A group of white nationalists burned a 12-foot tall swastika in a field in Georgia last week in honor of Hitler’s birthday.
Although the images are chilling, the evening’s pyrotechnics were a consolation prize, of sorts, after the failure of their hate rallies earlier that day.
About two dozen members of the National Socialist Movement and the League of the South– two white supremacy groups– carried torches and raised their hands in a Hitler salute in Draketown, Ga. They also burned an othala rune, a pre-Roman symbol appropriated by some members of the Third Reich. The rune outside of Nazi contexts denotes “homeland,” and “inheritance,” and white supremacists have twisted its meaning to represent racial purity.
Hours earlier however, their hateful messages wilted in the face of resounding opposition.
The League of the South tried to lead a rally in Rome which lasted “about five minutes before its members were asked to leave by police,” according to Atlanta’s WSB radio.
From 3 to 5 p.m. that same day, the National Socialists had planned a rally in a park in Newnan, Georgia, a small town of 38,000, about forty miles south of the field where the swasticas were later ignited.
The town and its inhabitants had feared it might resemble the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. last August, where demonstrators and counter-protesters clashed violently, and a man drove his car through a crowd of pedestrians killing one woman and injuring 19 others.
Vendors closed their shops in preparation. According to a New York Times report, more than 700 law enforcement officers arrived, from 42 agencies.
Then the counter-protestors came. Hours before the rally, they streamed in with posters, banners, and flowers. They carried signs like, “Love thy Neighbor,” “No Hate in My City,” “Love Is Not Hate,” and chanted “Newnan Strong”. The sidewalk was painted with “Hate Never Wins” and before the National Socialists arrived, people drew slogans in chalk on the stage they would later stand on: “Give peace a chance” “love not hate.”
Some counter-protesters were members of Antifa, an armed anti-fascist group. Police arrested ten people before the white supremacists arrived, for refusing to take masks or bandanas off their faces. The crowds remained peaceful.
When they finally arrived, Newnan’s white supremacy gathering was a group of just over two dozen. On the lawn was handful of reporters. Outside the park, behind police tape, hundreds booed them.
Local news streamed video of the event, which shows Jeff Schoep, leader of the National Socialist Movement, railed against illegal immigrants, and called out the “Zionist media” and the corrupt power elite who “line their pockets with gold and shekels and hold us down as a people.”
One demonstrator held a sign that disparaged Jews and African-Americans, and claimed Jews were behind the refugee movement.
Outside, interfaith gatherings included rabbis, priests, reverends and ministers, from local and surrounding institutions. Nadine Winter, a member of Atlanta’s “The Temple” synagogue, told the Atlanta Jewish Times, “we are different religions, backgrounds and political parties, but we stand together today in love and respect for all.
After the National Socialist’s permit expired at 5 p.m., the city turned off the power to their sound system, according to a report by Fox 5 Atlanta.
Above them, a helicopter pulled a banner that said, “Newnan believes in love for all.”
Hours later, members of this meager demonstration regrouped forty miles north. Under the cover of darkness and without alerting police, they staged the swastika burning. It was the photo opportunity they missed in the light of day, when overwhelming opposition and a rally for peace secured the spotlight.