Stone Mountain to close gates rather than host Saturday militia rally

Counter protesters marched in Stone Mountain, Ga., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 after the park closed rather than allow a planned white nationalist rally. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Casey Sykes

Credit: Casey Sykes

Counter protesters marched in Stone Mountain, Ga., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 after the park closed rather than allow a planned white nationalist rally. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Stone Mountain will close its gates Saturday rather than allow a confrontation between far-right militias and leftist groups organizing to oppose them.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the state authority that runs the public park, released a terse statement Friday evening citing “security concerns” for the closure which the park said “are being addressed by state and local law enforcement.” The park will reopen Sunday, according to the statement.

Update: Coverage of militia rally and counter-protests near Stone Mountain Park

In addition, the city of Stone Mountain issued a statement urging citizens to avoid downtown and suspending MARTA bus service in the city for the day.

“Citizens and visitors are encouraged not to venture nearby the affected areas and do not proceed into or through demonstrations,” the city advised. “DO NOT confront the protesters.”

A coalition of anti-government militia groups known as “Three Percenters,” as well as some white supremacists, had planned to hold a rally at the park known for its massive carving of Confederate leaders. The rally was in response to a July 4 march on the park by an all-black militia whose leader taunted the predominately white militias. A coalition of left-wing groups, ranging from the NAACP to antifa groups and socialists political organizations, had planned a counter demonstration.

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.

It’s unclear what impact the closures will have on the planned rally or the counter demonstration. Clearly, though, some would-be participants were reluctant.

“I will not waste my time driving 4 hours of all will be closed,” one person wrote on one of the Facebook pages advertising the rally.

The organizing group for the counter demonstrators urged supporters to show up anyway, claiming a show of force “is more important than before.”

Both the park and the city of Stone Mountain have denied permit applications submitted by one of the groups behind Saturday’s planned rally, an Arkansas-based militia called Confederate States III%. But organizers have continued to tell would-be participants they have permission to hold the rally.

Friday morning the city tweeted out that it had not issued any permits for Saturday.

The city said the group did not submit its application for a permit in time for it to be considered. City ordinance requires applications for a parade or assembly to be made 10 days in advance. According to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the city received the permit application by email on Aug. 7, 15 minutes after City Hall closed for the week.

The group’s application to hold a rally at the park was denied for safety reasons. The park cited “Rock Stone Mountain,” a 2016 demonstration of a handful of white supremacists that drew hundreds of counter demonstrators, in its denial. In that case, counter demonstrators clashed with police throughout the day while the white supremacists were corralled in a parking lot in the back of the park.

The Aug. 4 denial letter says militia groups “were involved in violence with other groups assembled in Stone Mountain Park.

“This even demonstrated a material disruption of the park and its operations,” the letter states. “Additionally, this event put the visitors and employees of the park in jeopardy of harm during the violent outbursts throughout the park.”

Clare Norins, director of the University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, said park is relying on an ordinance that allows the Stone Mountain Memorial Authority to deny a permit when there is a “clear and present danger.” Norins said the ordinance appears to be in keeping with current U.S. Supreme Court cases that allow government organizations to restrict assemblies, as long as the decision is “content neutral” and designed to protect the public.

“This situation is pretty squarely on point,” she said. “They are not speculating. They are basing it on a prior event.”