NEWTON COUNTY, Ga. - Newton County canceled Tuesday's planned meeting discussing a proposed mosque and cemetery after the threat of civil unrest. Some social media postings suggested an "armed protest" would take place in front of the historic Newton County Courthouse where the meeting was originally to be held. But the protest was smaller than expected.
A statement released Monday afternoon by the board reads:
"Due to the Chairman and the Newton County Board of Commissioners' unwavering desire to ensure the orderly and safe assembly of citizens, the decision has been made to cancel the Sept. 13 work session and special called meeting. This decision was not taken without careful deliberation and consideration of concerns regarding crowd control and law enforcement regarding social media postings evidencing hostilities in the community. Newton County will continue in its efforts to encourage citizen participation in government and honoring the County's intention to work with all members of the community."
Newton County residents, as well as other opponents of the mosque and Cemetery gathered at the Covington Square to voice their concerns about the imminent construction. They said they are concerned about how Newton County officials and representatives of the mosque work together to get the permits for the project.
"It's a declaration of war against United States of America," said protester Jim Stachowiak. "Their ultimate goal is to impose Sharia law."
"The Quran is nothing but hate speech," said protester Philip Morris.
"You're going to have to quit being nice to people who will kill you," said Sam Hay who opposes the mosque.
A handful of people who said they were from a local militia group showed in the county square across the street from the courthouse. Some of the people were visibly armed while holding signs in opposition to the mosque. Organizers said about 150 people would show up for the protest, about two dozen were counted in the end.
"I'm Christian and I fully believe that by protecting others religious rights it will keep us safe," said Kendra Milllerd.
On the steps of the courthouse, a counter protest who said they are trying to balance out the conversation of a very vocal minority which they said does not reflect the way all residents feel.
Others candidly admit they are afraid the influx of Muslims in the suburban community will lead to the creation of active terror cells and training grounds.
"I don't know anything about the mosques. I don't know how they conduct their services. I don't know anything about the people," Linda Allen, a concerned citizen, expressed to FOX 5 News. "I don't know their cultures. But -- and part of it is being raised in the South, I guess, that there's just things that we don't understand. So, it is scary when you have something dumped in your county that you don't know anything about."
But some said the fears are unwarranted and one Newton County resident when as far as to call it un-Christian and un-American to draw such conclusions about the Muslims who want to worship on the site near County Line Road and Highway 168.
"God's not giving us a spirit of fear. He's giving us a spirit of power and love and of sound mind. And what I'm seeing from the communities is neither of those three things," said resident Zach Ames, who was across the street at a counter protest. "We're Americans. That's the common ground we have. There's nothing American about this. There is nothing at all American about this. These people live in this country; they are U.S. citizens or looking to be U.S. citizens. They are granted the rights and privileges of any citizen who lives here and there's nothing to keep them from wanting to live here and wanting to build their places of worship. As a Christian it's just wrong."
"By no means is it racist or anything like that. It's concerns because of the not knowing and not understanding," said Allen.
"The reason these people wanted to move here, I imagine, is they saw this community and saw it's a great community. They want to be here and want to be part of this community, and I still believe that," said Ames.
"There's terrorism going through Mosques in different parts of the country. Those are the types of things that could come here to Newton County," said Chris Hill, the commander of a group called Georgia Security Force. Hill said he created an online video which circulated on social media about the proposed Mosque.
"Allowing the moratorium to expire would be the only thing they can do unless they would invite a lawsuit that would cost millions of dollars to this community," said Ames.
County officials previously said they would lift a ban on building permits for religious institutions that had been sparked by local opposition to a mosque and Muslim cemetery.
Previous meetings on topic overflowed from the historic Newton County Courthouse, wrapping around onto the street.