A Georgia politician is receiving backlash for happily posing with a prominent far-right figure associated with white supremacist groups.
According to Atlanta Journal Constitution, Rep. Matt Gurtler is a Georgia state representative running for Congress. The Republican took a picture with Chester Doles, a Georgia man with deep-rooted ties to white supremacist groups, including the National Alliance and Hammerskins, a racist skinhead gang. The photograph was taken earlier this year at a meeting for American Patriots USA, a group founded by Doles last year as an effort to connect with more mainstream conservatives in the region. Doles posed with other candidates running for office in Georgia, however, Gurtler was the most high profile.
The picture has circulated around the Internet for weeks with left-wing and anti-racist groups in Atlanta calling it out. Now, Gurtler has been slammed by a rival Republican, State Rep. Kevin Tanner, who’s also vying for the 9th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. and GOP Senate candidate Doug Collins.
“As a Christian, I’m repulsed by bigotry and hatred in all forms, and racism has no place in our state or in the 9th District,” said Tanner. “North Georgians are decent, faithful and hard-working people. They deserve elected leaders who reflect that, not those who would embarrass us with their poor judgment.”
Gurtler didn’t comment on the photo, but he did send an email to AJC saying “context is straightforward.”
“I was asked by a voter to speak to a pro-gun, conservative group that supports President Trump. There was a group picture with all the candidates and speakers,” he continued.
Doles has spent the majority of his life with white supremacist groups, boasting about his Ku Klux Klan heritage and protesting at various courthouse steps on behalf of the National Alliance. He was also involved in the violent Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which brought together hundreds of right-wing extremists.
Doles now says that he’s broken away from white supremacists now that he’s started American Patriots USA and he argues that his new group is not racist. Dole’s new group has endorsed an ethnically diverse slate of candidates for a variety of federal and state offices, according to AJC.
“It’s an organization dedicated to the Constitution and the re-election of Donald Trump and preparing for life after Trump,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a previous interview.
Doles has still been banned from Facebook causing him to promote his group primarily on VK, a Russian social media platform that has become a space for American white nationalists banned by domestic social media.
Author Vegas Tenold, who wrote the book about America’s far-right, “Everything You Love Will Burn,” doesn’t believe in Doles’ transformation.
“He’s been not only in the Hammerskins, but a leader in National Alliance as well,” Tenold told AJC. “So, he’s been a leader in two of the most hard-core white supremacists groups, not only in America, but the world. It just seems like a big change.”