Authorities arrested Sunday a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-leaning civil rights group notorious for branding mainstream conservative and Christians nonprofits “hate groups,” on terrorism charges, with police saying he took part in a violent riot where agitators threw rocks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police at a training center near Atlanta.
In a statement Monday evening, the SPLC acknowledged that police arrested an employee, but claimed that he had been acting as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild. The guild condemned every police arrest Sunday as an example of “ongoing state repression and violence against racial and environmental justice protesters,” and the SPLC condemned escalating “policing tactics against protesters.” Neither organization explicitly stated that the observer had not engaged in violence against police.
According to DeKalb County Jail records, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Sunday arrested Thomas Webb Jurgens, describing him as a 6-foot male with brown hair and brown eyes. Jurgens faces one charge of “domestic terrorism.”
Tom Jurgens has worked as a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2021, after he graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 2019, according to LinkedIn.
Jurgens appears as a member in good standing on the website of the State Bar of Georgia. A spokesperson for the state bar said that the bar can only discipline a lawyer for personal activity if the lawyer gets convicted of a crime. The bar does not publicly comment on grievances, which are confidential.
Authorities detained 35 people Sunday, charging 23 with domestic terrorism, following the riot. Jurgens’ name appears on the list.
“On March 5, 2023, 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,” Atlanta police reported Sunday. “They changed into black clothing and entered the construction area and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers.”
Protesters engaged in “Cop City” demonstrations, claiming that the new training center would propagate militarized policing and harm the environment, CNN reported.
According to police, the agitators “destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment by fire and vandalism.”
“The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm,” police added. “Officers exercised restraint and used nonlethal enforcement to conduct arrests.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which puts organizations it calls “hate groups” on a map with Ku Klux Klan chapters, did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
Yet the SPLC did release a joint statement with the guild hours later.
“Law enforcement detained at least 35 demonstrators in Atlanta on Sunday, including an NLG Legal Observer,” The National Lawyers Guild stated. “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.”
“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,” the guild added. “As trained witnesses of police conduct, NLG Legal Observers serve an important role in supporting movement organizers and activists. NLG is proud to contribute in whatever ways we can to advancing the critical work of our movement allies advocating for liberation and community care. NLG remains in solidarity with the movement to Stop Cop City.”
“An employee at the SPLC was arrested while acting — and identifying — as a legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG),” the center stated. “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.”
The SPLC condemned the arrest as “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 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.”
As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it once used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents.
After the SPLC fired its co-founder amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in 2019, a former staffer claimed that the SPLC’s accusations of “hate” are a “cynical fundraising scam” aimed at “bilking northern liberals.” Critics across the political spectrum have voiced opposition and alarm at the organization’s hate group smears.
In 2012, a terrorist targeted the Family Research Council’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, entering the lobby with a semiautomatic pistol and then shooting and wounding a guard. The man told the FBI that he found the conservative organization on the SPLC’s “hate map” and intended to kill everyone in the building.
The man later pleaded guilty to committing an act of terror and received a 25-year prison sentence. The SPLC condemned the attack, but has kept the Family Research Council on its hate map ever since.
The SPLC has no open affiliation with Antifa black bloc protesters, but it condemned President Donald Trump’s 2020 move to designate Antifa as a “terrorist organization,” calling it “dangerous and unjust.”
“Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a broad, community-based movement composed of individuals organizing against racial and economic injustice,” the SPLC’s “Hatewatch” said. “Those who identify with the label represent a large spectrum of the political left. The Trump administration frequently uses the term to describe any group or individual that demonstrates in opposition to its policies. Far-right extremists use similar tactics.”
Self-described antifascist operatives, such as Megan Squire, reportedly feed data to SPLC analysts. The SPLC also closely tracks the Proud Boys, which has engaged in multiple scuffles with Antifa black bloc protesters.
The FBI recently rescinded a memo citing the SPLC on “radical-traditional Catholics” after a whistleblower published it.
This story has been updated to include the SPLC response, along with a statement from the Georgia bar.
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