Report back and analysis of the Rock Stone Mountain mobilization against the KKK that originally appeared on the the Atlanta Antifascists blog.
For months, white supremacists promised to rally on February 2nd – the Saturday before the Super Bowl – at Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta. Despite having hyped their rally since September, their rally completely unraveled in the days leading up to the event. Different “Rock Stone Mountain II” organizers gave different accounts of the collapse. On the 2nd, approximately 150 anti-racists held a celebration march in the community of Stone Mountain, which culminated in burning a Klansman in effigy. Stone Mountain Park – the would-be site of the white supremacist mobilization – was closed for the day, which the Park had abruptly announced the evening before. On Saturday, lines of police in full riot gear waited in formation just behind the closed-off pedestrian gate to the Park.
We have covered white supremacist planning for “Rock Stone Mountain II” since October of last year, when we provided not just an overview of the scheduled event, but also profiled twelve people who had signed up as “going” on Facebook. As we stressed from the beginning, “Rock Stone Mountain II” was an explicitly white nationalist rally, whose initial two leaders were neo-Nazi John Michael Estes and the Georgia Grand Dragon for the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Greg Calhoun. Both these figures were involved with the first “Rock Stone Mountain” at Stone Mountain Park in April 2016, which was outnumbered almost ten-to-one by counter-protesters and met with fierce resistance.
If the “Rock Stone Mountain II” organizers were hoping to do better than their 2016 event, it soon became apparent that they faced steep challenges. In early November, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association – which operates Stone Mountain Park – announced that it would not grant a permit for “Rock Stone Mountain II”. (The Park permitted and protected the initial “Rock Stone Mountain” white power rally of April 2016.) In addition, a coalition of anti-racists – operating under the name FrontLine Organization Working to End Racism, or F.L.O.W.E.R. – was organizing mass opposition to the Klan-/neo-Nazi event, vowing to show up and confront the white supremacists on the day.
In our January update article on “Rock Stone Mountain II,” we noted that Michael Carothers AKA Michael Weaver – a long-running white supremacist currently living in North Georgia – jumped on board “Rock Stone Mountain” organizing after Stone Mountain Park denied the rally permit. Carothers became a primary spokesperson for the racist mobilization. While “Rock Stone Mountain” defiantly vowed to hold their white power rally with or without a permit, it was clear that the white supremacist coalition was under strain. For example, RSM main organizer John Michael Estes begged on Facebook for funds to support his rally, stating that loans could be repaid with “door money” from an “after event party.” (The post-rally party does not seem to have happened, since the rally itself fell apart.) In another sign of strain, the Rock Stone Mountain Facebook page complained about some white nationalist organizations “pulling out [of the white power mobilization] right at the end”. However, Rock Stone Mountain leaders continued to promote their event, with Michael Carothers even claiming that they were “expecting hundreds or perhaps thousands to attend this event.”
Endgame for Rock Stone Mountain
Rock Stone Mountain organizers could not find a lawyer to sue Stone Mountain Park for a rally permit, a fact that they grumbled about online. Lacking a permit, some white supremacists may have feared an unfriendly welcome on February 2nd by the growing anti-racist coalition. However, Rock Stone Mountain II also promoted itself as a militant and potentially violent event – for example, circulating an image of Confederate riflemen with the slogan “Aiming for Antifa on February 2nd” and billing the rally as “The Battle of Stone Mountain” on Michael Carothers’ blog. Presumably what the white supremacists wanted was both to hold a rally with the support of a large police mobilization, but also to act violently against anti-racists or Park visitors if they felt they had a numerical advantage (for example by picking off stray groups at the end of their rally). The problem organizers faced was that this dream would only be possible if they had a permit, and as the February 2nd deadline approached, the chance of this happening reduced from slim to none. On the other hand, the white supremacists realized that backing down and failing to deliver on their long-promised rally would be demoralizing.
To add to the pressure felt by Rock Stone Mountain organizers, our group warned residents about Rock Stone Mountain main organizer John Michael Estes and his wife Jennette Estes by sending a mailing to their neighbors and placing posters around Hapeville, Georgia. The next week, we exposed white nationalist Jennette Estes’ workplace as well – we believe this eventually cost Jennette Estes her job with Delta Airlines at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
With just a couple of weeks to go before their rally, Rock Stone Mountain was beleaguered. Organizers faced the hard choice of whether to cancel and accept defeat – which would have been difficult for a movement trying to feel powerful – or to risk an even more catastrophic result on February 2nd. Making things even worse was that “Rock Stone Mountain II” was intended as a rebound of sorts, after the first “Rock Stone Mountain” of 2016 had gone so poorly for the white nationalists.
