The city of Newnan, mindful of the violence last year in Charlottesville, is going into full defense mode for a neo-Nazi rally planned there on Saturday.
The National Socialist Movement, a far-right hate group, has a city permit for a rally at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Greenville Street Park, a few blocks from Newnan’s court square. The group’s application anticipated between 50 and 100 people, but those numbers could grow, especially with the expected arrival of anti-fascist activists.
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Hasco W. Craver IV, Newnan’s assistant city manager, said as many as 400 police officers from local, state and federal agencies will flood the city for backup.
Beginning at 10 a.m., police will close several streets surrounding Greenville Street Park. Demonstrators will be confined to the park but will be permitted to carry firearms if they are licensed.
Newnan, which calls itself the “City of Homes” for the many historic houses that line the city’s streets, including Greenville Street, is about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta.
City officials met with business leaders last week to brief them on the rally, Craver said, although they didn’t offer any recommendations on whether businesses should close on Saturday. Nearly 50,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to stop the rally, but the city said it had no choice but to allow it.
‘I don’t want it in my hometown’
Newnan officials have also urged residents to stay away from the protest, but a coalition of groups organizing a counter-protest held a press conference Tuesday at the Coweta courthouse with the opposite message.
Newnan resident Samantha Binion said having a large group in opposition sends a crucial message to the Nazis.
“They are not welcome,” she said. “This type of hatred, this type of tyranny, this aggression – I don’t want it in my hometown in Newnan, not in Georgia, not in America, not anywhere.”
The counter-protest is being organized by a coalition including Atlanta Antifascists, the Democratic Socialists of America and the anarchist group Workers’ Solidarity Alliance.
Haroun Wakil, a Fulton County resident and founder of the community activism group Street Groomers, said he was coming to “keep the peace.”
“I don’t believe in hate. Kids have to see this stuff, and that’s not good,” he said. “It’s not right for the law and political system to let that happen.”
‘We want to get our voice heard’
Burt Colucci, the chief of staff for the NSM, claimed he doesn’t see what all of the fuss is about. He said there was no particular reason that Newnan was chosen for the rally. Coweta County is about 78 percent white, but Newnan, the county seat, is much more diverse.
“We get that question a lot,” Colucci said. “We pick these rallies randomly. It is always preferable that it is in a white town. We just gonna go there and do everything that we legally can. Everybody has a First Amendment right. We want to get our voice heard.”
The Michigan-based National Socialist Movement is the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The planned Newnan rally coincides with the organization’s annual meeting, held every April to honor the birthday of Adolf Hitler.
The meeting reportedly will be Friday evening at the Georgia Peach Oyster Bar, a restaurant and bar just inside Paulding County near the Draketown community. The business is known to cater to racist groups. The neo-Nazi group held a meeting there two years ago, followed by a rally in Rome attended by representatives of several racist groups.
Sgt. Ashley Henson of the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said he has heard about the planned meeting, but he had few details.
“The sheriff just spoke with the owner of that restaurant. We’re still waiting on whether that’s a go or not,” he said.
Henson said past gatherings have been pretty quiet from a law enforcement perspective.
“It’s a pretty remote area,” he said. “The only time we’ve had problems is when there are counter-protesters out there and we have to keep those sides separate.”
‘All of the hot-button issues’
Even when it included other organizations — the Ku Klux Klan and skinhead groups, for example — the Rome rally mustered only about 80 participants.
The so-called Nationalist Front has run into trouble. The movement has been substantially weakened by violence, including the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer at last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., and the implosion of the Traditionalist Workers Party in a tawdry domestic dispute earlier this year.
The National Socialists still are cooperating with other racist groups that share their vision of building a white “ethno-state.” Michael Hill, the leader of the secessionist League of the South, is expected to be a speaker at this year’s meeting.
Historically, such groups have targeted African-Americans in their public protests, but both the National Socialists and the League of the South are extremely anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant as well, which may be part of their message in Newnan.
Colucci, in a telephone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, did not shy away from what his group will be exercising their First Amendment rights on – making America great again.
“We will be hitting on all of the hot-button issues,” Colucci said. “If it is controversial in America, we gonna talk about it.”
On illegal immigration: “Getting illegals out of the country. Most Americans are not going to take that sitting down. We need to round them up and put them in camps if need be. Like we did the Italians, Germans and Japanese. We are at war with the illegals.”
On homosexuality: “All Americans are getting caught in the crossfire of their agenda.”
On African-Americans: “My biggest complaint about black people is political correctness. They are not victims. Nobody alive has ever been a slave. Nobody alive has ever owned a slave. Get over it. Truth has become the new racism.”
Credit: Channel 2 Action News