Smiling and sporting a dark green cap with an American flag, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) posed side by side with a former Ku Klux Klan leader at a Friday campaign event in Dawsonville, Ga.

But after the viral photo with Chester Doles drew intense criticism amid a crucial Senate runoff campaign, the senator is distancing herself from any association with the longtime white supremacist. A campaign spokesman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday that Loeffler was unaware she was posing with a man who spent decades in the KKK and the neo-Nazi National Alliance.

“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, Loeffler’s campaign spokesman, told the Journal-Constitution in a statement Sunday.

Lawson did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment early Monday.

Loeffler’s photo with Doles is the latest inflammatory moment in a tight race against her Democratic rival, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. The senator is attempting to help Republicans keep control of the Senate in one of two runoff elections on Jan. 5 in a state that went for President-elect Joe Biden, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992.

Doles, who claimed to the Associated Press on Sunday to have “publicly renounced racism” in recent years, did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.

Doles’s long history of white supremacism has been well documented. In 1993, Doles was sentenced to prison for beating a Black man at a stoplight in Maryland, and he was sentenced again on separate weapons violations in Georgia.

In a 1998 jailhouse interview with The Post, Doles, with tattoos on his hands of a swastika and the words, “WHITE POWER,” said he was one of five generations of family members to belong to the KKK.

“I definitely follow the Nazis. National Socialism is my religion,” Doles told The Post in 1998. “I believe in it and I look for the Fourth Reich.”

Doles had also followed the National Alliance, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed for decades to be the “most dangerous and best organized Neo-Nazi” group in the United States, and he has been tied to the Hammerskins, a white supremacist group founded in the 1980s in Dallas. He marched with the group in the 2017 Unite the Right rally, the deadly white-supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville.

A personal trainer who founded a far-right militia group supporting President Trump, Doles has tried to associate himself with other Republican candidates. Earlier this year, Republican Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene had Doles escorted out of a September rally that Loeffler briefly attended, the Journal-Constitution reported. According to the Journal-Constitution, Doles has uploaded other pictures with Republican politicians, including Greene.

A spokesman for Loeffler told the local paper in September that the senator was unaware of Doles or the controversy surrounding his attendance at that event.

The picture with Loeffler was posted Friday to Doles’s account on VK, a Russian social media platform, with a caption reading, “Kelly [Loeffler] and I. Save America, stop Socialism!″

On Sunday, Warnock, Loeffler’s opponent, said he was not convinced by her campaign’s claims that she was unaware of Doles’s past, noting she had also attended the September event where he was removed.

“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,” campaign spokesman Michael Brewer said. “There’s no acceptable explanation for it happening once, let alone a second time.”