be rushed into surgery and spent days in a hospital’s intensive care unit. The bullet that hit him in the abdomen was shot from a gun that was in Teran’s possession and which he purchased in 2020. Protests, however, spread to Boston and other cities.
Teran, his brother Daniel told the Associated Press, was a “citizen of the Earth,” having grown up in Venezuela, Aruba, London, Russia, Egypt, Panama, and the United States, “as their stepfather’s oil industry career led the family around the world.”
Before taking up residence in a forest outside Atlanta, Teran graduated magna cum laude from Florida State University. He identified as “non-binary,” which rendered the Associated Press story incomprehensible in parts, as the once-august wire service used the pronouns “they” and “them” to refer to him.
Six people were arrested during the Atlanta riots—all but one activists from outside the city—and booked on domestic terrorism charges. One of them, Francis Carrol, 22, is the son of a Maine surgeon who grew up in a $2 million home. Carrol also lived in the forest with Teran.
Why the two chose to move to the trees after a comfortable upbringing goes to the heart of the demonstrations.
The South River Forest in question is an 85-acre site outside Atlanta where the city council has approved the building of a training center for police and firefighters. Ironically, the site would replace what the Associate Press itself recognized as “substandard offerings.” It would “boost police morale beset by hiring and retention struggles in the wake of violent protests” that rocked the city in 2020 during the BLM riots.
That was enough for the activists. Disparaging the training center as “cop city,” they moved in last year and set up an “autonomous zone,” (what else?) renaming the area the “Weelaunee Forest,” the Creek name for the land. It was when Georgia police began to move in December to clear the zone that the violence started, culminating in the tragic exchange of gunfire on Jan. 18 and the shooting death of Teran.
The people who engage in this type of activism don’t play hide the ball with their intentions. They state them plainly, even if the media look the other way.
>>> Biden’s Pursuit of Racial Balkanization Will Further Divide the Country
Teran, for example, belonged to a group called Food Not Bombs, which explicitly states that it organizes actions “encouraging alternatives to the failure of capitalism including the wave of occupations that started in 2011.”
The particular group that set up the “autonomous zone,” Defend the Atlanta Forest, sends such tweets as, “Police work for capitalism, to protect profit and bottom lines, not for us. It’s no coincidence that the funders of #CopCity are the major corporations & wealthy families of Atlanta.”
This animosity between environmentalists and the free market is of a long pedigree, but often ignored, and has to do with capitalism’s constant need for growth. Socialism, not being so good at growth, doesn’t have the same problem (though socialist countries have always been environmental nightmares).
Greta Thunberg, the internationally known Swedish environmentalist, recently surprised many by coming out with an openly anti-capitalist message. “Back to normal” is not possible, she recently said. “Normal” was the “system” that gave us “colonialism, imperialism, oppression, genocide,” of “racist, oppressive extractionism.”
This is a very similar message that activist Bree Newsome Bass sent out on Jan. 27 after the release of Nichols's beating. “‘How can it be racist if the police are Black?’ BECAUSE THE INSTITUTION OF POLICING ITSELF IS RACIST,” she tweeted.
The American system can fight back against these activists, but first, it has to admit it’s under attack.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner