Gunmen belonging to a local militia in a small US town forced a council meeting about building a mosque to be cancelled following security concerns over their presence.
The violent group of right-wing militiamen carried guns into a local square to demonstrate against “the presence of Muslims” in the country
The meeting, which was expected to lift a ban on new places of worship, was called off amid growing tensions in Newton County, Georgia.
Five weeks ago a local Muslim group laid out construction plans for an Islamic cemetery, mosque and school – but it was met with anger from a loud minority of the town.
Several members of the so-called right-wing ‘Georgia Security Force’ (GSF) posted a video on the weekend showing them trespass onto the site of the proposed cemetery and mosque school.
One member of the militia climbed a tree to hang an American flag on the property where the mosque would be built.
The group, led by local resident Chris Hill, is now under investigation from Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies.
Newton County manager Lloyd Kerr said the group were “exhibiting harassing or violent behaviour”.
She added: “Unfortunately, in today’s society, uncivil threats or intentions must be taken seriously.”
Following this, nearly 30 members of the armed militia stormed the local town centre armed with machine guns, forcing the mosque meeting to be cancelled.
Members of the Newton County community have largely been divided over the mosque proposal.
A local imam said “Islamophobic” public meetings had revealed a dark side of the small town.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, from the local Georgia Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said: “County leaders shouldn’t allow themselves to be bullied into cancelling a public meeting on a controversial issue.”
Mr Mitchell said that rumours about the mosque being used as a cover for “an ISIS training ground” have been used to attack the plans.
He added: “A small group of anti-Muslim extremists were able to frighten a government body into canceling a public meeting.
“That sends a dangerous message about the power of fringe extremists to affect elected officials.
“If American Muslims can stand up to these threats every day that we walk out of our houses, then a small group of elected officials can do the same thing.”
Mr Hill, the gang’s leader, who calls himself a “commanding officer” of the militia, said: “We’re not here to intimidate. You’re just seeing two different rights being exercised at the same time.”
One local resident among the peaceful counter-protesters at the town centre hit back. said: “I am personally Christian and we believe defending other people’s right to worship will keep our right to worship safe as well.”
The town manager expects the next meeting – on September 20 – to go ahead, with the moratorium on mosques to be lifted the following day.