Organized by an actual neo-Nazi, an unimpressive pro-Trump rally disrupts a beautiful weekend in the mountains
At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia is the quaint former-gold mining town of Dahlonega. Every Memorial Day a team of over 100 volunteers line all the roads leading into town with almost 700 memorial markers and American flags, recognizing all of Lumpkin County’s veterans from World War I onward. The Historic Downtown Square is centered around the Historic Court House, now a well-kept Gold Museum detailing the town’s gold-mining heritage. It was the center of the first American gold rush and the Golden Dome of the Georgia State Capitol is covered with gold mined in Dahlonega. A small town filled with easy-going people, dotted with quirky local businesses, that embraces its history, Dahlonega is an easy place to like.
This past weekend Dahlonega hosted multiple groups of people far less easy-going and, depending on your political predilections, far less easy to like.
Approximately 50 people joined what was promoted as an American Patriot pro-Trump rally. Around three to four times that many protesters congregated on the other side of the square, demonstrating against what they described to me as a “fascist,” “white supremacist,” and “racist” rally. For their part, the pro-Trump demonstrators that I spoke with said they were there to “support our president,” “support our cops,” and that they had no racist intentions whatsoever.
While anything Trump-related in 2019 can be an immediate lightning rod for controversy, every Lumpkin County local I interviewed among the spectators, with only a single exception, were under the impression that the rally was explicitly intended to be for, and was organized by, Klansmen and racists. I spoke with two men in their early twenties who said they went to high school with the son of Chester Doles, the rally organizer. “He was as big of a racist asshole as his dad.” Theirs was not the only such opinion. A 62 year old Dahlonega resident wearing a black leather vest festooned with patches and slogans said that Doles is known to brag about being a “fourth generation Klansmen.”
Doles has a long history of direct association with white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, to the point he twice spent time in federal prison for crimes related to these associations. I asked a group of teenage boys on the rally side about this, “That ain’t why we’re here.” I asked them if they understood why the counterprotesters, who they described as “antifa” and “communist scum,” may think they are racists if the rally they’re attending was organized by a neo-Nazi. One shirtless 18 year old in coveralls and a MAGA hat responded, “Yeah, but listen to what we saying. We ain’t here to hurt nobody. Just to support the president. We ain’t racist.”
The rally attendees were overwhelmingly white, male, and local Dahlonega or Lumpkin County residents. They waved American flags and the blue and black tinged Blue Lives Matters flags. The signs they carried were expressions of support for President Trump and law enforcement and against illegal immigration. Their speakers talked about God, crime, illegal immigration, and globalization, with the occasional foray into (for me) incomprehensible conspiracy theory. While almost everyone attending was a local resident, one speaker, a semi-prominent former member of the Proud Boys, the conservative ‘western chauvinist drinking club’ that is perhaps best known as an erstwhile enemy of antifa in Portland, traveled from New York City for the event. Occasional bursts of “USA! USA!” rang from the group, with many local spectators joining in.
I can best characterize the mood of the local spectators as annoyed. Most were Trump voters, many sang along with the rallygoers when they burst into renditions of the National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance. But almost all were disappointed in the way their preferred candidate was being supported, “I voted for Trump but I’m not racist. This is the wrong way to support him.” Universal was the feeling of a wasted Saturday. Dahlonega is a tourist town, beautiful sunny Saturdays attract hundreds and thousands of visitors every week, and every store, bar, and restaurant downtown was closed. “This is hurting us. For what? They’re just yelling at each other and accomplishing nothing.”
The protesters were much more active and energetic than the rally-goers. Homemade banners, signs, placards, pamphlets, and flags of all shape, size, color, and motto were carried, taped to the barricades, handed out, and worn as capes. They outnumbered the people they were protesting by at least three-to-one and were much more organized. Their leaders and speakers carried bullhorns, they had a volunteer carrying a water cooler and paper cups, and many of them had the telephone number to their legal team written in black marker on their forearms. They chanted the classic call and responses familiar to anyone who’s attended left-leaning protests over the decades, “Whose streets? Our Streets! Tell me what Democracy looks like! This is what Democracy looks like! Sexist, racist, antigay! Neo-Nazis go away!”
Activists from multiple organizations were present at the protest. Many of whom refused to speak to me, although most did. Democratic Socialists of America, Atlanta led the group in a rather lackluster chorus of the old union standard, Solidarity Forever. Copwatch was on hand to keep an eye on the absurd number of police officers keeping an eye on them in return. Antifa flags were wrapped around some necks but no facemasks or black-bloc attire. The Socialist Coalition of North Georgia was passing out antifascist flyers. I asked one protester, wearing a Communications Workers of America shirt, what the rally-goers may not understand about why they’re here, “Not much. They probably think we’re socialists, well I am. They probably think I’m opposed to Trump no matter what he does, well I am.”
