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‘I’m a white civil rights activist’: Former KKK leader running for office in North Georgia

Chester Doles is a two-time convicted felon vying for a seat on the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners.
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 7:05 PM EST
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LUMPKIN COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) - A former leader of the Ku Klux Klan – who also spent time in prison – is running for public office in North Georgia. Chester Doles says he’s a changed man.

In most cases, convicted felons cannot hold office in Georgia. So, how did Doles get on the ballot?

According to Georgia code, felons can hold elected office in Georgia if they get their civil rights restored and if at least 10 years have passed from the time they completed their sentence.

Doles was released from federal prison on firearms charges in 2007 – meaning that he has passed that 10 year threshold. Before that, he was sent to prison for beating a black man in Maryland.

As far as getting his civil rights restored, that’s the question CBS46 Investigates has been asking officials all day. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles don’t have a record of Doles getting his rights restored. Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners also don’t have documents related to Doles having his rights restored.

An hour before our story went on air, Doles told CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky that he now has to contact the Secretary of State’s Office to get a status on his campaign.

A former leader of the Ku Klux Klan – who also spent time in prison – is running for public...
A former leader of the Ku Klux Klan – who also spent time in prison – is running for public office in North Georgia.(Chester Doles)

“This sick insane culture of wokeness is destroying America. These people want us gone. We American patriots are the new most endangered species,” 61-year-old Chester Doles said to a small crowd on the campaign trail.

Doles is running as a Republican for a seat on the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners. He carries signs that read “Stop Socialism. Save America.” It’s a slogan borrowed from Georgia’s controversial Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who Doles also supports.

“My main policy would be the guardian of the educational system of Lumpkin County, to keep out Critical Race Theory,” Doles said. “It’s Marxist. It’s trying to put a sense of white guilt into young white children. It needs to be abolished.”

When we asked Doles about his criminal record, he compared himself to civil rights activists.

“If you look at Hosea Williams, he was on the City Council, he was arrested 168 times. Congressman John Lewis, he was arrested 68 times, so that’s not a reason to disqualify someone,” Doles said. “Don’t matter if you’re out there for the civil rights movement, than I’m a white civil rights activist then.”

This is not the first time Doles is front and center. The former leader of the Ku Klux Klan is quoted and pictured in multiple newspaper clippings from the early 1990s. Today, he tells Polansky that he’s a changed man.

Chester Doles is quoted and pictured in multiple newspaper clippings from the early 1990s.
Chester Doles is quoted and pictured in multiple newspaper clippings from the early 1990s.(Newspapers.com)

“Do you publicly denounce racism?” Polansky asked. “I do publicly denounce racism, yes ma’am,” Doles responded.

“Do you publicly denounce anti-Semitism?” Polansky asked. “Absolutely,” Doles said.

“Why do you think you can win?” Polansky asked. “I think I can win because there’s enough grass roots movement here in Georgia,” Doles said.

In that aspect, he could be right. Last election day, at least seven people who were at the January 6 rally for President Donald Trump -- won public office in races around the country.

“The atmosphere is helping such candidates to reach such a level that they would not have reached before,” said Dr. Tammy Greer, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University.

Greer went on to say that the divisive political climate has created the perfect environment for candidates with checkered backgrounds to see an opportunity in politics.

“There are minimum qualifications to become a candidate in this country. Yet if you want to be a teacher, you have to have certification. To be an attorney, you have to go through a process. But when it comes to running for elected office, to say ‘I have zero experience, please elect me,’ because I am the best person to handle millions of dollars in a budget, to oversee policy that takes care of hundreds of thousands of people, I find it odd that we don’t request more for those seeking political office,” Greer added.

As CBS46 investigates has previously uncovered, most candidates in Georgia do not undergo background checks. According to Georgia code, felons can hold elected office in Georgia if they get their civil rights restored or if at least ten years have passed from the time they completed their sentence, without a subsequent conviction of another felony.

Doles will most likely be running against incumbent commissioner Rhett Stringer – who we spoke with on Wednesday. He said he’s planning to qualify to run for re-election later this week.

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