The “Patriot” rally in downtown Dahlonega Saturday pitted a small group of demonstrators with connections to white nationalists against triple the number of protestors carrying signs saying, “Nazis not welcome in Georgia.”
The demonstration was organized by a known member of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist movement who originally advertised it as a rally in support of President Donald Trump.
Such gatherings are always “incredibly upsetting” to the Anti-Defamation League, according to Allison Padilla-Goodman, director of the ADL’s Southeast region. “We see a lot of movement that signals attempts at normalizing anti-Semitism and hatred,” she said. “They are couching hate in more normal mainstream platforms. This rally is an example of that.”
At the rally, the demonstrators and counter-protesters – kept at a distance by barricades and an overwhelming police presence – maintained a peaceful rally in this historic North Georgia tourist town known for its gold rush and factory outlet about an hour north of Atlanta.
More than 450 officers from throughout the region, including a prison contingency in riot gear, far outnumbered the two factions, the first with 30 far-right “patriots,” at least two with ties to white nationalism, including anti-Semitism, and the second, a much more vocal group of around 100 anti-Nazi, anti-fascist protesters.
The patriot camp made no mention of Nazism Saturday. The only sign of far-right beliefs was the small group wearing lime green T-shirts stating: “Confederate Patriot Rebel: Breathing Life Back into the American People.”
No violence was reported, and religion was only mentioned briefly, such as when one pro-patriot speaker cited lessons from Jesus, in contrast with the presence of pastors and church groups among the counter-protestors. Not to mention the signs saying “There are no Nazis in heaven.”
“Regardless of race or religion, we are here because fascism threatens us all,” Claudia Andrade, representing the Party for Socialism and Liberalism, yelled into a megaphone. While religion wasn’t a topic of choice, political ideologies, immigration, gun-control and racism were.
Andrade and others on her side of the police barriers led chants throughout the two-hour rally that included such refrains as:
“Sexist. Racist. Anti-Gay. All the Nazis Go Away,” “No Nazis, No KKK. No fascists USA,” “No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here” and “When black people are under attack, what are we going to do? Stand up, fight back.”
The organizer of the rally, Chester Doles, a Lumpkin County resident, has been in and out of federal prison, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which also reported last week that he is currently on probation for a 2016 assault.
“What’s particularly troubling to me is that Chester Doles is a longtime white supremacist. … He tried to spin the rally as a family-friendly gathering to support their politician.”
At the rally Saturday, Doles summed up his violent checkered past as “youthful indiscretion.”
Of Doles, Army veteran Dustin Penner said at the rally: “He drew the permit and got a lot of flak because of his past, so I drew the permit.”
The pair and others spoke proudly outside the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Visitors Center of their support for President Trump, the military and police.
Speaker Jovi Val was probably the most radical. He is reportedly a far-right neo-fascist who promotes political violence and became a white nationalist with extremist views, including anti-Semitism, according to online sources.
At the rally, he said he was disappointed more Confederate flags weren’t among others at the event. “If they are allowed to wave the hammer and sickle rebel flag,” he said about the protestors’ signs, although no such flags were observed, he believed his group of demonstrators should have been able to wave the stars and bars, the Confederate symbols.
“I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in the right to bear arms,” he said. “At the end of the day we want to see a free America.”
Dov Wilker, regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Atlanta, said “it’s sad to see rallies and marches by white supremacists. It is frustrating to know that these types of people have a voice in our community.
“Looking on the bright side, there was a sizeable counter-protest that promoted the idea that all people are equal. Our best response is to continue our pioneering work in bridge-building and Jewish advocacy to ensure that all communities have a better understanding of the hatred that we face.”
Counter-protestor Estevan Hernandez said Saturday’s rally gave the far-right demonstrators a chance to get a foothold in Georgia. “We are against fascism together and united,” shouted Hernandez, representing the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition.
Among the few downtown Dahlonega businesses that remained open during the rally, Shenanigans Restaurant and Irish Pub had live folk music on its back patio that played before and after the rally. Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” one of the songs heard in passing, seemed a fitting commentary on the event. On one side of the restaurant entrance a small rainbow-colored flag in the ground saying “love, freedom and equality,” stood parallel to another tiny sign showing an American flag contained in a heart with the phrase: “Hate has no home here.”