Ralliers separated by barricades Saturday afternoon in the downtown Dahlonega square shouted chants across the space usually filled with tourists to the mountain town.
“God, Family, Country, Trump” was met with “Racists, Sexists, Anti-Gay, All the Nazis Go Away” as about 250 gathered, monitored by a law enforcement presence about 600 strong and representing 36 agencies.
Chester Doles organized the rally in support of President Donald Trump but withdrew his application for a permit to rally amid growing concern of white supremacist undertones.
Dustin Penner, an Army veteran, stepped in to get the permit when he saw the “backlash because of (Doles’) past.”
Doles is 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.
“But that’s his past. Everyone has a past,” Penner said.
Counterprotesters, supported by the Socialist Coalition of North Georgia, who spoke at the event claimed the family-friendly advertisement for the rally was a “facade” in order to build a fascist movement.
Penner said he got involved because he fought for and loves this country.
“If Trump does not win this next election, there’s no telling where we’re gonna go,” he said.
Standing in the middle of the square around noon, an hour before the rally was set to start, Daniel Wayne said he wanted to “see what all the buildup was about.” Living in Dahlonega much of his life, Wayne wore a black, sleeveless shirt reading “Gun-Toting Trump Supporter” and “Make America Safe Again 2020.”
Wayne said he was in full support of the president heading in to the 2020 election.
“Can you tell me another president in the history of our presidents that has done as much for the United States in two years as far as economy, jobs, everything across the board and took any less from the country as a president has right now?” Wayne asked.
Standing along a row of mostly closed businesses was Paula Jenkins, of Dawsonville, who said she has been a Trump supporter since the beginning.
She praised the president for his strong views, listing the economy as a success for his first couple of years in office.
“I wish he could run longer,” Jenkins said.
Of the issues most pressing, Jenkins said she believes there is still work to be done on the border to “stop the illegal invasions on our soil.”
“That’s one of the biggest things is get the illegals out of our country, that way it opens up jobs and housing for people. Right now, an American to work a day-to-day job can’t afford to go rent a house because the prices are too high,” she said.
Lucretia Hughes was one of the speakers getting the pro-Trump crowd cheering.
“I did not come here to bash my police officers. I did not come here to bash the government, but I came here to hype your a--s up to understand and realize exactly what you will lose if you don’t get back to the voting booth next year,” Hughes said.
She said she felt God has been removed from many segments of society, and she called for greater respect and support for law enforcement.
Fellow speaker Jovanni Valle said the “Make America Great Again” movement was not a reformation but a restoration. Valle argued for expanded freedoms, less immigration and a completed border wall.
“Can you vote for freedom? Isn’t freedom given to you by birth in this nation? Can you vote for less gun control? Can you vote for more speech rights? No. You go out there and you do it. You go out there and you take a stand. You go out there and show your freedom,” he said.
Standing in a cordoned-off area between both groups was Andy Peabody, of Conyers, a United Methodist Church minister. Though he said his beliefs aligned closer with the counterprotesters, he said he supported everyone’s right to voice their opinion despite their disagreement.
He said he prayed for it to be a peaceful demonstration between the two groups.
“The worst thing that could happen today is somebody gets hurt. Both sides use it to justify whatever they want it to justify,” Peabody said.
Law enforcement set up checkpoints around the square, requiring participants submit to a search and patdown. A long list of items were forbidden, even water amid the sweltering summer heat.
No one was injured at the rallies, though medical help was called for a heat-related illness.
Two were arrested at 1:22 p.m. on North Park Street for inciting a riot, according to a news release from the city of Dahlonega. Earlier, University of North Georgia Police had arrested someone at 10:30 a.m., before the demonstrations began, for obstruction and possession of a weapon in a school safety zone.
On the other side of the barricades, just a few feet from the chants was Roberta Ballard-Myer, of Athens, who said she believes the president “has been bringing out the worst in our country.”
With the upcoming 2020 election, Ballard-Myer said she does not believe Republicans will stand up to Trump’s rhetoric.
“I just hope that the Democratic Party is able to get their act together — and with the 10 people standing on the stage the other night, I want them to come together and get the best possible person up there to run against him to beat him. He is destroying this country,” Ballard-Myer said. “I feel like we really need somebody in there that can undo all of this. We need somebody that’s going to bring our country together. We can’t be divided.”