Members of a militia group gathered atop Stone Mountain last month and congratulated themselves following a Confederate flag rally at the park.
“We did not have any infiltrators from the Ku Klux Klan tarnishing, or uh, creating a sideshow,” one of the militia leaders said in a video posted to Facebook.
But the Klan was there, offering salutes and wearing clothing featuring white supremacist slogans and KKK symbols. And why not? Stone Mountain, the spot where the modern Klan was born a century ago, holds special meaning for them.
In fact, members of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan organized the Nov. 14 rally — and officials at Stone Mountain Park knew about it.
“We were aware of the Klan connection of the organizer before the rally but were told by the organizer it would not be a Klan rally,” said John Bankhead, spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.
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Now, some of the people who participated in that rally have begun planning an “open white power rally” for Stone Mountain in April, according to a Facebook page set up for the event.
Richard Rose, chapter president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said the Klan’s interest makes a mockery of the pro-flag movement’s “heritage not hate” mantra.
“People never want to be called racist, but the actions speak for them. The only heritage of the Confederacy is discrimination, suppression, white supremacy and hate,” he said. “This flag is the flag of the Klan. It was the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia but the Klan adopted it.”
Interest in the Confederate battle flag spiked following the mass shooting in a black church in Charleston, S.C., by an avowed white supremacist in June. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers responded to the slaying of the nine victims by passing legislation removing the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds. In Georgia, the Atlanta NAACP chapter has called on Stone Mountain to remove not only the flag, but the massive bas relief carving as well, drawing the ire of pro-flag protesters.
Controversy over the flag has given white nationalist groups the rallying point they had been seeking for years, said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors extreme right wing groups. By helping organize events but disavowing them, the Klan and other groups hope to draw in a larger pool from which to prospect, he said.
“To some degree they are succeeding,” he said, noting that there have been well more than a 100 pro-flag rallies since the Charleston massacre. “It’s energized them. It’s given them a mass base to draw from.”
In online comments leading up to the November Stone Mountain event, organizers had vehemently denied the rally was Klan influenced, but the connections were hard to deny.
“I guess it is no big secret that I am (in the Klan),” said Cedartown resident Greg “Thor” Calhoun, who organized the event with his wife, Jodi. Still, Calhoun said the rally wasn’t “a hate event” and blamed critics, including the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., for spreading the word about the rally’s Klan connections.
“They twisted everything around so there would be less people show up,” Calhoun said. “That wasn’t the sole purpose of it.”
Yet one group calling itself the Militant Knights of the Ku Klux Klan issued a “fiery summons” on its webpage advertising the rally: “Klansmen led by Brother Thor are mobilizing at sacred and holy Stone Mountain to protest the Communist plans to erect a statue of the infamous n****r ….”
The ad, which featured a hooded figure with a fiery cross, appeared to refer to an idea to erect a “freedom bell” atop the mountain, a reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Several dozen people showed up at the rally. Bankhead said he wasn’t aware of obvious Klan activity. “I was with the group when they left the parking lot and headed to an area near Confederate Hall to begin their climb and did not see or hear any Klan references,” he said.
But one participant wore a shirt with an infamous quote by white supremacist David Lane. The slogan encircled a symbol popularized by the Nazis in Germany called a “life rune.”
The man, who gave his name as Jeremy White, claimed not to know the quote, but said he bought the shirt on Tightrope, a white power website that uses a noose as its logo.
Another rally attendant standing beside him wore a t-shirt with the slogan “White Lives Matter,” also for sale on Tightrope.
After milling around a parking lot for a few hours, the group took their flags and marched up the mountain, pausing to take plenty of photos on the way. In the days and hours that followed, those photos began appearing on Facebook, showing rally participants giving Klan salutes and wearing clothing bearing Klan symbols.
“Me and my husband had nothing to do with that,” said Jodi Calhoun. “We were pretty much disgusted with the situation because we asked them not to do none of that.”
One picture shows her husband standing in a parking lot with the mountain in the background, wearing a jacket with a Klan symbol.
Greg Calhoun, who said he is helping to organize the white power rally planned for next spring, noted that the discussion over the Klan’s influence in the last rally “brought the true believers out.”
“Us as white people — and Southerners, period — that’s kind of our last real monument, something to hang on to,” he said. “This is history, don’t go and try to change history.”