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THE NATION

In New South, Racist Rally Is Not a Draw

Georgia: In Gainesville, there was little enthusiasm for a parade request from the National Alliance. At the event, police outnumbered marchers 2 to 1.

July 14, 2002|JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — If you ever meet Chester J. Doles, don't call him a racist. "White nationalist" is the term he likes.

The 42-year-old violent ex-con with the Nazi tattoos and the 10 home-schooled children drove down from the north Georgia mountains with a band of skinheads Saturday to stomp around the town square, wave flags and shout nasty things about immigrants.

"What do we want?" Doles hollered.

"Mexicans out!" the skinheads answered.

"When do we want it?" Doles yelled again.

"Now!"

"We are not your enemy!" screamed another burly man in combat fatigues.

Once upon a time, a white supremacist rally was a main event in the kudzu-covered woods of north Georgia. The area was infamous during the Jim Crow era and beyond for violent Ku Klux Klan marches and road signs--official ones, put up by the counties--warning blacks to get out of town by sunset.

These days, most hate groups have gone deep underground. And many of the once all-white communities where they were based, like Gainesville, have become home to immigrants, blacks and all sorts of diversity.

What made Saturday's hate rally unusual was that the organizers picked a very visible spot to stir up trouble.

And nobody bit.

"We were kind of hoping the cops would clear out the town square and let us go at it with the parasites," Doles said, referring to a small group of teenage counter-protesters.

But as Doles' men marched down drizzly Main Street, their Aryan flags limp with rain, their jackboots squeaky, nobody paid much attention.

Actually, there was a much bigger crowd at a nearby ham radio convention.

"We put out the word to stay away," said Greg Bautista, a Latino activist in Gainesville. "We know this group is using concerns about illegal immigration as a front for white supremacy. We didn't want to dignify them."

Doles' group, part of a larger neo-Nazi organization called the National Alliance, picked Gainesville, 50 miles north of Atlanta, because it's home to one of the highest concentrations of Latino immigrants in the South. The town of 26,000 is the self-proclaimed "poultry capital of the world," and thousands of Mexican immigrants have come here to work in the numerous chicken plants, taking minimum-wage jobs that most locals eschew.

The 2000 census found the city is 33% Latino, up fourfold since 1990. Gainesville officials say that, with undocumented immigrants, that figure is closer to 60%.

There are groceries and travel agencies owned by Mexican immigrants, a Spanish-language Bible book store, a bilingual newspaper and taquerias with pickups out front sporting Confederate flag bumper stickers.

And there are growing pains too. Some neighboring towns have passed laws prohibiting day laborers from soliciting work on street corners, a campaign seen as anti-Latino. There also are emerging gang problems, though in one recent, much-publicized street battle between two "Mexican" gangs, it turned out that the shooter was a white kid.

Gainesville, an old trading post town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, has tried to meet the surge of immigrants with more bilingual services. City officials also are pushing to institute automatic raises for police officers who learn to speak Spanish.

"I've lived here my whole life," police Capt. Jane Nichols said. "It's not like we're going downhill. These immigrants come to Gainesville to work their tails off. They're good for the community."

That's why there was zero enthusiasm when city officials received a parade request from the National Alliance, an anti-Semitic, anti-black group that believes in establishing all-white "homelands" in the U.S. The city restricted them to a one-hour, one-loop march around the town square, with its blooming crepe myrtle trees and Confederate war statue.

The Anti-Defamation League considers the National Alliance, with an estimated 1,500 members, one of the most dangerous racist organizations in the country. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh was inspired by "The Turner Diaries," a neo-Nazi book written by alliance founder William Pierce. Several leaders have been convicted of violent crimes, such as Doles, who spent five years in prison for beating a black man who was seen with a white woman. The brawny, buzz-cut Doles now lives in a fenced-off compound deep in the woods north of Gainesville with his children and wife, who's expecting her 11th child.

"We're doing our share to fight immigrant overpopulation," he said.

Deborah Lauter, director of the Anti-Defamation League's office in Atlanta, has been watching the National Alliance closely.

"These guys are pretty sick," she said. "But they're also clever. They're careful not to advocate violence outright, but they still encourage their followers to go after blacks and Jews."

On Saturday, it was difficult to take them seriously. After months of planning, there were fewer than 75 marchers; police outnumbered them 2 to 1. Many of their chants were drowned out by the sirens of squad cars trailing them.

"Hey, man, look at that," one passerby said, pointing to a National Alliance banner with its red, white and black stripes. "Funny how much it looks like the Mexican flag."

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