Every year, on the weekend of Hitler’s birthday, members of the National Socialist Movement hold their Annual Meeting and Banquet. This year, it was held at the Georgia Peach Oyster Bar, in Draketown, right outside of Temple. The restaurant owner’s support of racist positions is not new.

They took out a permit to hold a rally at the Greenville Street Park in Newnan where they planned to meet on Saturday afternoon. I read they expected between 35 and 50 of their group to attend, and ultimately the turnout was fairly low. Counter-protesters not only outnumbered the neo-Nazis, but ten of them were arrested for violating a law against wearing masks.

More interesting to me was what happened before and after.

I think to say that Newnan demonstrated to the world its good character is an understatement. Police asked businesses to remove anything from outside their businesses that could be thrown and instead they decided to close for the day. Area businesses closed down in order to avoid the situation. Residents recognized the financial hardship that would present and urged people to shop on Friday instead. A non-profit invited children to fill the sidewalk with colorful and happy chalk drawings.

Friday night, a prayer rally was held at the Greenville Street Park, in which love and not hate was promoted. On Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the neo-Nazis were to march, religious leaders from different faiths gathered at Willie Lynch Park in an interfaith rally as well. Hosted by the mayor, its message, too, was all about acceptance and goodness.

And on Sunday, the day after the counter-protestors outnumbered the protesters, a Peace in the Park event was planned, with music, speeches and a “Newton rocks” table where people could write inspirational messages to be put on rocks that would be placed around town. Newnan’s purpose was to take back its town, but truly, from all I can see, it doesn’t look like they’d ever lost it.

In researching this, I also found a story by someone who attended the NSM’s national convention in Trenton, NJ a number of years ago. The picture it paints is awful; the ignorance and hate on display were stomach-turning. And since the town had no idea in advance, the way it escalated when another group came to attack, created a scenario very different than what took place in Newnan.

Unfortunately for Georgia, the story doesn’t end with Newnan.

After the protest at Greenville Street Park was over, the NSM returned to Draketown, on the border of Paulding and Haralson counties. They went to a field where they burned giant swastikas. The photos are horrific. The ignorance and hate and vitriol they represent make me shudder. And even if the bulk of its group came from out of town, the Georgia Peach Oyster Bar is here; its owner is here. The venue has a history of hosting different white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. They must feel welcome to come here. Whoever owned that field that they used is here too.

I would love to see Draketown pull together like Newnan did.

I would love to see Georgia pull together and find ways to encourage its citizens’ acceptance and love of fellow residents in the same way that Newnan did. Businesses, non-profits and houses of worship can all call for rallies and chalk drawings, music and inspirational messages, lovingkindness and interpersonal connections. Let’s create an atmosphere where hate groups do not feel welcome.

What can each of us do to make that happen?