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How Dahlonega businesses are responding to planned rally, counterprotest
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People walk past Dahlonega General Store during Dahlonega's Old Fashioned Christmas on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

With different groups planning to rally near downtown Dahlonega Saturday, Sept. 14, business owners and managers are facing a decision: stay open or shut down.

The event has been described as a patriotic show of support for President Trump by organizers while opponents say it is a white supremacist rally.

Mayor Sam Norton and Julia Norton, who also run the Picnic Cafe and Dessertery, announced the eatery will not be open on the day of the rally.

“Family values and a sense of community are what most businesses on the Square are about here in Dahlonega. We will close Saturday, Sept. 14, and encourage others to be home with their family. We will reopen the day after these disruptive protests and counter protests,” according to a statement posted on social media.

On Aug. 2, the city of Dahlonega first received a notice of intent to rally Sept. 14 at the welcome center by a group called “Conservative Citizens of Lumpkin County.”

The organizer is Chester Doles, a north Georgia resident. He’s a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and was an organizer for the National Alliance, a mostly defunct white supremacist group with deeply anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant beliefs.

A week after the notice was filed it was withdrawn and a similar notice was filed by a different Lumpkin County resident.

“No information about the purpose of the event was provided in the notice, but the applicant described his intent as being ‘a rally for the President’ in conversation with the city marshal,” according to the city’s statement.

Fliers for the event shared on social media prominently feature smiling pictures of Trump.

Doles expressed interest in advertising a Trump-focused event in The Times and its sister publications, the Forsyth County News and Dawson County News, and made a down payment toward doing so. As details about the event and its organizer emerged, the advertising was declined and the money returned.

“We have no problem with anyone showing their support for the president, but it became clear the event in Dahlonega had undertones of other things. We didn’t want to be responsible for encouraging anyone to attend a supposedly “family event,” that was in fact something much different,” said Norman Baggs, general manager of the group.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, is listed as an “invited” speaker at the event. But Collins said in a statement last week that he will not attend. He says “white supremacy and white nationalism have no place in our country.”

The Socialist Coalition of North Georgia has announced its intention to hold a counter-rally the same day.

An organizer for the Atlanta Antifascists wrote in a news release the group was not planning a separate event on Saturday but that its members support the rally by the Socialist Coalition of North Georgia.

“Protesting white supremacists and Klansmen is a long-running tradition in the South, and one we fully endorse,” according to the Atlanta Antifascists message.

Jeremy Sharp of the Dahlonega Walking Tours said he intended to stay closed on Saturday, adding he believes other businesses will likely follow the Nortons’ example.

Capers on the Square front-of-house manager Noah Johnson, however, said the restaurant is planning to keep its regular hours. 

In Dahlonega, September, October and November are some of the busiest months for tourism.

“We didn’t want our employees to lose hours, and we didn’t want our regulars to basically not have anywhere to go. There are a lot of businesses … that are closing down. But we’re a very inviting and equality-based restaurant, so we just wanted to represent our values and not have a group shut us down like that,” Johnson said.

Fudge Factory owner Tony Owens said the candy company will open at 4 p.m. after the event is over. The chocolate purveyors usually open at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, according to their website.

Owens said the reasoning was “out of an abundance of caution” in terms of getting to the store when there are large crowds expected.

In a campus-wide release, the University of North Georgia said it “encourages the free exchange of ideas and respects the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly,” but the school acknowledged the city of Dahlonega’s statement regarding “credible safety concerns.”

“The safety and well-being of every member of the university community are our top priority.  Public safety representatives from the city of Dahlonega Marshal’s Office, Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office, and UNG Police are working together to coordinate safety and emergency preparedness efforts, with UNG serving in a support capacity for the event. Due to safety concerns associated with this event and its proximity to our Dahlonega campus, some campus events scheduled for that day have been rescheduled or moved.  We recommend that members of the university community consider avoiding the rally and the downtown area during that time,” according to the campus statement.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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