Aug. 16 (UPI) — Stone Mountain Park closed Saturday to stop a planned far-right rally and a counterprotest there, but demonstrations went ahead in town.
The goal of the far-right rally was to protect Stone Mountain, the site of a Confederate memorial. It was organized by a group called Sons of Liberty, which is deemed a general hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Anti-racism groups announced plans to counterprotest.
The Stone Mountain site has been called the United States’ largest confederate memorial, carved 42 feet deep and 400 feet above ground in a granite mountain that has figures of Gen. Robert Lee, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. It has been the site of many demonstrations rallying for its removal.
The City of Stone Mountain announced in a tweet that Stone Mountain Park would be closed Saturday in anticipation of the planned protests and advised people to avoid the area.
By the afternoon, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that protest crowds reached an estimated 500 people, with militia groups from Arkansas and Florida joining ones from Georgia, though the counterprotesters outnumbered militia members.
Though the gates to the park were closed, law enforcement officers from the Georgia National Guard, Georgia State Patrol and the City of Stone Mountain began to gather at the park Saturday morning, along with some protesters preparing to challenge the far-right rally, the AJC reported.
Armed militia members from the Georgia Security Force III% led by Chris Hill gathered about a block from counterprotesters, the AJC reported in a series of updates, adding that Hill began recording video.
“They will try their best to characterize us as white supremacists,” Hill said.
Hill added the group was there to defend the Constitution from what he described as radical leftists. He also said he was against red flag laws and reiterated President Donald Trump’s concerns over the use mail-in ballots.
Among the militia groups was the Confederate States III% militia, which toted Confederate flags and a banner that read “All Lives Matter,” the AJC reported.
The newspaper reported that counterprotesters snatched hats and Confederate flags, sometimes burning them in the street.
Two counterprotesters said they were sprayed with insect repellent and possibly pepper spray, prompting a call to a medic.