Kelly Loeffler’s campaign has denied that the senator was aware she took appeared in a picture with a former Ku Klux Klan member at a rally ahead of the Georgia run-off after the image surfaced online.
The Georgia senator faced backlash last week after she was pictured in a selfie with Chester Doles, a long-time white supremacist who spent decades in the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi National Alliance.
After the photograph surfaced online, Sen Loeffler’s campaign condemned Doles’ beliefs and stipulated that she was not aware of the man’s identity when she posed for the photograph.
“Kelly had no idea who that was, and if she had she would have kicked him out immediately because we condemn in the most vociferous terms everything that he stands for,” Stephen Lawson, Sen Loeffler’s campaign spokesman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday.
Doles posted the photo, taken on Friday at a campaign event in Dawsonville, Georgia, on a Russian social networking site named VK, after which it quickly went viral on Twitter.
“ALERT: Kelly Loeffler just posed for a photo with Chester Doles, a former KKK leader who runs the white supremacist American Patriots USA,” Bend the Arc, a Jewish activist group tweeted.
“This is who @KLoeffler is proudly appealing to.”
Doles, who is associated with a racist skinhead gang called the Hammerskins, was sentenced to prison for the 1993 beating of a Black man in Maryland and again on weapons violations in Georgia, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
There has been no evidence that Sen Loeffler was seeking Doles’ support or that he was aware of who he was prior to the photograph.
While Doles claims he has renounced racism amid attempts to insert himself into Republican politics, he has maintained ties within the white supremacist movement.
Doles told the Associated Press on Sunday that he had “publicly renounced racism on several occasions in the past couple of years.”
The controversy comes as Sen Loeffler is set to battle Rev Raphael Warnock in one of two January run-off’s in Georgia which will determine which party controls the Senate.
Rev Warnock released a statement on Sunday expressing skepticism at Sen Loeffler’s campaign's response, referring to the attendance of Doles at a rally for Rep-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene in September which the senator is also reported to have briefly attended.
“While Kelly Loeffler runs a campaign based on dividing and misleading Georgians, she is once again trying to distance herself from someone who is a known white supremacist and former KKK leader who nearly beat a Black man to death,” Rev Warnock’s campaign spokesman Michael Brewer said, The Washington Post reported.
“There’s no acceptable explanation for it happening once, let alone a second time.”
At the rally earlier this year, Republican Rep-elect Greene, who is known for her controversial right-wing views, had Doles escorted out of the event, according to The Journal-Constitution.
A spokesman for Loeffler told the newspaper at the time that the senator was unaware of Doles or the controversy surrounding his attendance at the event.
The runoff elections for the two Senate seats are slated to take place in Georgia on 5 January, but early in-person voting, which could be vital in the race, began on Monday.
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