None of the protesters who spoke with me were from Dahlonega or from Lumpkin County. Most hailed from Atlanta or a surrounding county but not from north Georgia. One or another of the participating organizations had either got the word out or helped the protesters and activists get to this tiny mountain town. They came to this out of the way corner of the state to ‘fight fascism’ and outnumber the ‘white supremacists.’
They shouldn’t have worried, their group was easily three times the size of the actual rally, and there were at least as many reporters and photojournalists as rally-goers as well. There was a telephoto lens for every American flag and microphone for every MAGA hat.
Far outnumbering everyone though was law enforcement. Between 500 -600 local cops, county sheriffs, police on loan from at least a dozen other counties, state patrol officers, and even a massive black-armored contingent of prison guards had the entire square surrounded. Which seemed excessive, if not comical.
In fairness, the massive police presence may have been warranted. There is a well-documented, and frankly tiresome, history over the last three or four years of violent clashes between anyone even tangentially identified as white nationalists and antifa. Nobody is interested in their community being spoken of in the same way as Portland and Charlottesville. The authorities and the protesters and the rally-goers were also not unreasonable in expecting far more enthusiasm for a rally of this nature, whether it was the “Support Our President” theme explicitly advertised or the “Make America White Again” theme implicitly suggested by the character of the rally organizer.
Not to impugn the character of this lovely town or her residents but nearly every local I spoke to had varying degrees of sympathy with or support for President Trump and the stated message of the rally. They sang along with the rally-goers. They cheered when two protesters were hauled off in handcuffs for illegally trying to enter the rally area. They joined the chants of “USA! USA!” Trump carried this district by a significant margin.
They also live in an area with an uncomfortable heritage of racism. Inside the Court House/Gold Museum there is a hallway exhibit showcasing the history of the courthouse and the Lumpkin County judicial system. On the wall is a page from the September 21st, 1942, edition of Life Magazine, highlighting the travelling rural judges of the old Georgia Court. Apparently, justice in the old south was mobile, entertaining, and racist. Among the difficulties of providing justice in rural Georgia in the 1940s was a lack of personnel, meaning that judges would travel from court house to court house. In Lumpkin County, the judges were often trailed by traveling businessmen of all sort. The excerpt from Life magazine shows an old-timey snake-oil salesman and his ‘blackface.’ This man would travel from town to town peddling his miracle elixir with his racist minstrel entertaining the kids and the crowds.
That was seventy years ago. 2019 is not 1942. There are no more minstrels. And downtown Dahlonega was decorated with golden yellow ribbons in protest of the rally taking place, anti-racist slogans were chalked into the sidewalks. For whatever my opinion is worth, I did feel that hate had no welcome there. But while nearly every local I spoke to at the rally and among the spectators was very clear in denouncing racism, one was innocently honest in how he felt. “They cause trouble.” He pointed at the protesters. “And they bring people that don’t live here or look like us to make trouble for us.” He was the only person to speak to me like that but where there’s one, there’s more.
For my part, I think the massive show of force by law enforcement was still unnecessary. Dahlonega is a town of only 7000 people, bringing in the equivalent of almost ten percent of the total population was an overreaction. Three busses from the Department of Corrections to haul away arrested protesters was a bit much. I don’t see how an armored vehicle with a turret would contribute much or how hundreds of prison guards marching in formation, chanting in their black armor, would’ve done much to restore order.
Because order never needed to be restored. Most of the spectators left long before the scheduled two hours for the event elapsed. Most of the protesters left. The rally-goers were evenly matched by the journalists and freelancers like me around them. The massive police presence ultimately unneeded. Dahlonega was and remains a quaint little mountain town.
Thomas Brown is a recovering political consultant hiding out in the American South. He is managing editor of The Swamp and has been published in The Bipartisan Press, Alaska Native News, GEN, Human Events, Times of Israel, Dialogue & Discourse. Follow him at his Medium page and argue with him on Twitter: @reallythistoo.
If you like the content you find in The Swamp please consider making a donation. The Swamp-rat team works hard to bring you new perspectives and original analysis which is only possible through the denial of our loved ones and your generous support. You can click here to donate via Paypal or credit card. Thanks for enjoying The Swamp and for your support!