A Forsyth County state senator who is running for governor has drawn criticism for posing in a photo with armed militia members at a rally against Islamic law.
The photo came from a rally called March Against Sharia in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park on Saturday where District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams stood with reported members of the Georgia Security Force III% militia.
Williams reportedly spoke to the group, according to his political consultant, Seth Weathers, and called on attendees to "unite against Sharia law," the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
Neither Williams nor Weathers has returned requests for comment.
In a social media post, Williams said he would not be deterred by the “liberal left … spreading vicious false attacks to make me someone I'm not.” In other posts, Williams said the left “scream racism” when they cannot defeat ideas and said conservatives needed to fight back and called articles on the rally a “disgusting [mainstream media] hit job.”
Some in the photo, but not Williams, were captured with three fingers raised, which opponents have claimed is racist and supporters have said is part of the larger III% movement that comes from the belief that only three percent of Colonists supported and fought in the American Revolution.
The rally, one of several held in more than two dozen U.S. cities, was organized by ACT for America, which claims Islamic law is incompatible with Western democracy. The organization says it opposes discrimination and supports the rights of those subject to Sharia law.
At least 20 people were gathered to protest.
The SPLC calls ACT for America “the largest American anti-Muslim group.”
Rally participants and a handful of counter-protesters appeared Saturday in Atlanta's Piedmont Park. Counter-protesters held a banner reading "Refuse Fascism" and chanted while the other side shouted back about female genital mutilation and honor killings.
Arrests were made at similar events across the country on Saturday. About seven people were arrested when scuffles broke out in St. Paul, Minnesota, and at least three arrests were made in Seattle, Washington.
Williams recently announced his candidacy for governor. The second-term senator was first elected in 2014 and was re-elected in 2016.
He was also the first elected official in Georgia to endorse then-nominee Donald Trump for president and said Trump’s successful bid pushed him to run for governor.
At the Georgia Republican Convention in Augusta on June3, Williams told the crowd he had been offered the chair of the senate appropriations committee, a high position in state politics, to call off his campaign.
Williams will go, so far, up against Republicans who already hold higher offices than he, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp. District 6 state Sen. Hunter Hill (Atlanta) is also running to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, who is term-limited.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.