Atlanta Antifascists and a number of left-wing activist groups have signaled their intention to counter-protest and disrupt the rally. Doles said it is a chance to confront antifascist groups in what he described as a crucial period.
“As we get closer to the 2020 election, you are going to see the parties (move to) the left and the right, the center will shrink and the fringes will get bigger,” he said. Trump, he said, is “our savior, the last chance to save Western civilization.”
Doles's long history of activism includes two prison sentences. In 1993, Doles, then a member of the Klan in Maryland, pleaded guilty to beating a black man. Police said he beat the man because he was in the company of a white woman. He went back to prison in 2004, serving nearly six years on a federal weapons charge.
Because of his felony convictions, Doles does not have the right to vote, but he said he campaigned for Trump regardless.
Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said Doles’s plan to tie the rally to Trump is a common strategy among white supremacists to move their rhetoric into the political mainstream.
“Instead of talking about some kind of white supremacy or Doles mentioning his connections to neo-Nazi groups, he is trying to present this as a patriotic event,” she said. “They are not going to attract people by talking about their white supremacist ties.”
Lumpkin County resident Chester Doles has a long history of white supremacist activism ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the National Alliance. He is the organizer behind a proposed Sept. 14, 2019, rally in downtown Dahlonega promoted as a pro-Trump event.
Doles made it clear that he believes the views he expressed years ago demonstrating with the National Alliance are mainstream now. “I just had to wait for everybody to catch up,” he said.
While Doles claims the event is a patriotic rally to support the president, he takes a different approach when promoting it to fellow white supremacists. In an appearance on a far right podcast last week, Doles echoed the trope common among white supremacists that white people are in danger of extinction.
“Patriots are stepping up from all over,” he said. “This is our time. I believe we are at our 11th hour 59th minute of our people’s survival.”
City prepared, mayor says
The rally is disturbing to local residents and business owners as it comes as Dahlonega prepares for an annual influx of tourists seeking a quaint, leaf-peeking day trip. The city’s official statement, issued last week, makes it clear Doles has a right to hold his rally, but peace will be enforced.
“Do not assume that because we are a small town that we won’t be prepared,” Mayor Sam Norton said. “Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies will be present and significant, whether you see it or not. They will be prepared to appropriately enforce federal, state and local laws.”
City Marshall Jeff Branyon said plans for controlling the event and the anticipated counter-protesters have yet to be finalized.
“We’re still looking at various options. The problem with these kind of events is we don’t know how many people are coming,” he said. “We have several plans in place depending on what the size of the crowd looks like, what the weather does and these kinds of things.”
Local law enforcement officials are not talking about their specific plans, but how Newnan handled a similar rally last year provides some clues.
Anti racist protesters protest as the National Socialist Movement holds a rally at Greenville Street Park in downtown Newnan on Saturday, April 21, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
In that case, a small group from the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement held a rally in a park near the center of town, drawing hundreds of counter-protesters. To keep the two sides apart, local and state agencies mounted an overwhelming police presence, cordoning off the neo-Nazis and forcing counter-protesters through controlled checkpoints where they were searched for weapons before being led to a staging area more than 100 yards away.
The city is home to the University of North Georgia, which this week issued its own statement advising staff and students to avoid downtown the day of the rally. University spokeswoman Sylvia Carson said the proximity of the rally to campus is concerning and some campus events scheduled for that day have been moved for safety reasons.
“We are concerned about having any spillover, and we are going to try to manage that the best we can with our public safety folks,” she said. But she stressed the university is not taking a position on the rally itself.
“We are content neutral,” she said.
Data reporter Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues to follow the rise of the alt-right and white supremacist groups, as well as the protest movement that has emerged to confront them. As tensions rise in advance of the 2020 presidential election, read the AJC for deeply reported coverage to better understand these movements and how they attempt to influence mainstream politics.