Apart from pushing, shoving and some instances of protesters spraying one another with insect repellent or pepper spray, there were few reported instances of serious violence.
Police briefly held up movement while they investigated a suspicious package, which turned out to be a book bag left behind.
1:30 p.m. UPDATE
Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard, tells Channel 2 Action News that today’s clashes “exceeded the threshold that local authorities were comfortable with.”
“So they’ve decided to disperse the crowd and arrest those that are non-compliant,” Carden told Channel 2.
“Peace is always the strategy,” he said. “At the end of the day, people have had the opportunity to have their voices heard.”
Police are now moving through protesters positioned in downtown Stone Mountain and telling them to leave. There have been no reported arrests.
1:00 p.m. UPDATE
Police are mobilizing in large numbers in downtown Stone Mountain amid reports of rock-throwing and fights among the chaotic crowd of protesters.
A line of armored police vehicles has moved into position, and many protesters are beginning to disperse.
“We’re going to form up columns and push,” an officer in riot gear told his group. “We’re going to say leave Stone Mountain.”
Police are clearing out militia members by Stone Mountain Methodist Church.
“Red truck, move!” shouted one officer. “If you don’t move this truck I’m going to tow it!”
12:45 p.m. UPDATE
Protest crowds have now swelled to 500 people, AJC journalists report from the scene. Militia groups from Arkansas and Florida have joined those from Georgia, but remain greatly outnumbered by counterprotesters from the left.
No longer separated into self-contained groups marching through the streets of Stone Mountain, clusters of counterprotesters and militia members are instead facing off against one another in sometimes volatile exchanges.
Rather than a protest, multiple small groups of people are arguing with each other.
They also are all recording each other, and some are operating drones.
Police presence remains light amid ongoing reports of protesters spraying one another with pepper spray or insect repellant.
Earlier, a protester ripped the mask from an Associated Press photographer.
11:30 a.m. UPDATE
Police officers have begun to move into the city of Stone Mountain but they are staying back from the protesters and not making any effort to keep the groups apart. Over loud speaker, counterprotesters are warning members to be prepared for tear gas.
A second militia group, the Confederate States III% militia, has now arrived on the scene, carrying Confederate flags and a banner reading, “All Lives Matter.” The group was denied a permit to protest in the park.
Counterprotesters are trying to move their group back to Main Street. Militia and its supporters, numbering about 25 people and their largest showing of the day, have gathered in front of Stone Mountain Methodist Church.
Some counter demonstrators are refusing to leave. “Do not give them any ground,” one man wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt yelled.
Someone in the crowd set off a firework. Two counterprotesters report being sprayed with insect repellent, and possibly pepper spray, and a medic has been called for.
Protesters have also noticed the lack of police presence.
“Why are the police allowing people to get into each others’ faces so much?” one man said. “Here there are a lot of guns. It seems stupid. What are they waiting for? Someone to get killed?”
11:00 a.m. UPDATE
Police coordination and involvement in Saturday’s protests appears dramatically different from previous attempts to keep the peace among far-right and far-left demonstrators.
Earlier confrontations were kept to a minimum by police barriers and lines that prevented the two sides from direct confrontation.
Saturday’s protests have been marked by scant police presence among the demonstrators, allowing the two sides to engage in pushing, shoving and other contact. Counterprotesters have snatched hats and Confederate flags from the outnumbered individuals challenging them.
In several instances, those seized items have been burned in the street.
In one tense exchange, a protester with a ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag pointed his assault weapon at the counterprotesters. Members of the group quickly charged him down. Small fights have also broken out.
A police helicopter is monitoring developments from above.
Rough estimates indicate about 30 militia and related-member groups are on the city’s streets, in close proximity to about 200 counterprotesters.
Credit: Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta J
Credit: Steve Schaefer for the Atlanta J
10:15 a.m. UPDATE
Chris Hill’s militia group, Georgia Security Force III%, has retreated to the Stone Mountain Library after being outnumbered and surrounded by jeering counterprotesters.
