By Meris Lutz – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A protest by a small but strident group of about a dozen militia members, some armed, ended quietly Tuesday, after several hours spent railing against the presence of Muslims in America generally and a proposed local Muslim burial ground and mosque, specifically.
“Who are we to say it’s not going to be a refugee compound?” said Phillip Morris, a Walton County resident who turned out in front of the historic Newton County courthouse for the protest against the mosque.
A young teenage boy waving an American flag wore a shirt that read “God hates Islam.” Another protester, James Stachowiak of Evans, Georgia, carried a semiautomatic rifle as he shouted through a megaphone that “Islam is not here to assimilate.”
The anti-Islam protesters were met with a slightly smaller number of counter protesters who said they were there to support religious freedom.
“I am personally Christian and we believe defending other people’s right to worship will keep our right to worship safe as well,” said Newton County resident Kendra Millerd.
Millerd said she trusted the local law enforcement to keep everyone safe, despite the presence of weapons.
Georgia Security Force III%, a local militia, called for the rally after posting a video that caused the county to cancel a meeting that had been scheduled for Tuesday. At that meeting, commissioners were expected to lift a temporary moratorium on new places of worship, clearing the way for the cemetery and mosque, which the militia opposes.
Chris Hill, the commanding officer of GSF III% who appeared in the video and goes by Gen. Blood Agent, admitted that his comments in the video were “crass” but continued to voice suspicion that all or most Muslims support violence. He denied that his group posed a threat.
“We’re not violent people, we’re just people with an opinion,” he told reporters. He added that he did not expect to stop construction of what he called an “Islamic compound,” but hoped to voice his concerns nonetheless.
The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned the armed protest by what the organization called “anti-Muslim extremists.”
“These armed bigots do not represent the people of Newton County, who are as warm and welcoming as other Georgians,” CAIR Georgia executive director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement.
Mitchell expressed disappointment that the commission cancelled the meeting.
“Although we understand why several Newton County commissioners were concerned about their own safety, governments cannot and should not let such fears prevent them from holding a vote, much less a meeting,” he continued. “Every day, American Muslims stand up to the threats of bigoted extremists.”
The militia’s video, which was posted online over the weekend but has since been taken down, shows several members of the militia decrying Islam and allegedly trespassing on the Muslim congregation’s property to hang an American flag. The Newton County Sheriff’s Office has launched an investigation into the group.