Hundreds clash verbally at Dahlonega rallies; law enforcement prevents violence
BY DENISE RAY. PHOTOS BY DENISE RAY.
Hundreds of people, including, an estimated 600 law enforcement officers, gathered in Dahlonega, Saturday, Sept. 14 as competing political groups clashed verbally over President Donald Trump and national politics.
Dahlonega resident Chester Doles and organizer of the pro-Trump rally, told various news sources that he is a fourth generation Klansman, but insisted the rally was to honor the flag and Trump. The event was widely promoted on websites and podcasts and on the Russian social media platform VK to an audience of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Doles said he was organizing the event in response to the growth of what he called a "left-wing group" in the city.
“American Patriot Rally” was the name given to the rally that roughly 100 people attended. It took place on the east side of the historic jail, in the shadow of the chamber visitors center, located in downtown Dahlonega.
GOP officials renounced it.
On the other side were about 100 counter protestors, consisting of local “Nuggets” and Atlanta residents. Their rally was organized in part by members of the Socialist Coalition of North Georgia. Reverend Charlotte Arsenault of the Dahlonega Unitarian Universalist Church said she was concerned to see Doles' group demonstrating in the city. As American Patriot Rally attendees began to arrive, the counter protestors blared “La Bamba” over a speaker, prefacing it with “let’s see how they like this.” Throughout the event, the counter protestors chanted “Nazi go home” and sang “Solidarity Forever” to the tune of ““Glory, Glory, Halleluiah”..”
In the middle was a large assemblage of law enforcement personnel armed with riot gear to assist Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard keep the peace. Nearly 600 state, local and federal level officers, an armored vehicle and police drones buzzing overhead were on scene.
Ultimately, it was a peaceful affair as neither side clashed. The event lasted a little less than two hours and resulted in a total of three arrests.
“It was well-executed thanks to the 36 different agencies that were very professional and outstanding that showed up,” Jarrard said. “I’m thankful for the job they did helping our community.”
Two of the arrests occurred when a pair of counter protesters allegedly walked through the rally chanting “KKK go away” at 1:30 p.m. on North Park Street. They were charged with inciting a riot, according to law enforcement officers.
Another arrest occurred earlier in the morning when a man walked on the University of North Georgia campus while carrying a weapon, said Jarrard. He was arrested and charged with obstruction and carrying a weapon on school grounds.
One person suffered a heat-related issue and was treated by medical personnel.
The roads to the downtown Dahlonega area were closed to vehicle traffic in the early morning hours as city officials anticipated possible clashes between the two groups.
City Mayor Sam Norton said he’s unclear as to why the small mountain city was chosen but believes it may have something to do with the city’s ability to attract tourists.
“We have been very successful in the tourist industry and we’re a family values-oriented community,” Norton said. “At any given time, we have a large daytime population of tourists from the surrounding region — I suppose that might be one reason we were unfortunately selected for this event.”
Norton said he had some anxiety about the event but was praying that rally attendees and protesters remained peaceful. He issued a warning to anyone who planned to be otherwise.
"Just bring a credit card if you're going to come up to Dahlonega and plan on expressing violence,” he said. “Because you'll probably need it to get out of jail. We're going to enforce all of our laws.”
City officials were open to “welcome peaceful expressions of all of our God given rights and constitutional rights,” but stressed that violence and destruction in the community will not be tolerated.
In anticipation of the rally, Jarrard offered some advice to people who are unsure about coming to the city’s downtown area during the rally: stay home and be safe.
To beef up security, Dahlonega city officials voted unanimously to pass two new ordinances that provided increased management of public demonstrations and limit the use of drones within city limits. Specifically the city manager, Bill Schmid, now has power to restrict the time and length of an event, limit the number of participants allowed at an event, move the location of the event to another location in the city and prohibit items to the fullest extent permitted by law that pose a risk to public safety. As a result, the city took a stadium model approach to the event which included check points at regulated points of entry and a list of prohibited items, similar to attending a concert or sporting event.
Attendees were subjected to searches and pat downs before entering the event location. Non-lethal “weaponized objects”—sticks, frozen water bottles, etc.—were confiscated.
Numerous golden streamers that had been tied around trees and light poles Friday night by a grass-roots group call Lumpkin Loves. “LOVE, LOVE, LOVE” and other chalk-written messages were written on the sidewalks and streets. An online statement issued by the group said the ribbons were placed by those who “united in standing together against racism and hatred.”
Doles has a history as a violent white supremacist yet repeatedly described his group as patriotic and peaceful. He has two prior felony convictions, both of which earned him time in federal prison. Doles was arrested on assault charges in a December 2016 incident in a Dahlonega bar that included, according to a witness report, Doles smashing a woman’s head into a wall while calling her a “stupid (expletive) white bitch.”
Doles is currently on supervised probation for that charge. Conditions of his probation require him to “avoid persons or places of disreputable or harmful character.”
During his opening speech at the rally, Doles announced his intention to run against David Perdue, currently one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senators.
Mayor Sam Norton issued a statement after the demonstrations, thanking law enforcement and residents for helping keep the event as peaceful as possible.
"I am humbled by this outpouring of support from our local, state, and federal partners during these events,” he said. “I would also like to thank all the residents and local business owners who sent messages of support to our officers. That is a true reflection of the people who live in our small town.” Roads in the city were re-opened to traffic at 4 p.m. and University of North Georgia officials say the school has resumed normal operations after limiting access during the demonstrations.
“I’m thankful to all the people for all their prayers,” Jarrard said. “I’m thankful for everyone involved.”