Protesters trying to break up a white supremacist rally played a cat-and-mouse game with police around Georgia's Stone Mountain on Saturday, with at least nine of them arrested in a scuffle near the state park's entrance.
Authorities at the Atlanta-area landmark had tried to keep the groups at separate locations around the mountain, which is where the Ku Klux Klan was reborn in 1915. But anti-racist demonstrators walked away from their designated space, following railroad tracks and ducking into the woods to evade authorities and disrupt the "Rock Stone Mountain" rally about a mile away.
"I came to speak my piece," said Stephanie Hansard, who carried a sign that read "Fascists don't speak for me."
"If you've got a bunch of white people saying they stand for white people and that means hating everyone who's not white people, fuck that," Hansard said.
In the end, after a couple of standoffs with lines of riot gear-clad police, several hundred protesters found themselves separated from about two dozen Confederate flag-waving fans of the Old South by a couple of hundred yards of parking lot, two fences, and another ring of cops. The "pro-white" rally's organizer, John Michael Estes, said the opponents and the heavy security ran off many of his supporters.
"The 25 people who showed up an hour early are the only ones here," Estes said. But he said he wasn't concerned about the light attendance.
"I'm concerned about my message getting out and people waking up to what's going on in America, because it's about to be over," he said. "It's about to be over for your freedom in America."
White supremacist rally organizer John Estes said the protesters and tight security kept his rally's attendance down to about 25 people. (Photo by Matt Smith for VICE News)
Estes' supporters held a banner that read "Diversity = White Genocide" and complained that the symbols of the white South—like the massive carving of Confederate leaders on the side of Stone Mountain—are under siege.
"It's ongoing. It's the last 50 years of, call it what you like—egalitarianism, which is not biblical, it's not constitutional, and it's not what we're founded on," said Stephen Bauer, who drove to the rally from Montgomery, Alabama. The country "has been going downhill ever since," he said.
But demonstrators said the white supremacist right is seeking new legitimacy and respect, feeding off fears of cash-strapped Caucasians in the United States and other countries, and returning to Stone Mountain is a symbolic show of strength for the movement.
"This isn't just any Klan protest," said Marlon Kautz. "This is a very important time for them, and so it's very important for us to oppose it."John Bankhead, a spokesman for the park, said eight of the nine anti-racist demonstrators were arrested after refusing to remove masks — ironically, a misdemeanor under Georgia law originally aimed at preventing the Klan from partaking in anonymous violence. A brief fight with police followed, and three of the eight were charged with obstructing authorities, Bankhead said.
At another point, a small knot of demonstrators dressed in hooded sweatshirts and bandanas over their faces hurled rocks and fireworks at police from behind a makeshift barricade. Police did not respond to the provocations.
Stone Mountain's granite dome rises more than 800 feet above Atlanta's eastern suburbs. The surrounding park brings a diverse crowd to its hiking trails and family attractions like a petting zoo and a scenic train tour, and the neighboring town of Stone Mountain is now majority-black.
The park remained open during the protest, though the attractions were closed down.
"I run on the mountain every Saturday," jogger Nedra Garrett said. "I am not going to stop just because there's demonstrators. We can't operate out of fear."
The rock has been associated with white supremacy since 1915, when the silent-film epic "The Birth of a Nation" revived the long-dormant Klan. The white-robed racists announced their revival by burning a cross atop Stone Mountain that November, and they held rallies there until the state bought the land in the late 1950s.
Then the 2015 massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston put Confederate symbolism under more critical scrutiny. South Carolina and Alabama removed the Confederate battle flag from their state Capitol grounds. Various proposals — some serious, others tongue-in-cheek — have been floated to balance its Old South imagery with something more reflective of modern, multicultural Atlanta.