Loeffler disavows photo taken with longtime white supremacist

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign strongly condemned a photo circulating on social media of her posing with a longtime white supremacist at an event in Dawsonville on Friday, as the photo sparked fierce criticism from her Democratic opponent and his allies ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs for control of the Senate.

The photo shows the Republican smiling from beneath an American flag ball cap next to Chester Doles, a longtime white supremacist who spent decades in the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi National Alliance. He was sentenced to prison for the 1993 beating of a Black man in Maryland and again on weapons violations in Georgia. He also associated with the Hammerskins, a racist skinhead gang with whom he marched in 2017′s violent United the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Kelly had no idea who that was, and if she had she would have kicked him out immediately because we condemn in the most vociferous terms everything that he stands for,” Stephen Lawson, Loeffler’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement Sunday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Doles posted the picture to his account on VK, a Russian social networking site where he has posted pictures of himself posing with other Georgia politicians, including Republican Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene and Trump-friendly Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones. Within a few hours, the Loeffler photo had spread to Twitter.

“ALERT: Kelly Loeffler just posed for a photo with Chester Doles, a former KKK leader who runs the white supremacist American Patriots USA,” the Twitter account for progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc posted. “This is who @KLoeffler is proudly appealing to.”

There is no evidence that Loeffler was seeking Doles’ support nor that she knew who he was. Politicians routinely take selfies with people who turn out for their campaign events. U.S. Rep.-elect Nikema Williams was among the Democrats who noted this wasn’t the first time Doles appeared at a Loeffler event.

“Hatred and racism have no place in our politics, yet once again we are seeing Senator Kelly Loeffler appear with a bigoted and appalling figure,” said Williams. “This isn’t the first time her campaign, which is responsible for divisive attacks, is having to explain why this has taken place. Georgians deserve better than her excuses and her deeply negative campaign.”

Doles has attempted to insinuate himself into Republican politics over the past year, claiming to have renounced his past while maintaining ties with his longtime friends in the white supremacist movement.

In 2019, Doles started a new organization called American Patriots USA, a group supportive of President Donald Trump but deeply tied to the far-right militia movement. Doles endorsed several longshot political candidates in the 2020 election, but also attempted to tie himself to U.S. Rep.-elect Greene. She had Doles removed from an event in September in Ringgold.

Loeffler was also at the Ringgold event with Greene. At the time, her campaign said she did not know Doles and was unaware that he had been at the rally. On Sunday, the campaign for Loeffler’s Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, released a statement questioning Loeffler’s second disavowal.

“There’s no acceptable explanation for it happening once, let alone a second time,” said Warnock campaign spokesman Michael Brewer.

Other Georgia Republicans have made their position on Doles clear. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins was listed as an “invited” speaker to one of Doles’s events in 2019. Collins immediately disavowed the invitation.

“White supremacy and white nationalism have no place in our country, and I will continue to denounce any and all forms of hate,” he said.