Less than 50 members of the National Socialist Movement arrived in Newnan, Georgia, Saturday to spread their message of white supremacy.
Members of the hate group arrived more than an hour late to their own rally. Their permit allowed them to be in the park from 3 to 5 p.m. It ended at 5:05 p.m.
Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said they were unsure why Newnan was picked as the location of the rally.
“The citizens of Newnan, Coweta County and the state of Georgia did not want a neo-Nazi rally here today,” Keenan said. “But we don’t get to make that choice.”
Marshala Cofer and Robert Franklin are an interracial couple who live in Newnan. Franklin said he wasn’t shocked his hometown was picked as the host for the group’s hate speech event because of what he and Cofer experience in their day-to-day life.
“It honestly doesn’t surprise me too much about Newnan,” Franklin said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of stuff here already being together, and people will scream stuff at us.”
Cofer said the day seemed ordinary to her. She said despite the changing locations where the white supremacist group rallies, their message not changing is the bigger problem.
“These people are the same today as they were yesterday and the same as they will be tomorrow,” Cofer said.
She said she just got back from living in Germany, and she would’ve never guessed this type of rally would be happening in her hometown.
Cofer and Franklin were two of hundreds of counter protesters made up of people of all races and genders, gathered to shout down the hate speech with their own messages of love, unity, and peace.
More than 700 law enforcement officers from 42 agencies kept the two groups separated at all times. A water barricade, police in riot gear, fences and at least 75 yards in green space in the park helped keep the two groups from clashing.
Keenan cited events like the one in Charlottesville as reasons officials decided on such heavy security.
“We were here with all this law enforcement presence to uphold the constitution of the United States,” he said. “Because without adequate planning and the proper resources you can have events like have occurred elsewhere in the United States where it deteriorates into civil disorder.”
Michelle Reynolds made the 11-mile drive from Sharpsburg, Georgia, to learn more about the hate group. She said her message is just one of love.
“I’m not here to act in hate or in protest,” Reynolds said. “I’m standing in humanity; I’m one race, the human race. I’m trying to understand their cause to learn how to love them from here.”
Ben Callaway who lives in Newton shared the same sentiment.
“Why shout them down?” he asked. “Let them talk. The more they talk the more we find out about their beliefs.”
Newnan’s Police Chief Douglas Meadows said they had about five to six weeks to prepare but he was relieved it finally ended. He said from his perspective the rally was a success and a non-event.
Newnan city officials reported 10 arrests, no property damage, and no injuries as a result of the protest and counter rally. Chief Meadows said, as far as he knew, all the arrests were of counter protesters mostly because they were wearing masks, which were prohibited.
Callaway said he hasn’t seen anything happen like this in Newnan before. He said fear probably kept a lot more people from demonstrating in opposition to the neo-Nazi group. But he felt compelled to show up.
“It’s our hometown and it’s not who we are,” he said. “I want people to know this is not life in Newnan, Georgia in 2018.”