The belief that Muslim burial practices can pollute ground water, popular among far-right opponents of a proposed mosque in Newton County, became the basis of a proposed regulation from a Newton commissioner. The proposal was defeated by the county planning board this week. CURTIS COMPTON /CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
About a dozen protesters, several of them armed, gathered in front of the historic Newton County courthouse Tuesday to protest 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 against the mosque.
Nearby, a sign read “Unite against Islam, stop the Islamic immigration refugee invasion now!”
A young teenage boy waving an American flag wore a shirt that read “God hates Islam.”
As the protest got underway, James Stachowiak, of Evans, Georgia, wielding a semiautomatic rifle, railed against Islam and Muslims through a megaphone.
“Islam is not here to assimilate,” he said. “Mohammad preached the establishment of a global caliphate.”
The anti-Islam protesters were met with a slightly smaller group 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.
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.
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.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Newton County had not invited the agency to get involved. A spokesperson for the local Sheriff’s Office confirmed the group was still under investigation.
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.
“ …. A self-made video circulated on social media of a militia group from a neighboring county, [which] may have been trespassing on private property, and exhibiting harassing or violent behavior,” County Manager Lloyd Kerr wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately in today’s society, uncivil threats or intentions must be taken seriously.”
He added that the temporary moratorium on new places of worship will expire on September 21 if the commission takes no action.
“The Board of Commissioners intends to honor the expiration date and has no plans to extend the moratorium,” Kerr wrote.