Two hearings erupted in staunch opposition to a planned Muslim cemetery in Newton County, Georgia — 35 miles east of Atlanta — on Monday, with people raising issues such as terrorism, refugees, and ISIS.
The meetings, which were attended by 600 people and lasted three total hours, follow a vote last week that placed a five-week moratorium on any new plans or proposals for new religious structures after the commissioners and residents learned of plans to build a Muslim cemetery in the county.
A videotaped interview by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with Teresa Standard, a Newton resident since 1966, said she worries the land will be used as an ISIS training camp. Standard said she heard that a similar plan was developed in another part of Georgia and now "has nothing but barns and ISIS training camps.”
"I am totally against everything they represent because I believe in God and the Holy Bible,” Standard said.
"I do not want to see our country turn into a totally Muslim community which has happened in other cities and towns that have allowed it," she continued, adding that, "I'm sure there are some good peaceful Muslims in the group that's doing this but with the world situation, I have no way of knowing which ones are safe and which ones are not."
"And they all dress similar. I don't know what they're up to and i don't like it in my county,” Standard said.
The initial permit for the Muslim cemetery was approved more than a year ago. Since then, no other plans or proposals have been submitted by the group behind the cemetery.
Many of the comments at the hearing — the vast majority of which focused on religion and terrorism, with other comments touching on concerns of traffic, property values, and noise — were often followed by raucous applause and cheers.
Last week, the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, the ACLU of Georgia, and 20 other non-profits and Muslim organizations called on the Department of Justice to investigate Newton County for religious discrimination.
The moratorium, which was approved unanimously last week by Newton’s Board of Commissioners, is not retroactive and only applies to new religious structures, despite numerous reports to the contrary last week.
County Commissioner John Douglas, who called for the motion for the five-week moratorium, brought up the resettling of Muslim refugees in the country a concern in another WXIA news report last week.
Douglas fended off calls for his resignation, and eventually apologized last year when it was revealed that he wrote a racist comment on a picture on Facebook that showed an African-American woman showing her middle finger while appearing to wipe her buttocks with an American flag.
“We have already seen bombings and beheadings. Eight years ago our US government got a Muslim president who has put Muslims in power," said one unidentified woman at the meeting, according to a report from Atlanta TV station WXIA.
"It's hard for folks like me and most of you tonight to draw the line between innocent Muslims and radical Muslims since they all claim to serve the same God and they all claim to follow the same book," said another man who spoke at the meeting.
Mohammad Islam, an Imam of the Al Maad Al Islami Mosque in Doraville, Georgia, and the man behind the proposed cemetery, told Atlanta affiliate Fox 5 that the cemetery would serve mostly Bangladeshi middle to lower income Muslims for burials.
"We will pray. It's probably five minutes. Not five minutes, three minutes...our prayer is three to five minutes. We'll bury and we'll come back,” Islam said of what would occur at the proposed cemetery when burials occur.
“There is no camp,” Islam said, slightly laughing at his own statement when asked of resident fears of an ISIS camp.
A Facebook group called “STOP the Mosque Newton County Ga.,” has garnered over 700 likes and has been actively posting news stories, real and fake, about terrorism, Muslims, Islam and refugees, in addition to the occasional hate speech.
Amid the many public speakers who opposed the cemetery and mosque, there were some, including one woman who identified herself as Jewish, that had a warning for those in attendance.
"If this discussion was happening 100 years ago, there’s a good chance it would be happening about my people," she said according to footage from WXIA . "And a hundred years or so ago, millions of people my people, including my great aunt, were sent to their deaths.”