More than 100 motorcyclists — many toting Confederate flags — rode through Stone Mountain Park on Saturday morning after officials denied a permit for a Confederate Memorial Day celebration.
The Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans planned to hold its annual celebration at the DeKalb County park this weekend, but was denied permission by the Stone Mountain Mountain Memorial Association.
In a letter dated March 31, memorial association CEO Bill Stephens cited an ordinance declaring large events should be denied if they create “a clear and present danger to public health or safety.”
“With the volatile nature of events of the immediate past and ongoing today, there is a clear and present danger to members of the [Sons of Confederate Veterans], potential counter protesters, park employees and guests,” Stephens wrote.
Stone Mountain Park police spokesman John Bankhead confirmed about 110 members of the group’s “Mechanized Cavalry” showed up anyway, paid individual parking fees and rode through the park for about an hour.
The event remained peaceful, and there were no reported clashes between the motorcyclists and counterprotesters or guests, he said.
“They paid their parking fee, came to Memorial Hall, had their pictures taken, rode around the mountain and left,” Bankhead said.
Apparent photos of Saturday’s rally were shared to the left-wing Atlanta Antifascists Twitter account.
Officials confirmed the group arrived with a police escort, but said those officers were not members of the Stone Mountain Park police. The group showed up about 10:40 a.m. and was gone by noon, Bankhead said.
“There weren’t any issues at all,” he said. “It ran very smoothly. They said they were going to take their pictures and ride around the mountain and that’s what they did.”
Martin O’Toole, spokesman for the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he didn’t know anything about Saturday’s motorcycle rally.
He said he initially planned to attend the Confederate Memorial Day celebration at the park, but didn’t go to since this year’s event was canceled.
“It was canceled, I did not go and I didn’t know anybody was planning to go,” he said Saturday afternoon. “Some people made plans to come from a great distance and they may have just decided, ‘Well, we’re gonna go anyway.’ That’s my guess.”
Stone Mountain Park — with its giant mountainside carving of Confederate leaders and century-old ties to the Ku Klux Klan — has long been a cultural flashpoint. Amid nationwide tensions over police killings of Black Americans, systemic racism and Confederate imagery, the park has increasingly become a magnet for confrontation.
In recent years, some gatherings at the park have resulted in clashes between groups.
A 2016 “white power” demonstration that took place at the park drew hundreds of counterprotesters and clashes with police. In 2019, the park decided to close for a day rather than play host to a Super Bowl-weekend gathering of white nationalists and the left-wing opposition that was anticipated to show up en masse.
And last August, the memorial association denied another permit sought by far-right militia groups. Those groups and other supporters instead clashed with counterprotesters on the streets of the nearby city of Stone Mountain.
Credit: Jenni Girtman
Credit: Jenni Girtman