Around 700 law enforcement officers transformed a Georgia town into a militarized zone Saturday, after the city of Newnan approved letting members of a white supremacist group demonstrate at a public park, sparking counter protests.
(Click through the slideshow to see pictures of the day.)
Newnan officials reported 10 arrests, no property damage, and no injuries.
Hundreds of counter demonstrators outnumbered the roughly 35 members of the National Social Movement who showed up for a political rally timed with Hitler’s birthday. A member of the group paid $50 for a permit to use a local park.
The city paid for public safety associated with the rally and counter protests. It hasn’t released that figure yet.
A League of the South rally in Murfreesboro, Tenn., last year cost the city and county about $350,000.
Some locals are irked they’re picking up the tab. Stan Seldon owns a barbershop downtown and has lived in Newnan all his life.
“We need recreation departments. We need swimming pools. We need education for our children. We need streets fixed. Why would the city council agree to bring all this here?”
The city says it had no choice.
Assistant City Manager Hasco Craver told the Newnan Times-Herald the city “has a responsibility to protect free speech rights, the individuals and groups that chose to exercise those rights and the broader community in which those rights may be exercised.”
42 law enforcement agencies were mobilized to control crowds and keep opposing sides separated. The city’s historic district was heavily barricaded and several roads were closed most of the day. Officers blocked access to and guarded the Coweta County Courthouse, which is ringed with Confederate monuments.
Police escorted NSM members in to the park, allowing them to carry shields and flagpoles. This came hours after counter protesters marched and assembled in a police-designated area with one security checkpoint.
Everyone coming in to the counter protest area was searched. A detailed list of of banned items included a many possible weapons -- except for permitted guns. Georgia law protects the right to openly carry firearms in public spaces.
Georgia State Patrol in riot gear maintained a 75-yard barrier between the opposing groups, reinforced by high chain link fencing.
Only credentialed members of the press and police were allowed inside the park to watch speakers from the National Socialist Movement and the League of the South trumpet white supremacy. At least one reporter tweeted he was kicked out at the request of a rally organizer.
Shortly after 5 p.m., officers with megaphones said the rally was over, and everyone had 10 minutes to leave. Just like that, crowds dispersed and quiet returned to Newnan.