Georgia candidates embrace group with extremist ties

Georgia state Rep. Matt Gurtler (center), one of the leading candidate in the U.S. House seat being vacated by Doug Collins, attended an event sponsored by American Patriots USA, founded by Chester Doles (right). Doles is a Georgia man with longstanding ties to extremist groups. Michael Boggus (left), is a militia member and another candidate in the race.

Georgia state Rep. Matt Gurtler (center), one of the leading candidate in the U.S. House seat being vacated by Doug Collins, attended an event sponsored by American Patriots USA, founded by Chester Doles (right). Doles is a Georgia man with longstanding ties to extremist groups. Michael Boggus (left), is a militia member and another candidate in the race.

A Georgia state representative running for Congress is facing criticism from across the political spectrum for a photo showing him alongside a longtime white supremacist activist from Dahlonega.

The photo shows Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, with Chester Doles, a Georgia man with longstanding ties to numerous white supremacist organizations, including the National Alliance and Hammerskins, a racist skinhead gang. It was taken earlier this year at a meeting of American Patriots USA, a group founded by Doles last year in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream conservatives in the region. Other candidates for office in Georgia also appeared in the photograph with Doles, though none as high profile as Gurtler.

The photo has been on the internet for weeks, circulated by a left-wing, anti-racist group based in Atlanta, among others. Now, Gurtler has been called out by a rival Republican also running for the 9th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. and GOP Senate candidate Doug Collins.

"As a Christian, I'm repulsed by bigotry and hatred in all forms, and racism has no place in our state or in the 9th District," said State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. "North Georgians are decent, faithful and hard-working people. They deserve elected leaders who reflect that, not those who would embarrass us with their poor judgment."

Gurtler declined to be interviewed about the photo, but in an email to the AJC he said the “context is straightforward.”

“I was asked by a voter to speak to a pro-gun, conservative group that supports President Trump. There was a group picture with all the candidates and speakers,” he wrote.

Chester Doles, a Georgia man with long ties to extremist groups, speaks to a small crowd at a pro-Trump rally in Dahlonega, Sept. 14, 2019. Doles founded American Patriots USA, which has been endorsing candidates for elective office in Georgia. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

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Gurtler’s campaign manager said Doles was not the voter who invited him, but he did not offer any other information about the event.

Doles has spent most of his life among white supremacist groups, boasting of his Ku Klux Klan heritage and protesting on courthouse steps on behalf of the National Alliance. In 2017, he was among the hundreds of extreme right wing activists to take part in the violent Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Since founding American Patriots USA, Doles claims to have broken with white supremacists. Doles has been banned by Facebook and promotes his group primarily on VK, the Russian social media platform that has become a refuge for American white nationalists banned by domestic social media.

“It’s an organization dedicated to the Constitution and the re-election of Donald Trump and preparing for life after Trump,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a recent interview.

Doles said his new group is not racist and has Latinos and African Americans among its members. He said his affiliation with white nationalist groups ended years ago.

State Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, is running to replace U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in Georgia’s 9th District. EMILY HANEY / STAFF

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Second candidate posed with Doles

Those activities were documented in “Everything You Love Will Burn,” a book written by journalist Vegas Tenold, who embedded himself in the American far right for the years leading up to Charlottesville. In an interview with the AJC, Tenold said it’s hard to picture Doles having a “road to Damascus” moment.

“He’s been not only in the Hammerskins, but a leader in National Alliance as well. So, he’s been a leader in two of the most hard-core white supremacists groups, not only in America, but the world,” he said. “It just seems like a big change.”

Doles’s group has endorsed a multi-ethnic slate of candidates for a variety of state and federal offices. Most of the candidates are long shots, but not all of them.

Marjorie Greene, of Milton, is a GOP candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 14th District. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE FOR THE AJC

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Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate running for the open 14th Congressional District seat in northwest Georgia, also posed alongside Doles and an American Patriots USA banner in a photo earlier this year. Greene, owner of a construction company, has largely self-financed her bid for the seat, pouring $700,000 into her campaign.

Greene’s campaign did not respond to questions about the photo with Doles, calling the questions “silly and the same type of sleazy attacks the Fake News Media levels against President Trump.”

She has been criticized in the past for her social media posts that appear to show her support for QAnon, a byzantine conspiracy theory begun online. The group posits a cabal of politicians and celebrities involved in an international pedophilia ring are plotting to bring down President Trump. Doles has posted about Greene and borrowed QAnon language on several occasions on his VK account.

“Our friend Marjorie Greene is running for Congress. She’s part of the Q movement,” Doles posted in March. “Good friend to have.”

Collins denounced Doles’ group

American Patriots USA is not shy about embracing far-right conspiracies. An entire section of the group’s website is dedicated to claims that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center were an inside job.

When Doles staged a "pro-Trump" demonstration last fall in downtown Dahlonega, he listed Rep. Collins as an "invited" speaker. Collins quickly issued a statement condemning the group.

“White supremacy and white nationalism have no place in our country, and I will continue to denounce any and all forms of hate,” Collins said, adding that the rally was “organized by known associates of hate organizations.”

Michael Boggus, a long-shot GOP candidate for the 9th Congressional seat Collins is vacating, has directly joined with Doles and American Patriots USA. Boggus, a member of a far-right militia, said he was wary of Doles based on what he heard about his white supremacist affiliations, but changed his mind after a one-on-one conversation.

“Will I stand with Chester? Yeah,” Boggus said. “He’s proven to me that he’s walked way from that lifestyle. Because I cannot stand the Klan.”