Dressing and acting more like they were on patrol in Afghanistan than policing a neo–Nazi rally in a small town in Georgia, hundreds of police officers in combat gear and carrying high–powered weapons demonstrated what it looks like when we militarize our police forces.
HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias described the scene in Newnan, GA, as a “heavily militarized police force of some 400 officers” that “aggressively patrolled a small neo-Nazi rally in this city 40 miles southwest of Atlanta on Saturday and arrested about 10 counterprotesters, many for the crime of wearing a mask.”
Ten arrests may not seem like much, but in a video posted on Twitter, Mathias said it was “the most over-aggressive policing” he’d ever seen:
That included one officer directly pointing his weapon at protesters and journalists, an incident that can be seen in the video. “At one point, an officer pointed what seemed to be a modified AR-15 at the faces of counterprotesters, none of whom appeared to be armed,” Mathias wrote. Those who were arrested were tackled and thrown to the ground, and then moved out of the view of reporters.
“The demonstrators were placed face down in the street. The police moved members of the media away from the area and blocked the view with vans,” USA Today reported, citing The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. All of this activity was to facilitate about 60 neo–Nazis who wanted to hold a hate rally organized by the National Socialist Movement in a designated area where only about 30 neo–Nazis ended up taking the stage.
Officials clearly had wanted to avoid a repeat of the tragic events last year in Charlottesville, VA, which were marked by violence, clashes, and chaos between neo–Nazis and other white supremacists on one side and anti–fascist protesters on the other. Those clashes culminated in a vehicular attack on peaceful protesters that killed 32–year–old protester Heather Heyer and injured several others.
But the military hardware and tactics on display by police officers in Newnan were consternating, and the excuse for arresting the counterprotesters—some of whom were wearing masks—has a curious historical twist.
According to HuffPost, police cited a rarely enforced 1951 law created to prevent members of the KKK from wearing masks.
“The irony of enforcing masking laws to prosecute leftists is just incredible,” said Molly, a counterprotester from Charlottesville, Virginia, who traveled to Georgia to protest neo-Nazis. She asked that her last name not be published for fear of retribution. “Those are anti-Klan statutes.”
“And to be roughing up anti-Nazi protesters while handling literal Nazis with kid gloves... it’s absurd,” added Molly, who said she saw one of her friends get arrested Saturday.
According to USA Today, Newnan police chief Douglas “Buster” Meadows said officials, police units, and city workers had been planning for up to six weeks for the event. He said he was “very relieved” that no injuries or property damage were reported, and that’s definitely good news. But is militarization of the country’s police forces really the price we want to pay for that safety?