Though a special called meeting of the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) was cancelled. a local militia group announced it will continue with a planned protest outside the Historic Courthouse Tuesday night.
Georgia Security Force III% will conduct a protest at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening. Henry County resident Chris Hill, Georgia Security Force III%’s commanding officer, said the group’s purpose is to “use the Second Amendment to protect the First Amendment.”
This weekend the group posted on social media that it would be in Covington protesting a proposed Newton County mosque Tuesday. The same group also posted a video on Facebook from the proposed mosque site Sunday, Sept. 11.
Following the militia's announcement, the BOC cancelled the Sept. 13 special called meeting, where staff members were expected to present changes to the county’s zoning ordinances. In a statement, District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz and District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims both said they would vote to lift a moratorium that was placed on permits for places of worship after a 135-acre development to include a mosque and cemetery as made public.
The militia group planned to come to Newton County to protest against that decision.
“They need to let people who are denied a chance to raise their concerns, an outlet to do that,” Hill told The News. “[We want to] be there peacefully to voice opposition to the council.”
Despite the desire for a peaceful demonstration, county officials had concern for safety surrounding the protest.
“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 Chair Keith Ellis said.
Newton County Manager Lloyd Kerr also released a statement on safety concerns, citing the group’s video on Sept. 11.
"In this case, a self-made video circulated on social media of a militia group from a neighboring county, may have been trespassing on private property, and exhibiting harassing or violent behavior,” Kerr said in a statement released Tuesday. “Unfortunately in today’s society, uncivil threats or intentions must be taken seriously.”
Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said his department will have a presence on the Square during the protest.
Despite the planned protest, the county is still planning on moving forward with zoning changes and lifting the moratorium that was enacted on Aug. 16 and set to expire Sept. 21.
“The Board of Commissioners intends to honor the expiration date and has no plans to extend the moratorium,” Kerr said in a statement.
Newton County’s development services staff will present the county with a new zoning classification for large developments.
According to a public notice placed in The Covington News that classification was for large developments of community impact and was to “ensure large-scale developments over a certain size are compatible with the surrounding community and character area, and that such developments promote the public interest and the efficient utilization of land.”
According to Newton County Zoning Administrator Judy Johnson, the amendments to the zoning will look at large-scale developments, beyond just places of worship.
“We’re looking into the impact of different types of places of assembly,” Johnson told The News previously.