Militia alliance in Georgia signals new phase for extremist paramilitaries

Chester Doles (center, in white shirt), leader of American Patriots USA, is surrounded by supporters as he makes his way to a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally outside of the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Doles gave a speech at the rally and then attempted to speak with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger but was unsuccessful.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Chester Doles (center, in white shirt), leader of American Patriots USA, is surrounded by supporters as he makes his way to a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally outside of the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Doles gave a speech at the rally and then attempted to speak with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger but was unsuccessful. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

‘We are going to see a lot of this coalition building with some pretty nasty actors,’ says one expert.

The leader of a private paramilitary group that provided security for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said he has formed alliances with other far-right groups to advocate for Georgia’s secession from the union, following the arrests of participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“The way patriots are now being hunted down and arrested by fellow men and women who have taken the same oath has disheartened any faith I had in the redemption or reformation of the USA as one entity,” Justin Thayer, head of the Georgia III% Martyrs, said in a text exchange with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week.

ExploreIn Marjorie Taylor Greene's Georgia district, what are voters saying about her?

Thayer said the Martyrs have allied themselves with fellow “Three Percenter” militia the American Brotherhood of Patriots and American Patriots USA (APUSA), a north Georgia group headed by Chester Doles, a Dahlonega resident who belonged to various racist and neo-Nazi hate groups before forming the new group in 2019. The combined groups will advocate for Georgia’s secession from the union through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution or through “the collapse of the American experiment,” Thayer said.

“For the last 150 years, the Imperial Yankee culture of the northeast has been molding Georgia — and the South in general — into its ‘perfect’ image,” he said.

In an AJC interview this week, Doles confirmed the groups were working together, but he would not say what they intended to do.

“Things are different now. Everything has changed,” he said. “We’ve seen our last Republican president in American history. The ballot box — we tried as hard as we could try. It’s not working.”

ExploreTrump's new impeachment lawyer from Atlanta is no stranger to big cases

Researchers who study the far right say political unrest over the past year gave extremist groups opportunities to collaborate across ideological divides, forging alliances based on common grievances and enemies. The November presidential election and the proliferation of baseless conspiracy theories about its outcome only pushed groups closer together.

“We saw members of traditional militias, white supremacists, QAnon and other people in the same spaces and claiming very similar enemies,” said Amy Iandiorio, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

This “shared victimhood narrative” around the outcome of the presidential election created the opportunity for “tactical” alliances among groups that normally wouldn’t mix, she said.

Armed members of the Georgia III% Martyrs surround Marjorie Taylor Greene as she meets with supporters during a second amendment rally at the Northwest Georgia Amphitheatre on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Ringgold, Ga. Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter /  Chattanooga Times Free Press
Armed members of the Georgia III% Martyrs surround Marjorie Taylor Greene as she meets with supporters during a second amendment rally at the Northwest Georgia Amphitheatre on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Ringgold, Ga. Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga Times Free Press

Credit: C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times

Credit: C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times

The Martyrs raised eyebrows this fall when they appeared as private security for then-candidate Greene at a rally in Ringgold with former GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Greene posed for multiple photos with the militia and said she needed them to protect herself from unspecified death threats she said she had received.

On Jan. 6, Thayer joined throngs of pro-Trump supporters who rallied to hear the former president’s baseless claims of a “stolen” election and condemnation of “weak Republicans,” but he said he did not take part in storming the U.S. Capitol immediately after it.

ExploreSupporter with extremist ties ejected from Greene and Loeffler rally

Doles has been working longer to build support for his political group, staging occasional public rallies and motorcycle convoys from his north Georgia base. He claims to have walked away from his career as a white supremacist activist with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the National Alliance, while also maintaining ties to some figures in those movements. His attempts to insinuate America Patriots USA into mainstream conservative politics have met with limited success, however.

Doles championed Greene’s candidacy on his website and on social media, often posting a photo of Greene posing with APUSA members taken during her Republican primary campaign.

But when he tried to attend the Ringgold rally in September with members of his group, Greene had the Martyrs remove him.

Thayer said he and Doles have patched things up since then.

ExploreGeorgia law bars private militias, so why are they allowed to exist?

“We both have the same objective and work with other organizations,” he said in a text. “So it was in the best interest of the movement to become ally’s (sic) and work together.”

Thayer said the alliance is working with other Georgia militias, but the AJC was unable to confirm those connections.

Thayer said the alliance was forged out of an “IRA/Sinn Féin type scenario.” The comparison to the paramilitary Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein, an Irish political party, is apt.

Historically, Sinn Féin associated itself with the IRA during decades of violent conflict with the British government in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.” Similarly, Doles has sought to fashion his organization as a legitimate political group while using far-right paramilitary groups like the Brotherhood of American Patriots as “security.”

 Chester Doles (center), president of American Patriots USA, holding a letter, leads a group of protesters before he delivers the letter inside the Georgia State Capitol during Stop the Still rally organized by American Patriots USA outside the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Chester Doles (center), president of American Patriots USA, holding a letter, leads a group of protesters before he delivers the letter inside the Georgia State Capitol during Stop the Still rally organized by American Patriots USA outside the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Hampton Stall, a militia researcher with the non-profit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, said the Jan. 6 assault has focused more attention on the militia movement, including attention from law enforcement and the media. Some leaders in the movement are responding by reaching out to groups with even more extreme ideologies.

“I think we are going to see a lot of this coalition building with some pretty nasty actors,” he said.

The Martyrs’ connection to Greene, who spent years promoting the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, illustrates the toxic blend of ideologies at work in the post-Jan. 6 extremist world. The alliance between the Martyrs and APUSA mixes a deeply anti-government ideology with a group rooted in white nationalism.

ExploreEnd of Trump era won’t halt extremism’s rise, experts say

Conspiracy theories, like those expressed by QAnon adherents, and groups with white nationalist ties provide “onramps” for militia sects to transition into more violent rhetoric, Stall said. QAnon conspiracies about underground pedophilia rings run by Democrats and celebrities already are common inside online militia chatrooms, he said.

“Pretty much every Three Percent chat since 2018 has Q people in it,” he said. It’s a troubling development because of the the militia movement’s firepower, he said.

“The QAnon people are trying to figure out how to take their struggle into the world,” he said.

Since Jan. 6, the FBI has been appealing to the public to identify alleged rioters from photos posted on social media, while also defending itself against criticism that intelligence failures allowed the attempted insurrection. Kevin Rowson, spokesman for the Atlanta field office of the FBI, declined to comment on the announced alliance between the militias and APUSA saying the agency does not investigate people based on ideology.

“Regardless of group membership, our investigations focus solely on criminal activity of individuals,” he said. “Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity.”

In Other News