The controversy over Confederate history is attracting known white supremacists to a rally planned at Stone Mountain Park in April 2016. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: Kent D. Johnson
Photo: Kent D. Johnson

Controversial Klan figure to lead Stone Mountain rally

A planned “white power” rally at Stone Mountain has a new organizer known by groups that monitor far-right extremists for his unfettered racist rhetoric.

Last week, Billy Roper, a longtime activist in the white supremacy movement, issued a press release on the “Rock Stone Mountain” Facebook page promoting the planned April rally as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement and promised the gathering would bring “white patriots from across the United States and around the world.”

The planned rally is the latest at the state park to be organized by people with ties to white supremacist organizations. A Nov. 14 gathering, promoted as a defense of the Confederate battle flag and the Stone Mountain carving against critics, was organized by members of the Ku Klux Klan, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The planned April rally, timed to coincide with Confederate Memorial Day, marks a more public attempt to marry support for Confederate symbols with broader white nationalist goals. It also appears to be more professionally organized, with several Facebook pages, a blog and a Twitter account promoting it.

In the past, Roper was associated with the neo-Nazi groups the National Alliance and White Revolution, according to the Anti-Defamation League and news reports. More recently, he has been affiliated with the Arkansas-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Roper said the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy have moved beyond “strictly regional significance, to representing the loyalties and aspirations of whites across our nation and around the world.”

A decade ago, Newsweek declared Roper a “racist on the rise” in the white supremacy movement. He created a stir in the mainstream press when he celebrated the Sept. 11 hijackers with a message posted on a website declaring, “The enemy of our enemy is, for now at least, our friend.

“Anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me,” he wrote.

In an email exchange with the AJC, Roper called the remarks “hasty and ill-considered.”

“As I’ve consistently stated, I regret the remark, immeasurably,” he said.

He spent much of the past decade trying to unite white power groups under an organization he founded called “White Revolution.” That effort ended in 2011 when Roper disbanded the organization and joined the Klan.

Roper said the planned April rally will be peaceful.

“I no more espouse or support violence to achieve our goals of securing the existence of our people and a future for white people than any other patriot,” he said.

When asked at what point “any other patriot” would resort to violence, Roper did not answer directly. He did, however, express a belief that white people faced the threat of extinction by violence and “cultural and genetic dissolution” from religious and ethnic minorities and predicted a racial “Balkanization of America.”

Since Roper’s affiliation with the group, the Rock Stone Mountain Facebook page has featured homages to some violent figures in the white supremacy movement. One posting features a picture of Robert Mathews, a neo-Nazi who died in a shootout with federal authorities in 1984, with the slogan “Remember our fallen heroes.”

Comparing Mathews with Revolutionary era patriot Samuel Adams, Roper said any posting featuring such figures is “because I honor the men, their courage and their ideals.”

Park says ‘rights of others’ must be respected

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the state authority that operates the public areas of the park, has issued a statement that it cannot refuse the requests of groups who wish to stage rallies as long as they “respect the rights of others.”

“Stone Mountain Park does not sanction or endorse these rallies, and park officials have worked diligently with rally organizers on both sides of this issue to ensure a safe and secure environment as they exercise their First Amendment rights,” association spokesman John Bankhead said.

Along with pro-flag rallies, the park has hosted small groups of counter-protesters including a contingent from the Communist Party.

Roper is well known to non-profits that monitor extremist political groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Billy Roper is about an untrammeled a Nazi as there is out there,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This guy is explicitly genocidal.”

Potok said Roper’s association with the planned rally does not indicate that it will be a success.

“What Roper is not is any fabulous organizer,” he said. “He is quite disliked by many people in the (white power) movement because he is a violent, loud-mouthed braggart.”

For his part, Roper he is just “an advocate of using our Constitutionally protected rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Struggle over Confederate message

So far, 78 people have indicated on the group’s Facebook page that they will attend the rally. In past rallies, many more people have indicated on social media they would attend than actually turned up. The organizers of the November rally — which drew about 70 people — said they believe advance publicity of their Klan affiliation depressed attendance.

An Aug. 1 pro-flag rally drew around 700. And while one protester at that event who identified himself as a member of the Klan was shouted down, speakers with the League of the South — a group that promotes secession of the South and rails against a South “being overrun by hordes of non-white immigrants” — attracted large crowds.

Former Georgia Congressman Ben Jones, known to most as “Cooter” from the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show and a life member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said too much attention is paid to fringe elements who have latched on to the movement supporting the Confederate flag.

“We’ve known forever they are hateful people, but there aren’t many of them,” Jones said.

Jones, who describes himself as a veteran of the civil rights movement, is an outspoken supporter of the Confederate battle flag and sells items ranging from T-shirts to lip balm bearing the flag at his online store. Until recently, he was head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ “heritage defense” committee.

Jones described the Klan and other hate groups as “clowns” and “bigots” and said such extreme elements should not be allowed to define the heritage argument.

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