Rural Georgia bar hosts neo-Nazis for swastika-burning after rally

While they managed to only scrape together two dozen or so supporters for a neo-Nazi rally in Newnan, the National Socialist Movement apparently attracted a few more folks in a remote field under the cover of darkness to burn symbols of its group.

After its highly anticipated gathering in Newnan, the NSM joined up with about 20 members of the white nationalist group League of the South, which had just tried to hold a concurrent rally in Rome, said Carla Hill, a senior investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League. Hill said the League of the South was only in Rome for about five minutes before its members were asked to leave by police.

The Georgia Peach Oyster Bar, which sits just off a rural highway in Draketown, played host to the combined group of white nationalists after its members traveled 40 miles north from Saturday’s rally site in downtown Newnan. Images captured by Getty photographer Spencer Platt show the group giving Nazi salutes while burning large effigies of a swastika and an othala rune — a pagan symbol associated with Aryanism — in the field behind the bar.

Paulding County authorities said the bar’s owner, Patrick Lanzo, allows the group to gather on his property for its annual meeting, a move that has earned him the ire of some metro Atlanta residents. Satellite images from Google Maps show a large swastika, apparently branded into the grass, where the burning is supposed to have taken place.

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.

“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.