On January 19 – exactly two weeks from the promised “Rock Stone Mountain II” – RSM organizers reached their decision. They would continue to organize for February 2nd, but without a coherent call. Stating that protests of under 25 people did not require a permit to assemble, the organizers announced that Rock Stone Mountain was “canceled ‘per se’” as a mass rally with a publicly-announced start time. However, Rock Stone Mountain organizers still encouraged “every Nationalist group” to set up their own rally at the Park that day, to “make the entire park our playground” and “push back against the Commie scum”. From an anti-racist perspective, a marauding and decentralized white supremacist presence at Stone Mountain Park was still worth organizing against. For many racists, however, the prospect of venturing into a potentially chaotic situation, with better-organized opponents and without a solid plan, may not have appealed. Far from attracting “hundreds or […] thousands,” the new Rock Stone Mountain would be like the last one: if it was to attract anyone at all, it would attract just the hardcore.
Michael Carothers – the neo-Nazi who became the media contact for Rock Stone Mountain since getting involved in late-November – attempted to put on a brave face for The Atlanta Journal Constitution in an interview the next week: “To hell with their permit. The Constitution is our permit […] We move forward.” Carothers’ messaging – at least as quoted in the media – did not mention any Rock Stone Mountain cancellation, “per se” or otherwise.
Just eight days before “Rock Stone Mountain II” – on Friday, January 25 – the rally’s “event” page was pulled by Facebook. However, since Facebook still allowed Rock Stone Mountain to maintain an overall page for their organizing, a new “event” was easy to establish. When setting up their new Facebook event, the white supremacists renamed it “Rock Against Communism” and emphasized confronting “Red scum” as their new purpose.
On the Tuesday before the event, however, Rock Stone Mountain’s presence disappeared from Facebook entirely – both the new Facebook event and the main “Rock Stone Mountain” page which had built a following since late 2015. The next day, word leaked out that Rock Stone Mountain II had collapsed. In a statement read aloud by Georgia far-Right activist Sidney “Avialae” Horton in an online video conference with Louisiana disbarred lawyer Charles Edward Lincoln III, John Michael Estes admitted that Rock Stone Mountain had “failed” and blamed “worms and rats in our own ranks” for this failure. (Sidney Horton, who read Estes’ statement, was upset by his surrender.) Later that evening, John Michael Estes jumped on Charles Lincoln’s broadcast, reemphasizing that “the event was undermined by people that were supposed to be on my side.” Estes also stated that “really our only hope is guerrilla warfare” and small-cell “leaderless resistance,” although Estes also confessed that “I don’t know three to five people I could trust” after his many years in the white power movement.
The next afternoon, Michael David Carothers (Michael Weaver) provided his own account of Rock Stone Mountain’s collapse in a lengthy statement to the news media, which was also circulated on his “White Information Network” blog. In brief, Carothers blamed Rock Stone Mountain’s failure on the lack of a permit and police protection. Carothers also named “Anti Fa” as a reason for calling off the rally. Clearly, Carothers’ statement directly contradicted his interview published just a week earlier, in which he proclaimed: “To hell with their permit […] We move forward.” Carothers also directly contradicted the narrative of John Michael Estes, who blamed “worms and rats” not external circumstances for Rock Stone Mountain II disintegrating. Carothers stated that the February 2nd cancellation was made “after consulting our Swiss Army knife of legal consultants” and that they will “reschedule the event at a later date”. However, Carothers’ “legal consultants” appear to be mostly white nationalist paralegals and armchair lawyers – it remains to be seen whether they will be able to secure any future permit for a rally at Stone Mountain Park. Carothers’ discussion of rescheduling the rally appears to primarily be an exercise in saving face. Although John Michael Estes did not directly state this, the sequence of events suggests that Estes now considers Carothers to be among the “worms and rats.” Either way, it is unlikely that the original “Rock Stone Mountain” organizers will work with Carothers on another rally.
The white supremacist rally had collapsed. However, since organizers had made a call for a decentralized white power presence at the Park earlier on, it was still possible that small groups of racists could try to make their presence felt on Saturday. Indeed, on Friday a friend of “Rock Stone Mountain” – John Duncan of LaGrange, Georgia, who claims Georgia leadership of the “Confederate Freedom Fighters of America” – was continuing to promote a racist presence at the Park the next day. (Duncan later deleted his post. He didn’t show.)
Last-Minute Move by Stone Mountain Park
The F.L.O.W.E.R. anti-racist coalition had announced on Wednesday that it would be assembling in the community of Stone Mountain to counter “Rock Stone Mountain II”. With the news that Rock Stone Mountain II had collapsed, the coalition decided to maintain an anti-racist presence on Saturday, in case small bands of white supremacists still showed up. The coalition also hoped to publicly celebrate its victory against “Rock Stone Mountain II” and to demonstrate opposition to the giant racist carvings of Stone Mountain Park.
On Friday night, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association announced that the Park would close the next day – a significant move given that the Park was expecting an increase in visitors from the Superbowl in Atlanta. Park workers were not compensated for losing a day of work. Further, the abrupt decision by the Park followed many weeks in which they ignored white supremacists’ plans to rally at the Park, failing to notify not only potential Park visitors, but also residents of the nearby community. Since the F.L.O.W.E.R. coalition had announced that it would assemble outside the Park itself, its plans to gather for a victory celebration were not impaired by the Park’s sudden announcement.
Approximately 150 anti-racists gathered in the community of Stone Mountain at 9AM Saturday morning to celebrate the victory against “Rock Stone Mountain II.” Event security kept watch in case of aggression – and a small number of participants legally carried firearms – but overall the mood was festive, not worried or confrontational. Organizers felt that numbers were strong, especially since some coalition participants canceled travel plans once it became apparent “Rock Stone Mountain” was falling apart.
Taking off from the center of downtown, the marchers did a victory lap of Stone Mountain, before stopping to burn a Klan effigy outside the Visitors’ Center and delivering a short speech through a megaphone. Local police – unable to call in more forces due to the Superbowl – were restrained and did not attempt any assault on the crowd as in Newnan. The mobilization called it a day once it was clear no white supremacists would attempt even a flash mob. After months of organizing by very different groups, the day was a strong success!
Behind the sealed-off pedestrian entrance to Stone Mountain Park, lines of riot police waited in formation, awaiting any attempted incursion.
Since February 2nd, white supremacists have been despondent, or have been trying to stir outrage about the armed “communists” marching that day – failing to acknowledge how their own white power organizing led to the successful anti-racist response.
Following the February 2nd victory, it is difficult to know how blatant white supremacists could organize public rallies at Stone Mountain Park. However the Park’s giant racist carvings and the site’s Klan history mean that sooner or later, organized racists will try again.
Of the two individuals most vocal about attempting to rally at some later date, neo-Nazi Michael Carothers recently announced that he is considering running for Mayor in the north Georgia community of Blue Ridge. If this occurs, Carothers’ bid would either be an extremely long-shot, or it would simply be a publicity stunt. In either case, Carothers may be placing Stone Mountain plans on the back-burner for a while.
Michael Carothers (L) and Sidney Horton (R) at the bloody “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, VA, 2017
The other person publicly insisting that a Stone Mountain rally is merely “rescheduled” – Sidney Amber Horton of Moultrie, Georgia (“Avialae Horton”/“Based Southern Belle”) – is connected to “Rock Stone Mountain” organizing through Charles Lincolns’ video conferences. Both Horton and “Rock Stone Mountain” organizers appeared on these broadcasts. In addition, Horton and Weaver/Carothers worked together on the ill-fated “Unite the Right II” in Washington, DC last year, although neither appears to have showed up on the day.
Sidney Horton was not an initial organizer for “Rock Stone Mountain II” but now takes its defeat personally. Rock Stone Mountain’s collapse coincides with Horton’s shift into explicit white nationalism, from the half-coded racism she proclaimed earlier (for example when co-leading an early version of the “American Guard” in Georgia). It is unclear whether Horton can transform her considerable social media following – over 20,000 followers on Facebook – into on-the-ground organizing. After ranting against John Michael Estes’ Stone Mountain surrender, Horton is unlikely to find friends among the original “Rock Stone Mountain” organizers moving forward.
If Horton, Carothers, or other white supremacists attempt another rally, one thing must be clear to them after February 2nd: the broader community is organized, and they will be opposed every step of the way.