In response, Bolena has bowed out of the race — but he remains defiant about his statement.
“I said I was a proud white nationalist,” he said in a 22-minute Facebook video on Saturday. “Due to the shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, I was very aggravated and very mad at the way the liberal media comes after conservatives. It comes after our Second Amendment.”
White nationalism originated as a euphemism for white supremacy “that emphasizes defining a country or region by white racial identity and which seeks to promote the interests of whites exclusively, typically at the expense of people of other backgrounds,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. In recent years, a rise of white nationalist violence has become a major concern for the FBI, The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett reported.
But Bolena, a small-business owner in Sandy Springs, Ga., argued that the public misunderstands the term — and he pointed to the president as evidence.
“I was ignorant to the idea of what the rest of the country’s idea of a white nationalist is,” he told The Washington Post on Thursday. “The president said he was a nationalist. I’m a nationalist just like him. He’s white and I’m white. Does that make us killers? Does that make us crazy?”
He added: “If you’re a white person and a nationalist, you’re all of a sudden a killer?”
Bolena’s controversy comes as the GOP has struggled to dissociate itself from white nationalism, with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) openly questioning why it is viewed as a negative term and many accusing the president of tacitly encouraging white supremacists. Although Trump has denounced the movement, he also has repeatedly labeled himself a “nationalist," including last year.
“You know, they have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist,” Trump said at an October 2018 rally in Houston. “And I say, ‘Really? We’re not supposed to use that word.’ You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”
A Pew Research Center poll in March found that 56 percent of Americans say the president has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalist groups. That month, after a mass shooting targeting Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 51 people, Trump suggested that the threat of white nationalism was “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
Although Bolena acknowledged why the public took issue with him identifying as a white nationalist after the El Paso shooting, he said the gunman was “nothing like a nationalist, nothing like a white man.” But he also claimed that he was taken out of context, and that he was “not going to run from the definition of what it means to be a nationalist.”
“When I say I’m a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist who is a white man, and they turned it and twisted it and they might as well have said I served in the KKK or in a white supremacist group,” he told The Post.
Bolena was likely a long shot in a Republican field that includes former Georgia congresswoman Karen Handel, who lost to McBath last year. Messages left for the Georgia Republican Party and the Fulton County Republican Party were not immediately returned.
Bolena, who says he has received death threats, has vowed to leave the Republican Party but continue supporting Trump under a new group he calls the Ultra Conservative Party.
“I don’t hate white people and I don’t hate black people or orange people or green people or yellow people,” Bolena said. “I don’t hate anybody. But I hate politics.”