Tennessee congressional candidate threatened after calling Grundy County a 'hotbed of white supremacy'

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NASHVILLE - A candidate running in Tennessee's 4th Congressional District Democratic primary says he was the target of a death threat after calling Grundy County a "hotbed of white supremacy" following a July 4th parade at which Confederate battle flags were flown.

In his July 5 tweet after the Independence Day event in Tracy City, Tennessee, Chris Hale tweeted that Grundy is "one of the poorest areas in the nation. It's also sadly a hotbed of white supremacy."

Hale also called the Confederate flag "traitorous and racist to the gospel of Jesus Christ" in a subsequent tweet that same day and stated that "to my fellow Tennesseans who don't believe that truth today, I'll work like hell to convince you of it by November 3. This isn't about left versus right, but right versus wrong."

The candidate, who is from Murfreesboro, returned to Grundy on Sunday to campaign. He later included on his Twitter account an embedded social media post from his Facebook page. It came from a man identifying himself as Patrick Fuller and read, "you can't say what you said and then want to come back and try to make it right- thats [sic] not going to work-anyone in this county that heard your words will not be there for you-you might as well just go on down the road-Me personally want to put a bullet in your head and I just might."

Hale wrote in his tweeted response that "when you stand up to the Confederate flag, expect people to threaten to put a bullet in you. I won't be intimidated. I won't back down. I'm going to win this election."

Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum told the Times Free Press Tuesday that his office investigated the incident after Hale's campaign contacted his office.

"We spoke to our district attorney's office and gave the information to them. I spoke to Mr. Hale and at this point Mr. Hale is not interested in pursuing any charges," Shrum said. "He's not interested, I think, in making it any more difficult for Mr. Fuller than it already is."

Shrum said the post "had even been deleted from Facebook, and I think Mr. Fuller tried to go back on with some type of explanation." The sheriff said he spoke "at length" with Hale on Monday and "he wasn't concerned about it, understood that people were upset and he just wasn't interested in pursuing it."

Hale said in a Tuesday night interview that he indeed prefers no charges be filed. Fuller, he added, "does not represent the vast majority of folks in Grundy County," adding the "vast majority of people in Grundy County are honest and decent folks."

He said that while a number of residents disagreed with him on his criticism of the Confederate flag, "they did it in a civilized way. I think it's totally unfair to say that this individual represents Grundy County."

Hale, who recently came under fire for one of his own tweets, said his preference is to "talk about the issues that are really pertinent to Tennessee." A Catholic who describes himself as "pro-life," Hale said he is "running in a way of having a new brand of southern populism" and emphasizing issues such as health care expansion and bringing a "really high level of class consciousness. We can't put workers at the bottom any more."

Before his return to Grundy on Sunday, there were rumors on social media that Hale planned to come with members of the Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa, a loosely organized anti-fascist activist movement. Hale said that was untrue.

Hale is seeking Democrats' nomination in the Aug. 6 primary to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Hale faces Noelle Bivens, also of Murfreesboro, in the Democratic primary.

DesJarlais faces opposition in the Republican primary from Doug Meyer and Randy A. Sharp. Hale has been sharply critical of DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician first elected in 2010, over the Republican's well-publicized past.

Court documents revealed that years before his seeking office, DesJarlais supported his then-wife's decision to have two abortions and subsequently pressured a patient he'd dated to seek an abortion. DesJarlais disputed the woman was actually pregnant and said he was trying to get her to acknowledge she wasn't.

Following his second successful election in 2012, DesJarlais told a conservative talk show host that God has "forgiven me" and asked "fellow Christians" and constituents "to consider doing the same."

Hale in 2018 unsuccessfully sought Democrats' 4th Congressional 2018 nomination and later lost a bid to replace Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini in a three-person contest.

Besides Grundy and Rutherford counties, the sprawling 4th Congressional district includes Bledsoe, Franklin, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Meigs, Moore, Rhea, Sequatchie and Warren. It also contains much of Bradley, Maury and Van Buren counties.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.