Georgia's Stone Mountain Park shuts down ahead of anticipated militia rally

FILE PHOTO: A protest sign is held up in front of the Confederate Monument carved into granite at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia, U.S. June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Dustin Chambers/File Photo

ATLANTA (Reuters) - With internet rumors of a looming conflict between an anti-government militia, white supremacist rally-goers and counter-protesters, Georgia state officials said Stone Mountain Park, famed for its huge rock carving of Confederate leaders, will be closed to the public on Saturday.

The Three Percenters militia had applied last month to hold a more than 2,000-strong rally “to defend and protect our history and second Amendment rights” on Aug. 15 at the park northeast of Atlanta. The application was denied by state officials, who cited violence at a similar event in 2016.

But several online groups, including one dubbed “Defending Stone Mountain,” vowed to march in the park anyway and asked participants to come with Confederate and U.S. flags. Another group, the Atlanta Antifacists, vowed to hold a counter-protest.

Park officials were not immediately available for comment late on Friday, but said in a short statement that the park will be closed on Saturday, due to security concerns.

The city of Stone Mountain, home to about 6,000 residents, also issued a statement asking the public to avoid the area.

Stone Mountain Park, which draws more than 4 million visitors a year to its sprawling 3,200 acres of woods and trails and amusements, is home to the largest monument to America’s Civil War Confederacy.

Park authorities have faced renewed calls for the removal of its nine-story-high bas-relief sculpture of Confederate leaders since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Floyd’s killing helped revive a long-simmering conflict between groups seeking to abolish Confederate statues and sculptures, which they see as pro-slavery symbols, and those who believe they honor the traditions and history of the South.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Daniel Wallis