One of the big questions hanging over last month’s neo-Nazi rally in the small town of Newnan, Georgia centers on the outsized police presence that showed up to keep tabs on the event.
Why did hundreds of heavily armed police — numbering some 700, according to an estimate from Slate — show up in force for a paltry turnout of a few dozen white supremacists, going so far as to swing their guns at counter-protesters? Why did police act like they expected thousands more people, who could potentially incite violence, to arrive?
Thanks to a public records request, we may finally have an answer — and one that doesn’t reflect well on local authorities.
Emails obtained by Unicorn Riot — a self-described “decentralized… non-profit media organization” — revealed that officials from the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office shared a Facebook post with one another in the lead-up to the rally claiming that counter-protesters in Newnan had dotted the city with stockpiles of “urine, feces, cans of peper spray or wasp spray, [and] ball bats,” among other weapons.
The post estimated that upwards of 13,000 white supremacists and counter-protests may show up, and claimed that people “will be targeted if [they] wear any clothing supporting trump [sic], America, or anything that leans to the right.”
Lieutenant Colonel Tony Grant, who forwarded the Facebook post to the rest of the higher-ups at the Coweta County Sheriff department, wrote, “Don’t guess these folks have heard of TEAM COWETA!!!!!”
There was one major problem, though: The Facebook post the Coweta County Sheriff’s officers shared with one another appears not to be from any reputable information source, but from the Facebook account of Clay Perry, a self-described “patriot” who said he’s “read [antifa] propaganda for a while now.”
One commenter on Perry’s wrote, “Left alone the Nazis would march right through town and out the other side. Antifa will bring the violence.” Added another who shared the post, “George Soros invading Newnan, Ga!!”
However, a stray Facebook post from a self-described “patriot” doesn’t appear to be the only bit of social media flotsam that informed local authorities’ massive security presence. Unicorn Riot pointed to another Facebook post shared by the city from an account called Valdosta Antifa. The post pledged that 10,000 antifa activists would show up at the rally — there to erect “status of Pauly Shore” and “to turn the fricken [sic] frogs gay.”
The post, as it is, is clearly satirical. (As the post closed, “You know, Valdosta Antifa is really just three kids in a trench coat and fake mustache right?”) It is unclear why the city cited the post in a request for information about security preparations.
Newnan Police Chief Douglas “Buster” Meadows did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Fake antifa posts have, of course, fooled others. But the local officials tasked with keeping Newnan safe appear to be the first police and security officers so clearly fooled by fake antifa material, and to have that fake material inform their own security decisions.