Far-right militia, pro-Confederacy groups and anti-fascist counter-protestors faced off on Saturday in tense scenes at Stone Mountain, Georgia, home of the largest monument to the Confederacy.
To prepare for the confrontation, park officials closed off entry to the giant rock carving of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. The city suspended bus services and urged residents to avoid the city center entirely “out of an abundance of caution.”
Nevertheless, a small number of armed protesters from all sides descended on the city from 9 a.m. local time. Videos on social media showed far-right protestors attacking anti-facism protesters with pepper spray, and anti-facism protesters grabbing Confederate flags and setting them alight.
Police presence was initially minimal outside a church where protesters converged, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. Some fist fights broke out in the crowd.
According to the AJR, a man with a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and an assault weapon pointed his gun on the crowd, though he was “charged down” by his opposition.
Around 11:30 am, a message from counter-protesters came over a loudspeaker, warning them to be prepared for tear gas, the newspaper reported.
The protest dispersed when police in riot gear moved in on the crowd at around 1 p.m., and ordered demonstrators to leave or be arrested. Photos from the scene showed the National Guard moving in as well.
A Georgia chapter of the Three Percenters militia, a far-right paramilitary group, initially applied to hold a 2,000-person rally at the Stone Mountain monument on Saturday but they were denied by police, in part because a 2016 Stone Mountain “pro-white” demonstration resulted in nine arrests.
But some online groups vowed to turn up anyway, including a group of Confederate-loving protesters calling themselves “Defending Stone Mountain” and a rival group called Atlanta Antifascists.
A protest in Kalamazoo, Michigan also turned violent on Saturday when the far-right, white nationalist group Proud Boys attempted to march but were overrun by counter-protesters. After the two groups fought in the street, police arrived and made “a few” arrests, according to local affiliate WOOD-TV.
Stone Mountain is the largest bas-relief statue in the world, completed in 1925 by Augustus Lukeman, with original work by Gutzon Borglum (who would go on to sculpt Mt. Rushmore). The Ku Klux Klan was a major donor to the project.
Since the Charleston church shooting of 2015, many have called for the removal of the monument. The movement has grown urgency over the past few months, as more protestors take down Confederate monuments following the death of George Floyd. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has called the carving “a blight on our state.”