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some text Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader talks to a resident during an Aug. 7, 2017, hearing at the Chattooga County Civic Center in Summerville, Georgia.

Four elected officials in Chattooga County, Georgia, including Sheriff Mark Schrader, have left the county's Democratic Party after online threats against the sheriff and his deputies in the wake of a recent white supremacist rally in Dahlonega.

Schrader sent deputies to the Sept. 14 rally, billed by organizers as showing support for President Donald Trump, to help keep the peace. When he thanked his deputies on Facebook for their efforts, a number of people left comments sharply criticizing Shrader for sending deputies in the first place.

Schrader said some of the comments were taken as threats. Only a few of them, he said, were from local people.

After the backlash to his post, Schrader deleted it. He then became the fourth Chattooga elected official to cut ties with the Democratic Party last week.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that more than 100 police officers, many in riot gear, were in Dahlonega's town square during the rally. There were about 50 activists and perhaps twice that many counter-protesters, the paper reported.

Various news outlets reported between 500 and 600 law enforcement officers from various agencies were present in the Lumpkin County town.

Shared concerns

In a letter addressed to Brandon Gurley, chairman of the Chattooga County Democratic Party, Schrader wrote on Sept. 16 that he has felt the party's interests, especially on the state and national level, "have continued to rapidly go in a direction that doesn't align with the beliefs that my wife and I share."

"I must admit that the comments and threats that you and I spoke about (sic) this past weekend, although only one or two were local, have made me think more deeply on the things that I have been contemplating for some time," he wrote.

Chattooga County Chief Magistrate Judge Tracy Maddux was the first to officially leave the party.

Maddux said Friday that he has become more and more conservative the older he gets.

He had been considering leaving the Democratic party for some time, but "the straw that broke the camel's back" was how some people in the local Democratic Party responded to Schrader sending deputies to the rally, he said.

Maddux said the response from certain people pushed him over the edge.

Chattooga County Clerk of Court Kim Windle James, who also left the party, said in an email that the response to Schrader's post was the tipping point.

"I read Sheriff Schrader's Facebook post and took it to mean he was there to keep peace during the rally," James said in an email. "This was a personal decision and it doesn't affect my job performance. I will always serve Chattooga County to the best of my ability without favoritism to any party."

James said the response to Schrader's post should have never escalated to the point of "threatening the Sheriff, officers or their families."

Chattooga County Tax Commissioner Joy Hampton also left the party this week.

'The way the country is going'

Chairman Gurley said he started to hear that certain members were going to leave the Democratic party a year ago. After the rally, those who have left told him that they didn't feel like they received the support they thought they would get from their local party.

"We hate to lose them, but national politics are leaning more Republican, and they did what they felt like they had to do to salvage their jobs," Gurley said. "It's the way the country is going, and you don't really expect it to trickle down to small communities. It was a decision they felt like they had to make for themselves."

Gurley added that he was disappointed but not surprised about the four leaving the party, and that the party is trying to take a positive approach as it gears up for the 2020 election.

The departures leave only three registered Democrats in elected positions in Chattooga County — County Coroner Earle Rainwater, school board member Eddie Elsberry and probate judge Jon Payne.

Gurley said Payne is expected to retire next year.

Maddux said Chattooga County Democrats have always leaned on the more conservative side, especially compared to the party on a national scale.

He said he hasn't decided if he'll run as a Republican or an independent in 2020, but that if he runs as a Republican and loses because of that "then I don't need this job."

"Changing the letter in front of my name does not change how I've done my job for 22 years or change who I am," Maddux said. "Sometimes you have to take a stand and own it."

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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