OPINION: The ‘stop the steal’ Republicans pushing Buckhead City

Buckhead City supporters, including Bill White, who is the Buckhead City Committee Chairman and CEO as well as area senators, local residents and some opposed to the creation of a new city gather for a press conference at Loudermilk Park on Wednesday, Sept 29, 2021.  The group announced that during the upcoming special legislative session the bill will be discussed.  Several state senators signed the bill onsite, illustrating support in the state Senate.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Buckhead City supporters, including Bill White, who is the Buckhead City Committee Chairman and CEO as well as area senators, local residents and some opposed to the creation of a new city gather for a press conference at Loudermilk Park on Wednesday, Sept 29, 2021. The group announced that during the upcoming special legislative session the bill will be discussed. Several state senators signed the bill onsite, illustrating support in the state Senate. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Bill White, the wealthy New York transplant who has become the face of the Buckhead cityhood effort, is pushing for a vote on the 2022 ballot to let the Atlanta neighborhood become a city of its own.

But White won’t say whether he believes the 2020 election in Georgia was legitimate . After attending Trump rallies to investigate the election, raising money for legal challenges and tweeting for Trump supporters to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, an event he now calls “horrific,” White said he is focused on a future election.

“I’m focused on Buckhead City,” he said. “I’m focused on making this a reality here. Buckhead City has nothing to do with politics and that’s really all there is to say about it.”

I reached out to White following a press conference last week, where he and a group of state senators announced their support for a bill in the General Assembly to put the question of Buckhead independence to a referendum in 2022.

The senator leading the effort is Brandon Beach, a Republican from Alpharetta. Beach spoke at the event, as did Burt Jones, the GOP state senator from Jackson running for lieutenant governor, and Sen. Greg Dolezal.

All three senators called for a special legislative session in November to look into alleged fraud in the 2020 elections. Both Beach and Jones were stripped of their committee chairmanships for that and other moves that leaders said undermined the Georgia results.

Jones and Beach also traveled to Arizona in June to review that state’s review of still-contested ballots.

What does any of this have to do with Buckhead City? Nothing, Bill White says.

“This is not a Trump thing. It’s not a Biden thing,” he said, stressing that the cityhood effort is nonpartisan. “I think our success has a lot to do with that because I think the politics of all of that is extremely divisive and I am not a divisive type of person.”

Beach, who lives in a Buckhead condominium during the legislative session, echoed that sentiment in an interview Tuesday.

“All three of us happened to be asking questions about the election and that was a whole separate issue,” he said. “This deals directly with crime and the lack of the ability for the city to pay any attention to the citizens of Buckhead on the crime issue.”

Like Beach and Jones, White also played a visible and outspoken role among Trump’s Georgia allies calling for recounts, court challenges, and finally a rally at the U.S. Capitol that ended in a deadly breach of the House and Senate.

In a since-deleted post to Twitter on Jan. 6, White wrote, “AMERICAN PATRIOTS PEACEFULLY ENTER THE CAPITOL BUILDING/ ENTER BOTH HOUSES/ SIT IN THE PEOPLE’S SEATS (YOUR SEATS)/ BE HEARD! FIGHT FOR US/ FIGHT FOR TRUMP/ FIGHT FOR US.”

White and his husband had been longtime friends of the Trump family through veterans advocacy and later became high-dollar donors to the Trump campaign.

They were regular guests at the White House and even flew aboard Air Force One with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for July 4th fireworks at Mt. Rushmore in 2019.

They were with Trump at the White House on Election Night, Nov. 3.

By Nov. 5th, White was back in Georgia, where the vote was still not complete. Calling in from a GOP meeting, White phoned WABC radio in New York to encourage listeners to donate money for legal challenges in Georgia and around the country.

“You can contribute to help make sure the Democrats don’t steal this election from us,” White said.

Later that night at a parking lot rally in Buckhead, he stood with Donald Trump, Jr., Beach and Kimberly Guilfoyle as Trump supporters behind them chanted, “Stop the Steal!”

Speaking on Tuesday, White said Donald Trump. Jr. invited him to attend the rally and stand with him, so he did.

“I was very proud to stand with him,” he said.

Along with attending later rallies in Valdosta and Alpharetta, White also began posting messages to Twitter — most of which have been deleted — about the rally in Washington planned for Jan. 6th.

On Dec. 30, he wrote, “Jan 6 GA electoral votes must be for Trump” On Jan. 2, he wrote, “Jan. 6th will be an epic day in American history.” By Jan. 5, he wrote, “CALL TO ACTION...Fraud can/must not be certified! @RealDonaldTrump is our president!”

Finally came his Jan. 6th tweet calling for Trump supporters to go into both houses of the Capitol.

Lin Wood retweeted that message with a note. “@BillWhiteNY is an American Patriot. Listen to his advice carefully.”

White told me Tuesday he was not in Washington on that day.

“What happened at the Capitol that day was truly horrific and can never be condoned. Simple as that,” he said. “Peaceful was not the intention nor the behavior of many people and that should be condemned always.”

He also stressed that his role in working to help Buckhead form its own city is driven by concern for his family’s safety as violent crime has swept across Buckhead and the entire city.

As for how he chose Beach to lead the bill, Beach said a lobbyist retained by the Buckhead City Committee suggested him since Beach is a member of the Fulton County delegation.

The long tail of White’s Twitter feed, along with the cast of election-challenging senators backing Buckhead City, has raised suspicions among Democrats and Buckhead City opponents.

Despite Trump’s ongoing fury at Gov. Brian Kemp, White has stood by the Georgia governor. Kemp’s spokesman called White “a supporter” and said the two have “many mutual friends.”

Ultimately, the last election is over and the state and the country are looking ahead to the next election, when the results could be again be contested if history is a predictor.

If Buckhead City gets a referendum in 2022, would White accept the results accept the results of that election?

“No,” he said quickly.

“I would never accept anything unless I felt comfortable accepting it. And I won’t know until it happens.”

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