An early morning fire on July 1 at the former Atlanta Police Department training center (and motors unit HQ) at 180 Southside Industrial Parkway burned eight motorcycles. City officials said incendiary devices were used to set the motorcycles on fire. APD, state and federal authorities are investigating the incident as arson. (Atlanta Police Department)

A group of radical activists opposed to the Atlanta public safety training center is responsible for setting fires at a police building that destroyed several motorcycles over the Fourth of July weekend, according to city leaders.

Mayor Andre Dickens, Police Chief Darin Schierbaum, and Fire Chief Rod Smith said at a Wednesday press conference that homemade incendiary devices were used July 1 to burn eight motorcycles parked at the former Atlanta Police Training Academy on South Industrial Parkway, now the Special Operations Section which includes SWAT and the motors unit. The intent was to burn all 40 onsite, according to police.

State and federal law enforcement are assisting the Atlanta Police and Atlanta Fire departments in the arson investigation.

The Atlanta Police Department’s Path Force precinct on Memorial Drive was also targeted July 1. Schierbaum said several windows of police cars were broken at the site. Authorities believe the vandals intended to set fire to the police cars, but were interrupted by a pedestrian, the chief said. No injuries were reported at either site.

Atlanta Fire Chief Rod Smith said the bottles are homemade devices left by “anarchists” intended to set fire to police vehicles. (APD)

Crimestoppers has offered a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the suspects in the incidents. The the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is also offering a $5,000 reward.

The “targeted attacks” against the APD facilities were made by a “small group” of “career arsonists and vandals from across the nation,” the mayor said.

The vandals have also destroyed construction equipment and harassed owners and employees of contractors hired by the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation to cut trees and grade the 85-acre site next to the Old Prison Farm to make room for the $90 million public safety training center, called “Cop City” by opponents.

The mayor alleged the same group that burned the motorcycles and broke police car windows also burned and destroyed construction equipment belonging to Brent Scarborough on July 4. The private contracting company has worked on the public training center site.

“This group actually took credit for these incidents and they said, I quote, ‘We are vengeful wingnuts with nothing left to lose,'” Dickens said. The message was posted on a website called “Scenes from the Atlanta Forest.”

Police allege extremists opposed to the Atlanta public safety training center broke car windows on July 1. (APD)

Schierbaum described the group behind the Atlanta incidents as a “dedicated group of professional anarchists.” He tied the group to the Week of Action held last week by Stop Cop City activists.

“This is a group of individuals that don’t play by any rules,” Schierbaum said. He said the group has written, “We will wage a campaign of violence and destruction” to stop the training center’s construction.

“And so what we saw this weekend was part of that campaign,” the chief said.

Dickens said the city welcomes peaceful protests, but city officials have warned local Cop City activists that extremists like the ones who allegedly set the motorcycles on fire are embedding themselves within the protesters who do not commit violence.

“These individuals are trying to use the guise of peaceful protest … but these individuals are anarchists and they want to destroy, so they are hiding in the midst,” Dickens said. But when peaceful protesters agree to stand with the “anarchists,” Dickens said, it makes it hard for Atlanta Police to know “who’s who.”

Two protesters were arrested during the Week of Action — one person for throwing “rotten meat” at police while protesting outside Cadence Bank, and a 76-year-old longtime activist for holding a sign in the parking lot of Home Depot on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Demonstrations were held at these locations because of their financial support of the Atlanta Police Foundation. The Atlanta Police Foundation, a private non-profit that raises private money for the APD, says the $90 million training center is needed to build morale and help with retention of police officers. It would also provide quality training for the state’s largest police department, according to APF.

Activists also decried the heavy police presence at Brownwood Park on the first day of the Week of Action as people gathered for a vigil for Manuel “Totuguita” Teran. Teran was shot and killed by state troopers Jan. 18 during a police raid of the South River Forest to clear out protesters. Police said Teran shot first.

A coalition of activists named Cop City Vote are organizing to gather more than 70,000 signatures by mid-August. Doing so would put the question of the training center’s fate on the November ballot for Atlanta voters to decide.

Dickens said he didn’t believe the coalition would be successful because he said the majority of Atlanta voters support the training center.

“We know that this is going to be unsuccessful, if it’s done honestly, so we’re making sure that we continue to monitor the process,” Dickens said.

“They have to get Atlanta voters to sign … and we know what the voters of Atlanta think,” he said. “They want more public safety, for public safety officials to be trained … and they want this project to be successful so that we can have all of the services that we need for the citizens of Atlanta.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.