Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard said he and his officers are “gearing up for the worst but hoping for the best” as a controversial downtown rally draws near.
The event, scheduled for September 14, was originally organized by local resident and former KKK leader Chester Doles as a pro-Trump rally, but has been promoted heavily on white supremacy and white nationalist websites.
Congressman Doug Collins, a frequent and visible supporter of Trump, was invited to the event. However on Friday he told The Nugget he will have nothing to do with it.
“White supremacy and white nationalism have no place in our country, and I will continue to denounce any and all forms of hate,” he said in a release sent from his office. “For that reason, I will not be attending the event in Dahlonega on September 14, which has been organized by known associates of hate organizations.”
While Collins won’t be in attendance, counter protesters are organizing. And Jarrard and city officials are hoping to prevent any potential clash between the groups.
“I’m trying to let everyone have their right to free speech and keep it under safe conditions,” Jarrard said.
Mayor Sam Norton told The Nugget that any type of civil disobedience could result in a trip to Lumpkin County Detention Center.
“To those that plan to come to Dahlonega to cause trouble or express violence, be sure to let your boss know that you will be missing a few days of work while we sort out your offenses at the sheriff’s office,” he said.
RALLYING AGAINST THE RALLY
Atlanta Antifa monitors white supremacist websites, but Doles has been off their radar for some time, a representative of the organization told The Nugget.
It was through a text message that they learned of the upcoming rally. They sent out an alert on their website and social media outlets to let others know.
An online frenzy ensued.
Doles’ original notice of intent to the city of Dahlonega was withdrawn once Atlanta Antifa’s alert hit the Internet.
“There was such an uproar I was just not going to have it,” Doles said. “Then U.S. Army veteran Dustin Penner offered to sign to get the permit.”
Doles and Penner work out at the same gym. Penner is also Doles’ neighbor.
“I thought it was a great idea. I support Trump and American patriots. People have rallies against Trump all the time and I wanted people to know we’re not all like that here,” Penner said.
The event which is scheduled to take place 1-3 p.m. on the Visitors Center Plaza has an agenda that includes the singing of the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and guest speakers.
A moment of silence for slain Hall County Deputy Blane Dixon, murdered in the line of duty July 8 of this year will end the formal program, to be followed by a picnic in Yahoola Creek Park.
Doles said the event had “nothing to do with race.”
What was on his mind, Doles said, is the local group Indivisible Lumpkin.
“Indivisible Lumpkin has been on the square five or six times in the last 18 months. We feel like it’s a one-sided mud slinging contest,” Doles told The Nugget.
Members of Indivisible Lumpkin have kept a low profile and made no statement directly concerning the Sept. 14 rally. However, it did issue a statement denouncing white supremacy and affirming solidarity with “activists and groups” who work “to build a more just society.”
One reason for the lack of direct response may be a flyer members found on the windshields of their cars after a meeting earlier this year.
The flyer, from the National Alliance, accuses liberal groups of hating the flag, America’s heritage, the right to bear arms, “our monuments” and “our very existence” and “doing everything possible to wipe us out—and erase white people … from the face of the earth.”
Doles is a former leader of the Georgia chapter of The National Alliance.
When questioned by The Nugget he disavowed any knowledge of the flyer.
An Antifa representative told The Nugget the group has no official plans to counter-protest at the rally.
However, another group does.
The Socialist Coalition of North Georgia (SCNG), a splinter group of the Democratic Socialists of America, had not originally planned to make an appearance.
However a recent press release by the City of Dahlonega, detailing local readiness for the event, reportedly changed their minds as members took this as proof that the rally was escalating.
A SCNG representative told The Nugget they felt there was a need for a counter-rally, and that it made sense for their organization to call for one. They fear if they don’t, other more extreme left wing protesters might fill the void.
They also issued a press release denouncing a “silent” local Republican Party in the face of an event that is “supported by an alliance of racists and fascists including the Neo-Nazi Shield Wall Network.”
The Nugget attempted to contact leaders of the Lumpkin County Republican Party on multiple occasions but received no response.
MERCHANTS HOLD THEIR GROUND
Norton said he wants all involved to know that the city will be prepared for the event. And that was the reason for their August 28 release.
“The primary intent of the press release is to inform both bystanders and participants that all applicable laws would be enforced to the fullest extent of the law and bad behavior would not be tolerated,” he said.
As rumors swirled, Jarrard met with local merchants last week, encouraging them “not to let this impact their everyday life. … We’ll be there to keep the safety.”
Many merchants are taking Jarrard’s advice and plan on remaining open the day of the rally. Most have a contingency plan if things get dicey.
“We plan on staying open. I think there will be sufficient law enforcement on the square. But if it even looks like things are getting out of hand we will lock the doors,” said Micah Mihok, who owns and operates Paul Thomas Chocolates with his brother Danny.
The Humble Candle’s Julia Norton also plans to remain open for business. But, she said, “We have a contingency plan, and we are monitoring and keeping a close watch on the situation. I have an obligation to the young girls that work here—and their parents—to keep them safe. I take that seriously.”
“I’m going to treat it like a normal day,” said Angelia Wilson, owner of the Dahlonega Tasting Room. “I’ll be open at 11 a.m., and we’ll just see what happens.”
Vicki Lynn Neimer, owner of Vicki Lynn’s, will be open as usual too.
“No worries. I have a sign in the window that says I am bi-partisan,” she said. “I sell Dump Trump and Make America Great Again hats and I hope I sell a thousand of them. I’m in retail, and God knows I need the money.”
Meanwhile, Jarrard said the sheriff’s office will be ready with back-up from “local, state and federal” levels of law enforcement as needed.
“I guess it all boils down to I’m going to be as aggressive as they require me to be,” he said. “If they want to have a peaceful orderly function then they will be able to have one and we’ll keep them safe.”