In a private meeting with the Coweta County fire chief on Dec. 7, former firefighter Hunter Forsyth expressed regret for spreading white supremacist propaganda as part of an extremist group and told Chief Robby Flanagan he “needed help,” according to investigative records obtained by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The one-page investigative summary shows Coweta officials acted quickly after receiving an anonymous call the morning of Dec. 6 accusing Forsyth of being a leader of the Georgia affiliate of White Lives Matter, a neo-Nazi group that espouses revolution and white-only rule. Within an hour, fire officials had reviewed an investigation posted online by left-wing activist group Atlanta Antifascists and referred the matter to county administrators.
By 11 a.m., Forsyth was placed on administrative leave. The matter was turned over to local law enforcement officials that afternoon and they quickly confirmed the Atlanta Antifascist investigation.
“Further, it was confirmed that Forsyth was involved in the placement of white supremacy literature in his local community of Tyrone, Ga., and was also positively identified in multiple pictures at white supremacy events in the region,” the report states.
Less than seven hours after receiving the first call, county officials decided Forsyth, who was hired earlier in the year and still a probationary employee, should be fired. Flanagan met with Forsyth the following day to collect his badge and uniform. The investigative file does not address how Forsyth’s white supremacist activism went undetected during the pre-employment screening and hiring process.
Patrick Riccards, executive director of Life After Hate, a non-profit that helps people leave extremist groups, said so-called “doxing,” like what happened to Forsyth, can be a triggering event that lets people leave hate groups behind.
“Those who try to live dual lives — community leaders by day and extremists by night — are typically in constant fear of being outed and doxed,” he said.
When their extremist lifestyle starts jeopardizing other parts of their lives, they may decide to leave, he said.
“Those committed to change, who take accountability for their wrongdoings and are willing to put in the work each and every day to improve, can exit a life of hate,” he said. “But they need to prove themselves each day and they need to reject their past beliefs. There is no middle ground when it comes to extremism.”
The publicity around the Forsyth episode has created a reckoning of sorts for the Coweta County Fire Department. Several former recruits who were in the class with Forsyth told the AJC that racial tensions permeated the department and that leaders in the agency, including Chief Flanagan, have made offensive and discomforting remarks about minorities. The county’s human resources department conducted an investigation earlier this year into some of those allegations and concluded that leadership had mishandled some of the tensions that arose between white and Black recruits during their training period. The class graduated in August.
Forsyth’s firing has provoked a response from the far right. Newnan Police confirmed antisemitic propaganda was distributed to homes in the city over the weekend. Far-right activist Michael Weaver, who has distributed flyers associated with the antisemitic hate group Goyim Defense League, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs for the past year, took credit for organizing the leafleting but said he did not personally deliver them.
In a statement, Newnan Police said they were investigating.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution