A planned “white power” rally at Stone Mountain by Confederate flag backers – some of them in the Ku Klux Klan – is predictably attracting opposition.
Perhaps less expected is that the opposition is coming from other supporters of the battle flag. Confederate flag enthusiasts have begun competing Facebook pages promising to counter the Klan-backed rally, planned for April, raising the possibility of two groups of vocal protesters waving the same controversial banner at each other.
“We will be down there for that rally on April 23. We are going to try to protest the KKK and that Nazi group that is going to be down there,” said Steve Panther, moderator of one of the Facebook pages promoting a counter-protest.
Panther is an ardent supporter of the public display of the Confederate flag, despite living in the decidedly un-Southern state of Minnesota. So far, most of his support of the flag has been at rallies north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“I’ve never been to Stone Mountain,” he said. “I’m from Michigan, but my family is all from Tennessee and North Carolina and they fought for the Confederates. We moved up here to work for General Motors and been stuck here ever since.”
Panther said he received an online invitation to the white power rally, dubbed “Rock Stone Mountain.”
“After looking into it a little further, I found out what it was all about,” he said.
He declined and decided instead to help organize a rally of flag supporters who claim their interest is in preserving the “heritage” the flag represents. He has pledged to bring dozens of counter protesters to Stone Mountain from around the nation.
The display of the Confederate flag on public property has been a hot topic since the deaths of nine black parishioners in a mass shooting in a Charleston church last summer. The accused shooter, an avowed white supremacist named Dylann Roof, had posted photos of himself online posing with Confederate flags. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley responded by pushing legislation to remove a Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds, and groups like the NAACP have pushed the removal of similar displays on government property, including at Stone Mountain.
The Atlanta NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have also called for the removal of Stone Mountain’s iconic carving, prompting several rallies in support of the flag and the carving.
Panther’s Facebook page – dubbed “No White Power at Stone Mountain” – attracted attention from the supporters of the white power rally and the two groups have sparred online over who has the right to stand with the flag and what is the acceptable meaning of “white pride.”
"I'm ok with being proud for your race, but don't do it on a monument or use a flag that does not represent that,” one writer commented. “It's damaging to the cause.”
“Hope you guys have fun trying to stop us. Actually hope u try. Lol” a supporter of the white power rally replied.
“I would rather stand with them than stand with pansies who hate their own race!!! These yellow bellies need to grow a set and quit bowing to the NAACP!!!” another said.
The back and forth has been heated and personal, drawing comments from prominent flag defenders around the nation as well as fringe personalities like the president of the League of the South, an organization that uses racially charged rhetoric to support its calls for secession of the southern states.
While Panther and other “heritage” supporters are trying to draw a bright line between themselves and more extremist groups, it is unclear how much distance actually exists between them.
Last Saturday, the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans held its annual recognition of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday with a program in the Old Capital Building in Milledgville. The keynote address was delivered by Pastor John Weaver, a minister popular for his sermons defending the flag and the memory of the Confederacy.