Here’s a quick reality check on body politics: Chester Doles is running for office.

Doles, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi National Alliance, filed papers earlier this year to run for a seat on the Board of Commissioners in Lumpkin County, which runs at the southern end of the Chattahoochee National Forest, in 2022 . This fall, he stepped up his campaign and drove a souped-up jeep in Dahlonega’s annual gold rush parade.

He has been in prison twice, marched with white nationalists in Charlottesville at the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017, and maintains contact with skinheads, neo-confederates and clansmen, despite claiming to have left white racist groups behind.

(READ MORE: White Racist Prison Guards Work With Impunity In Florida)

Still, he believes he can run as a Republican and ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump. His campaign signs read, “Stop Socialism. Save America,” a slogan adopted by US MP Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, who represents northwest Georgia.

“This is not a publicity stunt,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is not about me. It’s about the community and what’s best for the community.”

In some ways, this is the moment Doles has been waiting for. His campaign rhetoric – riddled with criticism of critical racial theory, illegal immigration and the leftist movement for social justice – bears striking similarities to the main Republican candidates in Georgia and elsewhere.

And the current political climate has allowed some checkered past candidates – even checkered gifts – to launch successful campaigns.

That month, at least seven people who attended the January 6th Trump rally won public offices in races across the country. In North Carolina, the Democrats stormed out of the State House when the Republican caucus seated its newest member, a former county commissioner who marched on the Capitol and was “gassed three times” and was at the Capitol door when it was breached, said but, he was not involved in the violence.

Jennifer Kavanagh, senior political scientist at RAND Corp. and political disinformation expert, said candidates with Doles’ background had good reason to see an opening in mainstream politics. The rapid spread of disinformation on social media, a hyperpolarized political environment and the increasing power of partisan rhetoric created fertile ground for such campaigns, she said.

“For candidates who are in the extreme wings of a party, this is an environment in which they see opportunities,” she said. “If you can wrap yourself up in the cloak of a party, you can get a pretty large base of support even if you have other factors that would previously disqualify you.”

But choosing candidates on the fringes of either party is problematic, Kavanagh said.

“If we end up electing many candidates who are far right or far left, it not only increases the risk of rapid political change or political outcomes that can have unintended negative consequences, but also makes it really difficult for actual governance,” said she.

But someone like Doles, a 61-year-old ex-inmate who couldn’t even vote until a judge restored that right to him last year, can use his underdog status to win the support of an electorate, growing political institutions and the media is suspicious of. said Kavanagh.

Doles agrees.

“Maybe my unique experience and things I shouldn’t have been a part of and extreme behavior – maybe it brings a whole different perspective,” he said. “My aim is definitely to drain the local swamp. We will replace politicians with patriots.”

Doles said his campaign message was the same one he had delivered for decades. It just wasn’t popular back then, he said.

“Then it wasn’t a household name, but what I meant was [critical race theory]. Now everyone is at home. I talked about teaching our young, formidable kids – 18, 19, who dropped out of high school – to be radical left revolutionaries on the streets, “he said.

He refers to Black Lives Matter and the sometimes violent and chaotic protests against social justice in the spring and summer of 2020.

“If it had been white nationalists who did this, we would have been in federal prison for the rest of our lives,” he said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Mayor Says Police Will Not Tolerate White Nationalists’ influence on violence.)

Still, Doles is a longshot candidate. Andrew B. Hall, professor of political science at Stanford University and co-director of the Democracy and Polarization Lab, said there wasn’t much evidence that mass voter opinion favored extreme candidates for office.

However, Hall said the lack of competition for local political office may create opportunities for more marginalized candidates to run.

“No matter what the vote is, there’s plenty of room for [extreme] Movements to seek people to gain some of these offices, “he said.

The AJC reached out to the 9th District Republican Party for comment on Doles’s candidacy. In a statement emailed, Chairwoman Rebecca Yardley said the GOP “condemns white supremacy, racism and bigotry in all its ugly forms,” ​​but declined to comment specifically on Doles because “the GOP’s 9. District does not interfere in primary elections ”.

“We are confident that Lumpkin County’s voters will make the right decision for their community,” she said.

A dangerous past

Doles is running against incumbent Commissioner Rhett Stringer, a business owner and Conservative Republican with deep community roots. Stringer said he was aware of Doles’ intentions to run, but he was reluctant to say much about him on the file.

Stringer wondered if Dole’s severe criminal convictions disqualified him from office.

“I know the election officials will do their due diligence,” he said.

Doles and another Klansman were convicted of federal charges related to beating a black man in Maryland in 1993. Doles was sentenced to seven years in prison and served four. In 2003, Doles, then a National Alliance activist, was arrested on federal firearms charges. These charges earned him an additional four years in prison.

(READ MORE: More men charged with animal killing in Georgia white supremacy camp)

In 2016, Doles was arrested for his involvement in a brawl in a bar in Dahlonega. The police report identified him as the leader of the Hammerskins, a racist skinhead gang. In this case, he was given a suspended sentence.

Doles denies the official records of these arrests and convictions, citing any misunderstanding or extenuating circumstances. Regardless, he claims to have made a clear break with his past with a “reconciliation service” in the Church of Derrick Grayson, a black preacher and three-time Republican candidate for the US Senate in Georgia. Grayson is himself a fringe political figure who uses his social media accounts to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.

There is ample evidence to refute Doles’ claims of leaving behind white supremacy activism. His social media account is full of leads, including a case where Doles passed on a message from a respected member of the Hammerskins who was trying to reach out to a member of the Klan.

“I don’t burn bridges,” Doles said as he relayed the message. “I didn’t ask her, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ Just an old friend who asked me to pass it on. I don’t see any harm in that. “

He also recently published messages from the leader of the White Nationalist League of the South, adding, “With my dearest and greatest respect.”

Earlier this month he traveled to Wildman’s, a racist memorabilia store in Kennesaw, for an interview with a German documentary about American politics and society.

While there, Doles posed with the shopkeeper and snapped a photo of a David Duke campaign sign that he later posted on his social media profile.

“I found that with Wildman,” he wrote.

Doles’ approach echoes the approach taken by former Klan leader Duke in 1991 when he ran for governor of Louisiana. Duke’s white supremacy activism was known, but as a candidate, Duke said those days were behind him.

“We all have things in our past that we regret. What I did then was juvenile indiscretion,” Duke told the Washington Post at the time.

Doles’ response is similar when asked about his time as a leader in hate groups.

“Everyone knows that I made my youthful indiscretions in life,” he said. “I wish I would miss this whole chapter in my life.”

Use anger

Doles’ propensity for politics is not new. While in prison, Doles told a Washington Post reporter that he had “withdrawn” from the Klan and cut his long hair into what is now his signature crew cut as part of a renaming with the National Alliance.

“I’m definitely following the Nazis,” Doles told the Post. “National Socialism is my religion. I believe in it and am looking for the Fourth Reich.”

This time Doles reinvents himself for this political moment, taking up already existing issues and taking them a little further in the direction of the dystopian future he sees at the door. The US collapse is “inevitable,” he said.

“I saw this coming,” he said. “We are so divided that we will never live under what the extreme left demands.”

This is the future he saw in the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

“Another reason I’m running for the district commissioner and not as ridiculous as Congress or the state Senate is because I think when this thing comes up and things go south in America with martial law and all that go, it will be your local. ” Sheriff and County Commissioners, this is going to mean something in your area, “he said.

This story first appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.