A Republican candidate for Georgia governor is facing a wave of criticism for posing with a militia group after a Saturday rally protesting Islamic law.
State Sen. Michael Williams posed with members of the Georgia Security Force III% militia after the Piedmont Park event, where he urged voters to "unite" against Shariah law.
The photograph triggered a torrent of tweets, many of them questioning whether members of the group were flashing a white supremacist sign. Others said the three-finger symbol was the sign of the militia, which holdsr.
Williams, a Cumming entrepreneur, formally entered the governor's race earlier this month on a pro-Trump platform that includes a promise to expand gun rights. His spokesman Seth Weathers said the militia's members asked for a picture after his remarks, and he agreed because they looked like "pro-gun supporters."
"We don't know about the supposed symbolism, only that a bunch of liberal hate groups were online tweeting about it," said Weathers. "This is the stupidest thing in the world - that we are debating whether grown men were supposedly holding their fingers the wrong way during a photo."
The Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups tweeted pictures of Williams with the members of the militia, whose leader Chris Hill sought to block construction of a mosque in Newton County last year. They quickly attracted hundreds of retweets and comments.
The rally was part of a string of nationwide protests against Shariah law organized by ACT for America, which calls Islamic tenets incompatible with Western democracy. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines the organization as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The militia, which trains in the north Georgia woods, has received a sweep of attention for involvement in protests against the mosque and in support of the Confederate battle flag. The New York Times in 2016 quoted Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League saying the militia is notable for its acute Islamophobia.