NEWNAN, Ga. — More than 400 federal, state and local law enforcement personnel will be on hand in Newnan Saturday as a neo-Nazi rally, along with counter-protesters, descend on the Coweta County city.
"Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our people and their property," said Newnan Police Chief Douglas 'Buster' Meadows, while discussing what they plan to do to prevent another violent incident like the one last year in Charlottesville, Va.
The National Socialist Movement has received a permit to hold their rally from 3 to 5 p.m. in Greenville Street Park. 11Alive called the man organizing the rally, Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement, whose address on the city permit is only a post office box in Detroit, Michigan. However, he did not respond to phone calls, emails and texts.
U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson (R - 3rd District) said he was not happy with plans for the group to protest in Newnan.
“Every citizen has the constitutional right to express their First Amendment freedoms to free speech and protest, but the racist views of neo-Nazis are completely abhorrent," he said. "I commend Mayor Brady for his work to ensure a peaceful event and urge the entire Newnan community to stand together to show that there is no place for hate or intolerance in Georgia’s 3rd district.”
Deputy Chief of Police Mark Cooper said their department is working with local, state and federal agencies ensure everyone stays safe.
“Our strategies are planned to reduce the chance of physical altercations and minimize the risk of personal injury or property damage," Cooper said. "Our goal is to protect the 1st Amendment rights of all citizens and visitors to Newnan.”
In a safety plan released to local business owners, police say they plan to set up 100-gallon water barriers to keep the two groups apart, and they are calling in other agencies from across the state to help keep the day safe.
Police are setting up alternate traffic routes and putting up barriers to prevent any conflicts with counter-protesters or damage to property. Police are encouraging business owners to put away anything that could possibly be thrown or cause damage, such as decorations, chairs or tables.
But more than that, law enforcement has been urging everyone to stay away from the rally.
“Don’t give ‘em an audience, because that’s what they want, an audience to shout their messages at, and they’re not bringing a good message for anybody,” Meadows said.
A Change.org petition started by a local high school student and some local business owners asking for the rally not be be held had already landed more than 50,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
Although there had been rumblings of the anti-fascist group known as ANTIFA also attending and counter-protesting the National Socialist Movement's rally, no formal permit has, as of this point, been submitted to allow their presence at the park.
Newnan resident Nadine Winter is organizing one of at least three anti-hate rallies that will take place several blocks from downtown. Her's will be at Willie Lynch Park, where she said demonstrators who represent the "real" Newnan will be.
“We will not stand silently by,” she told 11Alive. “We’re different religions, we’re different political parties… different backgrounds, and we all stand together for love and respect for all humankind.”