Once the days of summer wind down and the air is tinged with the hint of fall, Dahlonega often becomes a destination for those looking to enjoy a visit to North Georgia.
But we are still two weeks away from the calendar officially recognizing autumn, the cool breezes of fall have yet to supplant the heat of summer, and the visitors expected in Dahlonega on Saturday are not likely to be the benign tourists the area routinely welcomes with open arms.
The idyllic town with the college that trains the highest caliber of soldiers finds itself preparing to be a different sort of battleground on Saturday, with likely combatants from both sides of a heated social and political arena.
When Dahlonega resident Chester Doles first proposed holding a patriotic, pro-Trump rally on Sept. 14, the idea seemed in keeping with the coming of an election year and indicative of the support the incumbent president has in much of North Georgia.
But as word spread of the organizer’s background – a former leader in the Klan, a former leader of the white supremacy Nationalist Movement, a former convict imprisoned for a violent crime against a black man – the event began to take on an uglier subtext.
The Times editorial board
- Norman Baggs, general manager
- Shannon Casas, editor in chief
- Cheryl Brown
- David George
- Mandy Harris
- Brent Hoffman
- J.C. Smith
- Tom Vivelo
Before long the Atlanta Antifa chapter was using the power of the internet to warn the world of a white supremacy rally planned for Dahlonega under the guise of supporting the president, and while Doles protested the characterization, the battle lines were drawn.
Less than a week out, indications are that a confrontation similar to those seen in other cities between extremists from both the right and left sides of the political spectrum could very well become reality in Lumpkin County on Saturday afternoon. It is a possibility that law enforcement at every level is taking seriously.
The idea that someone of Doles’ background could put together a public political event that would not draw an immediate response from what has become an increasingly aggressive political left was either ridiculously naïve or devilishly calculated.
In either case, the potential for confrontation is very real.
It’s impossible to look ahead to what might happen in Dahlonega and not think of decades of racist attitudes and civil rights protests that are sadly woven into the history of our area. We had hoped it was a reality beyond which we had moved.
Saturday’s event may not have the markings of a traditional Klan rally or white supremacy protest, but the end result may well be the same. On one side will be representatives of an ultra-conservative political right, some of whom cut their political teeth in the white supremacy movement, and on the other side will be those from the left determined to outshout those who they believe have no right to a political voice.
As we count down to Saturday’s “political rally” in Dahlonega, there are some things that need to be noted:
• Donald Trump’s name may be used as a rallying cry by supporters, but the issues now at play in this political drama have been around far longer than the incumbent president. Many staunch supporters of the president want no part of an association with what is being planned. Rep. Doug Collins, one of the president’s strongest supporters, was invited to speak at the event and made it very clear he would not be attending, saying it was organized by “known associates of hate organizations.”
• There is sadly an undercurrent of expectation by both sides that confrontation, perhaps violent confrontation, is not only expected but anxiously anticipated. How else to explain some of the “us vs. them” rhetoric on social media and the webpages of various organizations on both sides.
• None of what is expected to happen has anything to do with the vast majority of North Georgia residents. Whether they be Republicans or Democrats, most residents of our area are appalled by the idea of violently confrontational politics, “bring a gun” mentalities, and “you have no right to say that” limits on freedom of speech.
In a perfect world, nothing would happen in Dahlonega on Saturday. The crowds would be sparse, the demonstrations peaceful, the law enforcement presence overwhelming and problems few. But in recent months we’ve seen the political right and left clash on city streets from one side of the country to the other, making it hard to expect a perfect world outcome.
There is no place in our country for the politics of white supremacy, regardless of how it might be disguised. There is no place for political intolerance, especially when it rises to the level of violent confrontation.
We have sadly entered an era of in-your-face politics that makes a thoughtful, intelligent exchange of ideas and perspectives virtually impossible. We cannot really be surprised that such an approach to political discourse has resulted in violence in the streets on more than one occasion. We can only hope that such is not the end result in Dahlonega on Saturday.
How can you help to make it an uneventful day in Dahlonega? Stay away. Don’t be drawn to town by the spectacle. Don’t give those looking for attention the one thing they value most. Don’t make the task of law enforcement more difficult by adding to the crowd. Don’t feed the national media’s thirst for a story that will paint our area as something different from what it is.
Dahlonega is a beautiful place to visit when the leaves begin to turn and the morning air has the feel of the season’s change. But Saturday isn’t when anyone needs to be there.