Coweta County

Massive police and counterprotester presence overshadow neo-Nazi rally

NEWNAN, Ga. — As hundreds of counterprotesters descended on downtown Newnan on Saturday afternoon, only a couple dozen white nationalists showed up for a rally at Greenville Street Park.

With memories of what turned into a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in July, some 700 law enforcement officials from 42 different police agencies worked together to make sure everyone involved was safe.

“Very proud,” is the way Newnan police Chief Douglas Meadows described his feelings about law enforcement following the rally and protest Saturday afternoon.

He said more than anything, he was incredibly proud of the people of Newnan and Coweta County.

"The groups we had here today did not represent Newnan and Coweta County," Meadows said. "Words cannot express my gratitude, first to the citizens of Newnan and Coweta County. Great place. Our citizens are great."

[PHOTOS: Huge crowds gather at neo-Nazi rally]

Hundreds of counterprotesters lined the streets around Greenville Street Park to help push love and peace, in hopes of drowning out what they said was were messages of hate.

"We're exercising human rights for all people that represent love, humanity, against hate, against evil -- point blank, period. And that's something we don't allow -- not in this city, not in this town, not in this state, anywhere," one counterprotester told Channel 2's Christian Jennings.

Anti-fascist demonstrators, also known as Antifa, appeared to be among the counterprotesters and residents rallying against the neo-Nazis.

Just after 4 p.m., about two dozen members of the National Socialist Movement, based in Michigan, arrived at the park, which had been cordoned off by fencing and barricades to separate the white nationalist group and the counterprotesters. The group’s application anticipated 50 to 100 people.

[READ: A minute-by-minute look at neo-Nazi rally in Newnan]

“The objective here is to do exactly what you’re seeing – Keep the protesters separated from the counterprotesters – that’s the gist of the security plan. It’s working excellent,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said.

Members of the NSM also praised the good job by law enforcement as they tried to spread their message to those watching.

“What you need to understand, people, is the more you push us, the more you oppress us, the stronger we get, the more momentum we gain, and we are consistently growing in numbers, in influence,” said Nationalist Social Movement Commander Jeff Schoep.

Before leaving, Schoep spoke with reporters, saying Newnan was one of many places the group planned on going to spread their message, which he said has only gained momentum.

"People are tired of the Democrats and Republicans with the same old lies and failures that we're seeing from our federal government. They listen to our social and political issues," Schoep aid.

The group rallied to a small crowd inside Greenville Street Park for about an hour before they
left as quickly as they came.

As the demonstration began wrapping up shortly after 5 p.m., counterprotesters began shouting, “Shut it down” and “Time’s up, go home.”

The demonstrators then left as quickly as they showed up.

Law enforcement held a news conference following the demonstration and said they were very relieved everything turned out the way it did.

"I live in Newnan. I'm a California transplant to Georgia and I believe that Newnan loves all," resident Judy Berkins told Channel 2's Tyisha Fernandes. "We don't want our city in any way to be affected by the activity of the NSM."

Meadow said that ultimately, the taxpayers would have to foot the bill for the show of force brought out by the rally.

“This shouldn’t come out of the pockets of taxpayers like me,” Newnan resident Mildred Beadles said. “If they want to do this, they should pay for it. Our police are not focused on us because of them. That should not be allowed.”

Authorities did not have an estimate as to how much the security for the rally was going to cost. On top of the police presence, some 100 to 125 fire and emergency medical services personnel were on hand from 25 different agencies in case something went wrong.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.