About 80 supporters of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, most dressed in black military-style garb, gathered in this northwest Georgia city Saturday, some waving flags with swastikas.
They were greatly outnumbered by counter-protesters, who were kept across the street by local law enforcement.
The event yielded two arrests, both counter-protesters charged with disorderly conduct. According to witnesses, one man was was using profanity and failed to heed repeated police orders to stop. The particulars of the second arrest were unclear.
There was a heavy police presence at the afternoon rally, held on the lawn of the local law enforcement headquarters.
The National Socialist Movement is in Rome for an annual national gathering held in different spots around the country. Saturday’s event attracted a mix of participants. At least four people were on hand wearing traditional Ku Klux Klan robes.
It came on the same day as a white power rally at Stone Mountain. That event drew only a couple dozen white power supporters but hordes of counter-protesters who sometimes clashed violently with police.
The scene became so heated that park officials shut down some popular attractions and cancelled the popular laser show.
In Rome, the neo-Nazis sought to organize before they marched around the corner to the rally site.
One organizer urged the participants to line up properly so they made a good impression.
“We are not gonna look like idiots,” he said.
At times there was insult trading between specific neo-Nazi supporters and individual counter protesters.
Many of the counter protesters wore t-shirts with the message “Turn your back on hate.” Organizers said they had distributed 375 of the shirts and with each they included a small note saying participants agreed to remain silent and peaceful during the protest.
“Show love is greater than hate,” one of the organizers, local social worker Jessie Reed, said.
She called the earlier violence reported at Stone Mountain “awful.”
“You cannot combat hate with hate,” she said.
At a prepared signal, many of the counter protesters turned their back on the neo-Nazi rally, then marched off silently. Some held their hands aloft flashing peace signs.
“We are going to suck the energy right out of this and take their audience,” Reed told those gathered.
But perhaps 150 other counter protesters remained behind.
A string of speakers for the National Socialist Movement and allied white power groups called for a rise in white power, a push against immigrants and other groups. They also criticized the media. Their rally was punctuated by shouts of “White Power” and “Sieg Heil,” the salute of Hitler’s Nazis.
Several in the crowd of protesters expressed surprise that such feelings remain.
Dylan Bowen, a college student at nearby Berry College, said he showed up because, “I don’t want Rome to look like it condones this behavior.”
A local pediatrician, Raj Miniyar, helped organize the Rome Unity Festival at a nearby park as an alternative to attention on the neo Nazi rally.
When he learned that 80 people had shown up to support the neo-Nazi event he asked, “That’s supposed to be a national rally?”