Stone Mountain braces for another armed protest

One of a small group of "white power" activists waves a Confederate flag at the hundreds of counter-demonstrators at the Rock Stone Mountain rally in April 2016. Stone Mountain Park is bracing for another rally set for Saturday, Aug. 15, where several far-right militia groups and some white nationalist activists are expected to be confronted by a large coalition of counter-demonstrators. Ben Gray /AJC

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

One of a small group of "white power" activists waves a Confederate flag at the hundreds of counter-demonstrators at the Rock Stone Mountain rally in April 2016. Stone Mountain Park is bracing for another rally set for Saturday, Aug. 15, where several far-right militia groups and some white nationalist activists are expected to be confronted by a large coalition of counter-demonstrators. Ben Gray /AJC

Hundreds of members of a Black militia turned heads July 4 as they marched with assault rifles, shotguns and other firearms, on Stone Mountain and its famous Confederate memorial.

Now several far-right groups, including militias and white supremacists, are planning an answer rally on Aug. 15, 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.

The City of Stone Mountain last week issued a public warning about the planned demonstrations and asked locals to stay away.

“Residents, business owners, and stakeholders may want to consider refraining from travel and other activities within the City that may heighten the risk of engagement with the demonstrators or with any other aspect of the demonstration,” the statement said.

In light of the recent information received about the intended demonstration of protestors slated to gather at Stone...

Posted by City of Stone Mountain Downtown Development Authority on Friday, August 7, 2020

No one knows how many people will show up for the demonstration and counter-demonstrations, but if past demonstrations are any guide, the combined groups will be in the hundreds. It’s not clear whether the heavily armed Black militia will counter the other militia groups. John Fitzgerald Johnson, the group’s leader who goes by Grand Master Jay, did not respond to several requests for comment, but at the July 4 march, Johnson dared the far-right groups to confront his militia.

For years, the park has been a focal point in the debate over Confederate monuments and has been the scene of angry standoffs between neo-Confederates, white supremacists and militia members on one side and a broad leftist coalition of anti-racist groups on the other.

But Johnson’s group, which goes by the Not F**king Around Coalition, or NFAC, threatens to elevate the stakes considerably.

Last month, Johnson led more than 300 heavily armed men through the streets of Louisville to protest the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor, while an armed militia of about 50 white people marched nearby.

The event was peaceful, although the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that three people were injured when an NFAC member accidentally fired his weapon.

In 2019, Stone Mountain Park closed its gates rather than play host to white militias seeking to use the park as a backdrop for a rally, citing the possibility for violence. That may happen again.

An Arkansas-based militia called Confederate States III% applied July 27 for a permit to hold a rally “to defend and protect our history and Second Amendment rights.” The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the state authority that governs the public areas of the park, denied the permit a week later, citing a 2016 “white power” demonstration that included some militia elements.

That event attracted hundreds of counter-demonstrators who clashed with police throughout the day. “This event demonstrated a material disruption of the park and its operations,” Association CEO Bill Stephens wrote in the denial letter.

In a statement, Confederate States III% leader Rodney Huffman said he plans “to bring Patriots from across our nation together and unite them as one and represent the silent majority.

“We believe that if someone doesn’t take a stand, our country as we know it will cease to exist, so we intend to be that someone,” the statement said.

When asked about if he intended to defy the denial of a permit, via text message, Huffman said, “You have my statement.”

In past rallies, local and state law enforcement, often with the help of the FBI, have approached these demonstrations with smothering manpower. The strategy has been to cordon off the smaller number of far-right demonstrators and use police and physical barriers to keep the usually much-larger group of counter-demonstrators separate.

Huffman has coordinated through Facebook with other militia leaders, one of whom predicted “a 1000 man march.” While past rallies have fallen dramatically short of their turnout goals, other militias have signaled plans to attend.

In an online video to supporters, Chris Hill, a former Marine and leader of the Georgia Security Force III%, promised the rally will be “quite interesting, to say the least.” In an expletive-laced monologue, apparently recorded while driving, Hill pitched the rally as a showdown between patriots and the forces of “antifa,” a movement of loosely affiliated left-wing groups organized to combat fascism.

On social media, Chester Doles, a North Georgia resident who has spent decades in violent white supremacist groups but lately claims to have renounced his past life, indicated he would attend the rally, but on Monday he was non-committal.

“I’m just not going to say,” he said. But he added that he thought the chance of violence was high because of the number of firearms likely to be present. Doles was was at Charlottesville’s Unite The Right rally in 2017 where he marched alongside a violent racist biker gang.

“In Charlottesville we beat each other sticks and shields,” he said. “Here everybody is going with fully automatic or semi-automatic weapons — strapped to the teeth. I mean, it just takes somebody undisciplined or some loose cannon to open fire, either side, and it’s just going to be a bloodbath.”

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