A neo-Nazi rally outside of Atlanta on Saturday drew only a few participants and did not last very long.
But the event still upended Newnan, Ga., a city of about 38,000, for an afternoon as downtown shops closed and counterprotesters gathered. Hasco Craver, the assistant city manager, said more than 700 law enforcement officers were present from 42 agencies.
Members of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist organization that has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, gained a permit last month for a rally from 3 to 5 p.m. at a park. Organizers estimated the rally could draw 50 to 100 people, city officials said.
Their plans called to mind a rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., in August that spun out of control, with demonstrators and counterprotesters clashing in the streets. One Ohio man, described by police as a Nazi sympathizer, drove his car through a crowd of pedestrians, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others.
But when rally participants converged on Greenville Street Park in Newnan shortly after 4 p.m., it appeared there were only about two dozen white nationalists on a platform there.
In a speech, Jeff Schoep, who leads the National Socialist Movement and was also at the rally in Charlottesville, criticized illegal immigration, skinny jeans and the removal of Confederate monuments, adding that he was “standing on behalf of white nationalism, white patriotism and our history as American people.”
In front of the rally participants was a smattering of reporters in a grassy area that was mostly empty. Beyond that were barricades and dozens of black-clad, helmet-wearing law enforcement officers lining the street that bordered the park.
And beyond all of that, at least 100 people stood in opposition to the gathering, including some activists of the anti-fascist group known as antifa.
The counterprotesters had been demonstrating downtown for hours before the white nationalist rally. They marched through the streets and waved signs that said “Smash white supremacy” and “Love thy neighbor,” while a helicopter pulled a banner that said “Newnan believes in love for all.”
Burt Colucci, a member of the National Socialist Movement, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution there was no particular reason Newnan was chosen for the rally.
“We pick these rallies randomly,” he said. “It is always preferable that it is in a white town.”
There were a few confrontations between counterprotesters and the police. City officials said about 10 arrests were made but it was unclear who was charged or for what. By 6 p.m., downtown Newnan seemed calm.