DAHLONEGA, Ga. — A rally in downtown Dahlonega organized by white supremacist activists wound down early Saturday amid high heat, a balky public address system and a confusing, at times contradictory, series of speakers.
The rally numbered somewhere between 35 and 50 self-described patriots on one side of the square, countered by three times that number of counterprotesters shouting from behind barricades on the other side.
“We know we are on the right side of history,” said rally organizer Chester Doles. “With the rise of socialism, American patriots are standing up.”
Doles, a Lumpkin County resident, has spent a lifetime associated with various white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, spending two stints in federal prison for crimes related to his activities. He is finishing out two years of probation from an assault in December 2016. Doles touted the event to the public as a rally to show support for President Donald Trump but also promoted it on white supremacist internet outlets.
The spectacle in Dahlonega’s tourist-friendly downtown caught some off guard.
Jose spoke to Johanna Hulsman, a Trump supporter who wasn't pleased the group was in town.
"I think they're here to fight. Here to spread hate," Hulsman said. "I think if you're going to represent President Trump, you shouldn't be a white supremacist."
Hulsman said she thinks some of the rhetoric at the rally sent the wrong message.
"I want to say I was there talking about love. Talking about loving people, not hate. Not spreading hate," Hulsman said.
Kevin Pruitt, also a Trump supporter, agreed.
"I am a Trump supporter," Pruitt said. "I'm not a racist."
“I don’t know what to think,” said Nicole Mullins of Gwinnett County, who had come to the area to pick apples. “It’s hard to believe.”
“What they really think is ‘Make America white again,’” added Josh Wagner of Clayton. “It’s real sad.”
Yellow ribbons hung outside businesses and on street lamps and traffic signs in silent protest of the rally, said Charlotte Arsenault, minister of Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church in Dahlonega. Arsenault was one of 10 pastors who helped organize about 30 parishioners who attended the counterprotest.
Many business owners and residents were afraid to show up to the counter-rally, Arsenault said. Instead, they hung the ribbons as a message that Dahlonega doesn’t welcome white supremacy, she said. The gold ribbons served too as a nod to Dahlonega’s history as a gold rush town. There were also messages, such as “Get Hate Off Our Streets,” written in white chalk by Dahlonega residents last night on the roads surrounding the Gold Museum, a popular tourist attraction that highlights the city’s gold mining past.
Business owners were encouraged to shut their doors for the day. The economic loss Saturday was a blow for local retailers, said Steve Hallock, owner of Outlaw Jerky.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “Saturday is a busy day for us, especially in the fall.”
On the counterprotesters’ side, people were filtered through a security checkpoint about a block away from the Gold Museum. Law enforcement used hand-held metal detectors to scan each protester. No backpacks were allowed in the area cordoned off for counterprotesters on the south side of the square, but firearms were allowed as long as they weren’t loaded with any ammunition. No visible guns were seen on any counterprotesters or rally supporters.
Despite the fears of local officials, the event was unusually peaceful compared to similar rallies in other cities over the past few years.
Two counterprotesters were arrested after they walked around a barricaded era to get to the pro-Trump rally, where they began shouting “Whose streets? Our streets!” Police quickly whisked them away to the hoots of their adversaries. City spokeswoman Nikki Perry said they were charged with inciting a riot.
Only one other person was arrested all day, and that occurred hours before the rally on the University of North Georgia campus. Perry said campus police arrested someone for obstruction and carrying a weapon on school property.
Perry credited the massive police presence for the lack of arrests and generally safe rally. But she also gave credit to the organizers of both the rally and the counterdemonstration for meeting with officials in advance of the event and following the rules.
“They did a great job of cooperating, and that really helped us meet our goals of keeping the peace,” she said.
Many of the counterprotesters traveled from metro Atlanta for the rally. Mike Katinsky, 53, of the Kirkwood neighborhood of Decatur, said it was imperative that he be there.
“I felt the need to say this view — that white supremacy is OK — is not OK. It’s not OK to mainstream it.”
Aileen Loy, 50, of Atlanta, said she felt there was a larger, more insidious agenda with the “pro-Trump” rally.
“It’s presented as a pro-Trump rally, but they’re trying to get conservatives to go along with white supremacy and that’s not OK,” Loy said.
Michael Stark, 55, lives in Newnan. He said he attended a counterprotest of white supremacists and neo-Nazis last year in his town. He traveled the 105 miles to Dahlonega to make a stand once again.
“I’m not a paid protester. I’m just a normal, average guy,” Stark said. “But when Nazis come to my town, a neighboring town or any town, I’m gonna be there to counter it. Half my family died in pogroms and concentration camps, so I’m not staying home.”
The rally itself featured a series of speakers whose views ranged from generic arch-conservatism to anti-government screeds. Jovi Val, an alt-right figure based in New York, said he followed Trump “as far as he could.”
“It’s the government that is against the people,” he said. “They think the left is the enemy. It’s the government.”
Another speaker, disbarred Louisiana attorney Charles Edward Lincoln, offered a broad attack against judges, the Federal Reserve and the prison system. He rounded out his speech by claiming the United States held a patent on heroin and operated as a secret drug cartel.
Lucretia Hughes, an Atlanta resident who has an internet-based radio program, made an attempt to whip up the small crowd with the most direct appeal to the president.
“I didn’t come here to bash the government,” she said. “I came here to hype (you) up.”
But the heat, combined with some speakers who were no-shows, forced the small group to end its rally about 30 minutes early.
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