In contrast to the heavy police presence at the Newnan rally, though, no law enforcement officers were at the Georgia Peach to witness the swastika burning. Sgt. Ashley Henson of the Paulding County Sheriff's Office said his agency didn't receive any calls about a disturbance in the area, and the Paulding County Fire Department didn't receive any reports of a fire.
Henson said although there were deputies in the Draketown area following the Newnan rally, the sheriff’s office had no concrete evidence that any event was going to take place. He said he personally didn’t know the burning had even happened until a reporter called him about it the next morning. Typically, he said, the group doesn’t cause any trouble.
“Usually we don’t have any issues if it’s just the single group that’s there,” Henson said. The only time the group’s gatherings have caused problems, he said, is when counterprotesters show up.
Counterprotesters outnumbered the neo-Nazis at the Newnan rally in Coweta County, and about 10 counterprotesters were arrested.
Hill, of the Anti-Defamation League, said the intersection of hate speech and free speech is a huge topic of debate. But in the end, the neo-Nazis weren't breaking any laws — not even during their swastika-burning in Draketown.
Members of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, hold a swastika-burning in Draketown, Ga., on April 21, 2018, following their rally that day in Newnan, Ga. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
“Burning a swastika on private property is in very poor taste, but it’s legal,” Hill said.
Now, if neo-Nazis were to target a person or group for intimidation by burning a swastika in the target’s front yard, that might be treading into hate crime territory, Hill said — particularly if the target is a racial or other minority.
“What we stress is to speak out against it,” she said.