On April 21st, a handful of a little known white nationalist neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement (NSM), descended into the small town of Newnan, Georgia, some 40 miles southwest of Atlanta.
The NSM were calling attention to their annual white nationalist National Meeting, in which not only this group but elements of the Ku Klux Klan and the League of the South were to have a ‘get together’ and talk about white power and the fantasy of a pure white America.
Obviously, this was met with several thousand counter-protesters as well as the Atlanta chapter of the anti-fascist movement known as ANTIFA. There was also a very large police presence of not only Newnan Police, but that of several well armed and armored Special Weapons and Tactic’s, or SWAT officers. And from the onset it looked like these officers had one thing in mind: keep the peace at all costs.
It seemed from the very beginning that their focus was entirely on the group of ANTIFA protesters. What happened next was, what many are calling some of the most militaristic aggressive over-policing ever seen.
Yet, it wasn’t just the media or ANTIFA saying this; SWAT officers from across the country also thought so as well.
One such SWAT officer, who asked to remain anonymous, reached out to The Fusion Cell and wanted to go on record saying that, “Watching the response in Georgia, and having experience from both sides, I can say their response was over the top (granted I don’t have the facts or perception from the officers there). I’m not sure what they were expecting, but they’re fortunate their heavy handed approach didn’t cause an already volatile situation to erupt.”
The SWAT officer also stated that the deployment of SWAT units to rallies or demonstrations should be at the support level only–hidden from view, unless there is a volatile or imminent threat to public safety. “Our team and our department considers any deployment of specialized equipment a use of force,” the officer added, “and thoroughly documents any use and the reasons behind it. Our team’s tactics focus around deescalating foreseen confrontations and avoiding escalating things like the protests in Georgia. For something that volatile, we would probably deploy a quick reaction force and ensure they were out of sight unless needed.”
In addition, The Fusion Cell spoke with a representative of Atlanta ANTIFA, “Billy” who was at the demonstrations and reported that before any of the counter-protest group Billy realized, they were surrounded by what they thought looked like U.S. soldiers from pictures/news reports from the war zones of Afghanistan or Iraq.
“There were two different counter-protest groups that day,” Billy added, “One group went into a sort of fenced off area that the police had set up. Our group (ANTIFA) plus some others split from this group and gathered across the street.” At which time, Billy and some of the other counter-protesters began to see a police presence following them.
Some members of ANTIFA were wearing bandannas around their faces, which drew the ire of the police as Georgia has a state law banning anything covering ones face or to conceal their identity at rallies and demonstrations dating back to 1951. This was originally written into law In Georgia in 1951, due to the Ku Klux Klan wearing their patented hoods to intimidate persons of color.
Billy admitted that the group knew about this law, yet claimed that some were wearing face coverings to protect themselves from being identified by white nationalist groups that may want to seek them out for revenge or to do harm to them or their families.
“Initially two uniformed cops came up to the group and asked for some of our party to remove their masks,” Billy said. He also stated that these uniformed police were “actually very polite,” yet some in the group refused the order. And that is when Billy saw several armored vehicles approach the group and then SWAT officers began piling out of the armored trucks, surrounding them and began shouting commands to remove the masks or face arrest.
And that is when, according to Billy, all hell broke loose. “I was in the front of the group and these officers pushed us up against a wall with a bunch of bushes. We had nowhere to go. They just began pushing and hitting protesters with their rifles and pointing them in our faces.” I asked Billy if any in the group were threatening the police, “Nobody was physically threatening the police, other than shouting ‘fuck the police’ or other things like that. They then just started grabbing people and slamming them on the ground. None of the protesters arrested or beaten had masks on.”
Billy finished by saying, “I really thought I was going to be assaulted by the cops. I was terrified they were going to shoot us….I thought I was going to die. This felt very personal like they had a vendetta against us.”
Billy’s fears may have been warranted. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have labelled ANTIFA as a group that has the capacity for “domestic terrorism activities” in 2016, and in a Congressional report on domestic terror groups in 2017 shortly after the tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The sad result of this complex sequence of events in Newnan, was the image of a highly agitated police officer pointing his rifle at unarmed protesters, which has sent shock waves through the law enforcement community cobbled with a mixed bag of emotions from either sides.
Was this use of force justified?
The Fusion Cell also reached out to the Coweta County Sheriff SWAT commander, Major Mark Fenniger who quickly pointed out that the officer in the photo was not one of his deputies, rather it was a Newnan city police SWAT officer, and that Fenniger’s SWAT unit was there to augment the Newnan Police Department SWAT unit. We also reached out to Newnan SWAT commander, Mark Cooper, who sent us to Newnan City Hall spokesperson, Hasco Craver who never returned our calls.
So little is known whether the officer in question is being investigated for his actions or if he was within his duty to escalate to the use of force he displayed.
The Fusion Cell attempted to reach out to attorney Eric P. Daigle, who is a well known and sought after legal adviser to police departments across the United States, in which he provides legal advice to law enforcement command staff and officers in the areas of legal liability, internal affairs, discipline, policy drafting, employment issues, use of force.
Daigle also declined to comment on this article personally, yet, has several studies penned by Daigle that indicate that due to the war on terror and the failing war on drugs. That the use of militarized law enforcement and the deployment of specialized SWAT units have increased 1,500 percent in the last two decades.
This idea is shared by the SWAT officer that did choose to speak with The Fusion Cell. They believe this needs to change if the communities in which they police will begin to trust them again, stating, “As peace officers, our job is to preserve and protect the rights of everyone, and we assume some risk when doing so. The portrayal of cops as warriors as opposed to protectors and servants needs to end.”
Feature image courtesy of: Photo: DanielShular.com