A group of white nationalists and white supremacists are moving ahead with plans to hold a “pro-white” rally at Stone Mountain on the Saturday before the Super Bowl despite being denied an official permit.
“To hell with their permit. The Constitution is our permit,” said Michael Weaver, a white nationalist activist and one of the organizers for the rally planned for Feb. 2. “We move forward. We aren’t going to be discriminated against because you don’t like our views.”
The organizers behind the planned rally are the same people who attempted to stage a “white power” rally in 2016 called “Rock Stone Mountain.” Only about two dozen white supremacists showed up, but they drew hundreds of counter demonstrators, some of whom clashed with police for hours until officials shut down the park.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the state body that governs the park, referenced the 2016 rally in November as its grounds for denying Rock Stone Mountain organizers a permit to gather. Weaver said he and his fellow organizers, who include members of the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups, believe the denial violates their First Amendment rights, but he said they have been unable to find an attorney to take their case.
“We want to coordinate with law enforcement for this event to be peaceful,” he said. “We want to do this peacefully, legally and civilly.”
Weaver, whose given name is Michael Carothers, pleaded guilty in 2011 to aggravated assault after he pepper sprayed a black man in Columbus. As part of his sentence, Weaver was banished from the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.
In the weeks since the organizers of Rock Stone Mountain announced their plans on Facebook, a coalition of left wing groups have been organizing a counter protest under an umbrella group called Frontline Organization Working to End Racism, or FLOWER.
Sean Wolters, an activist with FLOWER member group All Out Atlanta, said the group expects “at least 300” counter protesters at Stone Mountain to oppose the white supremacist group. FLOWER has not applied for a permit to hold a demonstration at the park.
“The First Amendment is enough of a permit to have a gathering,” he said.
Park officials decline comment
While the impetus for the 2016 unrest was the white supremacist rally, the more numerous counter demonstrators were the bigger headache for park officials. While most of the counter protesters demonstrated peacefully, a minority of masked protesters threw rocks and fireworks and clashed with a cordon of police lined up to keep the sides apart.
Weaver said he and the other organizers were unable to find a lawyer to challenge the permit denial as a violation of their First Amendment rights. But the group urged supporters on their Facebook page to come anyway, noting that no permit is needed for small groups who are free to “meet wherever they deem desirable in the park.”
“If you want to flag the entrances, do that. If you want to rally before the carving, do that. If you want to defend the park from Antifa vandals, do that,” organizers said. “This is a public park. Let’s show them it’s still a free country and make the entire park our playground.”
The pledge by white supremacists to gather without a permit presents some additional problems for the park’s small police force. In 2016, the Rock Stone Mountain attendees were sent to an isolated parking lot where they were surrounded by police. There is a much greater potential for violence if they stage their own protests this time without such protection and a large contingent of counter protesters show up to oppose them.
When asked if the group planned to brawl with the Rock Stone Mountain group, Wolters noted groups like the Klan only gather when they have police protection. Absent that, he wouldn’t rule out violence.
“Anyone who is going to go out and wave KKK paraphernalia in the South and at Stone Mountain, they are going to be challenged,” he said.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association declined to comment for this story, but in 2016 the park called on a large number of Georgia State Patrol officers to augment their own police. With the Super Bowl being held the same weekend downtown, the park likely will not be able to count of that kind of outside police force.
Protest called ‘pro-white’
Weaver said Rock Stone Mountain II is aimed at protecting Stone Mountain’s monumental carving of Confederate leaders against forces that would have it altered or removed.
“There are a lot of white Americans who are sick and tired of having our monuments taken down,” he said. “There are a lot of white Americans who are pretty frustrated.”
Weaver described the event as “pro-white.” Weaver denied he was biased against any racial group, but the Facebook page for the group contains many popular racist tropes, the most common of which is fear of “white genocide.”
In an open letter to President Trump on Facebook, the Rock Stone Mountain organizers expressed their belief that attacks on Stone Mountain are part of a program to marginalize white people generally.
“They want to erase our heritage because they want to erase us, so I INVITE YOU to come stand against them with us at Rock Stone Mountain and you can see for yourself who the real bad guys are,” the letter states.
In comments under the letter, one supporter said the “famous 14 words apply here,” referring to a popular racist slogan urging action to “secure the existence of our people.”
The NAACP, SCLC and other civil rights groups have planned a “Rally for Justice” protest in Piedmont Park for the same day to protest Confederate memorials around the city. In a Facebook post Wednesday, Atlanta NAACP President Richard Rose referenced the Stone Mountain carving in a dig at Trump’s demands for a border wall.
“Georgia Confederates should be concerned,” he said. “Trump’s wall would replace the Stone Mountain carvings as the largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world.”