US: Georgia town of Newnan braces for neo-Nazi rally

The National Socialist Movement is one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US.

    US: Georgia town of Newnan braces for neo-Nazi rally
    A National Socialist Movement member holds a shield during a white supremacist rally [File: Stephanie Keith/Reuters]

    The small Georgia town of Newnan is bracing for neo-Nazi events this weekend, while local community members have organised a festival to oppose the far-right gatherings. 

    The National Socialist Movement (NSM), described by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) hate monitor as one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the United States, will hold its annual national meeting in Newnan on Friday and Saturday.

    On Saturday, the far-right group will march through the town centre.

    Many local businesses plan to close during the march, while other community members will hold a festival dubbed "#NewnanStrong" on Friday, according to 11 Alive, the local NBC affiliate in nearby Atlanta.

    The event will be launched on Friday, which is also the birthday of German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

    "I think there's a lot of fear and anxiety that's kind of come from this," Nathan Brain, one of the organisers for #NewnanStrong, told the local media outlet.

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    In a video on its website, the NSM described the annual meeting as a "historical event" and called on participants to "show [their] pride, love for [their] race, [their] heritage and [the] country".

    In a statement published online, the Newnan Police Department said it had been working with local, state and federal law enforcement in the leadup to the rally.  

    Violence

    Founded in 1996 and based in Detroit, Michigan, the NSM has been increasingly active in far-right rallies across the US, including the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.

    During that rally, white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis descended on the city to rally against the removal of a Confederate monument.

    Participants in the protest, dubbed "Unite the Right", clashed with locals, anti-racists and anti-fascist counterdemonstrators throughout the day.

    Unite the Right culminated in Alex Fields Jr, who had been photographed with neo-Nazis earlier in the day, allegedly ploughing his car into a crowd of anti-racists, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more.

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    The NSM has participated in a slew of events linked to the alt-right, a loosely knit coalition of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis who advocate the creation of a white ethnostate.

    The NSM boasts chapters in dozens of US states, but the exact number of its members is unknown, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s intelligence project. 

    Despite the NSM’s attempts to rebrand itself in recent years, for example, shedding the swastika on much of its paraphernalia, Beirich insisted it is the same organisation it has always been.

    "It's just old wine in new bottles," she told Al Jazeera. "They're still a flat out neo-Nazi group; it's right there in the name."

    She added: "Charlottesville was a huge wakeup call to the American public about the emboldened white supremacy movement and the potential for violence within it."

    Far-right infighting and losses

    The alt-right gained national attention for its vocal support of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and electoral victory.

    The umbrella movement threw its weight behind Trump for his anti-immigrant positions and other nativist policies. However, many in the alt-right have rescinded their support for the president, who they say has been coopted by mainstream Republicans. 

    Since the Charlottesville rally eight months ago, the US far right has also faced widespread backlash, criticism and internal divisions.

    The NSM is part of the Nationalist Front, a coalition of far-right groups which included the neo-Confederate League of the South, the now-defunct Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) and a handful of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) chapters, among others.

    The TWP ostensibly collapsed last month when its leader, Matthew Heimbach, was charged with battery after a violent incident stemming from his alleged affair with the wife of Matt Parrot, party spokesperson and the stepfather of Heimbach's wife.

    Parrot subsequently deleted the party's website and its membership list.

    The TWP's apparent collapse came just a month after its members attacked anti-fascist demonstrators at Michigan State University, where alt-right figure Richard Spencer was delivering a speech to a small crowd.

    Spencer later announced he would refrain from holding campus speaking events.

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    According to the SPLC, the alt-right has influenced incidents in which 43 people were killed, and 67 were injured since 2014.

    The monitor has also noted that the number of hate groups grew in 2017 for a third consecutive year. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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