Anti-racism protesters clash with police at Confederate rally in Georgia (VIDEO)
Both events were held within 70 miles of each other, commemorating the upcoming Confederate Memorial Day, and featuring banners and signs, as well as Confederate flags. Over in the city of Rome, Georgia, the Ku Klux Klan, together with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement and the Aryan Nation took part in a so-called “free speech” rally in front of the Floyd County Law Enforcement Center on Saturday.
Some 70 miles south of there, at a similar rally anti-racism protesters clashed with riot police at Stone Mountain. Tear gas and stun grenades were used, and arrests were made – but none on the Confederate side.
Both groups were out ahead of Confederate Memorial Day, which is marked Monday.
The Stone Mountain protests turned violent quickly, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reports.
The counter-protesters hurled rocks at police and set a barricade on fire.
Unlike the Rome protesters, who showed up in full KKK garb, the Stone Mountain groups told reporters they were aiming for a more low-key appearance. The two dozen members there were packing up their rally at the first sign of a supporter waving a KKK flag – unwilling to be associated with outward expressions of racism.
Over at Stone Mountain, nine people who rallied against the flag-wavers were detained for refusing to take their masks off.
In Rome there was no trouble, but police also arrested two counter-protesters for disorderly conduct. However, protester numbers there were dwarfed by the counter-protesters, who numbered several hundred. There were minor incidents involving counter-protesters clashing with police as well, especially after showing up to the far-right rally only to be denied access by police fearful of confrontations.
The large law enforcement presence was keeping watch the entire time, brought in by park officials to keep the peace.
“We knew going into this that there were going to be confrontations because opposing views, they feel very strongly on each side," a spokesperson at Stone Mountain said, according to CBS.
“We don’t like this, we wish this wouldn’t occur, we tried to stop it but it’s a first amendment issue," he added. "We wish these people would go away, this is a family oriented park and we’re sick and tired of this quite frankly.”
Despite the overwhelming view of the Confederate flag as a racist, violent symbol, not everyone at the Stone Mountain rally shared the opinion. Many said they felt their rights were trampled by violent counter-protesters and insisted that to them the Confederate flag is not about defending racism. One demonstrator told AJC that “99 percent of the protesters are peaceful, but this is what they gonna show on the news.” This is in stark contrast to the Rome crowd, who were very outwardly right-wing.
T-shirts read “Heritage not Hate.” One protester from Birmingham said: “We don’t believe in carrying these flags for racist reasons… We don’t believe the Civil War was over racism. It was over tyranny.”
The organizers told the AJC they predicted 2,000 attendees initially. That didn’t happen. And the white supremacists were largely kept behind barricades. However, their small rally was declared a success by them.
On the other side, people were also celebrating victory. “We made a statement that we are not gonna get intimidated by and watch this terrorist group harass and incite fear and violence,” Dawn O’Neal, who showed up to oppose the Confederates, told AJC. “We stood up to them today.”