Police presence at Stone Mountain park has been heavy, but few law enforcement officers were visible in the city of Stone Mountain where militia and counterprotesters confronted one another in tense exchanges.
Gerald Griggs, first vice president of the Atlanta NAACP, said he hoped the rally would remain peaceful and was happy that the crowd was so lopsided in favor of the counter demonstrators.
”There are a lot more individuals representing the true American nature here,” he said.
At the Stone Mountain Welcome Center, apart from the clashing protesters, 200 people gathered to listen to Richard Rose of the Atlanta NAACP.
“This is what America looks like,” Rose said, surveying the sea of diverse faces, most wearing masks due to the pandemic. “It does NOT look like what’s on that mountain.”
Rose pressed the group to meet occasionally to dismantle racism. Other speakers talked about addressing forced evictions, lending practices, ballot concerns.
”We are the victims of division and we must counter that,” Rose said. “Cast off these shackles of division ... and make it clear we won’t be divided.”
Protesters have confronted one another at the corner of Main Street and Mimosa Dr. in downtown Stone Mountain after finding the park closed by police.
Counter demonstrators argued loudly with a man carrying a Confederate flag.
“Sherman didn’t teach you enough of a lesson last time,” one masked woman said. “You’re a traitor!”
”You are pedophiles,” the man with flag screamed, repeating a popular internet conspiracy theory about a secret cabal of pedophiles in the “deep state.”
Both sides are heavily armed and are extremely close to one another. Small groups are periodically engaging in a face-to-face shouting matches, surrounded by members of the press.
Two counterprotesters have snatched a Confederate flag from a militia member and set it on fire.
9 a.m. UPDATE
Heavily armed militia members from the Georgia Security Force III%, led by Chris Hill, have gathered in Stone Mountain, about a block from a group of counter-protesters. Some counter-protesters are also carrying assault-style weapons.
From his position behind the barricade, Hill began recording video.
“They will try their best to characterize us as white supremacists,” he said. Hill said his group was there to defend the Constitution from radical leftists. He also railed against red flag laws and repeated the president’s concerns over mail-in ballots.
Some police are relocating from the park to the city of Stone Mountain.
8: 30 a.m. UPDATE
Our journalists are at the park. The gates are closed and law enforcement officers from the Georgia National Guard, Georgia State Patrol and city of Stone Mountain are gathered at the town entrance to the park. A few protesters hoping to challenge any of the armed militias are also gathering downtown.
Counter demonstrators started showing up in downtown Stone Mountain around 8:30.
Zach Benton of Atlanta took up a spot on Main Street with a handwritten sign. He said he heard about the counter demonstration on Twitter and decided to be a part of it to show that racism doesn’t have a place in the city.
”It’s to show they don’t have power here. I want them to know they are not welcome anymore,” he said.
The rally organizers, many of whom come from the militia movement, dispute they are racists. Some say they want to protect their heritage. But others involved in the planning are longtime white supremacist activists and the rally was advertised and encouraged on notorious racist Internet forums.
8 A.M. ORIGINAL POST:
Several far-right groups, including militias and white supremacists, are planning to rally Saturday at Stone Mountain, and a broad coalition of leftist anti-racist groups are organizing a counter-demonstration. Local authorities, who have been closely monitoring online chatter about the rally, are bracing for possible conflict.
On Friday evening, park officials announced the site will close its gates Saturday rather than allow a confrontation. The city of Stone Mountain, meanwhile, has urged people to stay away from downtown, and suspended MARTA bus service within city limits.
The rally was planned in response to hundreds of members of a Black militia who turned heads July 4 as they marched with assault rifles, shotguns and other firearms, on Stone Mountain and its famous Confederate memorial.
This is the second time the park has closed ahead of a planned political demonstration. The park closed last year on the Saturday before Atlanta hosted Super Bowl LIII to head off demonstrations around a planned white supremacist rally.
Return here on AJC.com for live updates from Stone Mountain later this morning.Return to AJC.com for updates.