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Black candidate in Charlottesville reportedly dropped campaign after receiving racially motivated threats

When a man rammed his car into protesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, local and national faith leaders criticized the response from law enforcement. One of those faith leaders was Don Gathers, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, who called the police response "reprehensible" and an "embarrassment."

Gathers, emboldened to help his community heal and move toward unification, decided to run for the Charlottesville city council in 2019. Gathers and fellow community organizer Michael Payne put out a press release on January 7 announcing their plans, WVIR reported

But just one day later, Gathers announced he was postponing his campaign. 

On January 8 — the day the campaign kick-off was scheduled — Gathers said that after experiencing a heart attack a few months prior he learned of "recurring issues" with his health, and needed to pause to address these issues first. "I'm not going away. I just need to refocus, rededicate and take care of the temple the Lord blessed me with," the 59-year-old said, according to local publication The Daily Progress.

Payne, 26, continued his campaign without his running mate. Gathers never re-entered the race. He also resigned from his position with the Charlottesville Civilian Police Review Board.

Since then, the June 11 election has come and gone and an investigation from the Justice Department is providing some insight as to why Gathers may have stayed out of the race.

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Don Gathers, seen in a video for his former running mate Michael Payne's campaign site. Gathers initially said he postponed his campaign for health reasons, but he never re-entered the race. Gathers was the subject of racially motivated threats, according to local reports. Facebook/Michael Payne for City Council

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced a Florida man had been arrested for making "racially-motivated threats against a prospective candidate that interfered with a local election for City Council in Charlottesville, Virginia."

31-year-old Daniel McMahon has been charged with willful interference with a candidate for elective office, bias-motivated interference with a candidate for elective office, threats to injure in interstate commerce, and cyberstalking.

An indictment that was unsealed after McMahon's arrest reveals he allegedly threatened a candidate identified only as "D.G." According to the Justice Department statement, McMahon "threatened D.G. with physical harm because of D.G.'s race and because D.G. was campaigning for elected office." 

The indictment also alleges McMahon's threats were made with the intent to injure and intimidate D.G., and that D.G. began to fear death and serious bodily injury. 

Although "D.G." is not fully identified in the complaint, local publications, including The Daily Progress, report McMahon's racially-motivated threats were made against Don Gathers, the black activist who ended up dropping his bid for city council. It appears Gathers never re-entered the race because he feared for his life.

Gathers endorsed his former running mate in May, and Payne and two other Democrats ended up winning nominations in the election, the Daily Progress reports. CBS News has reached out to Gathers for further information.

The case is being investigated by the FBI. If convicted, McMahon could face up to five years in prison for cyberstalking and transmitting threats in interstate commerce, as well as one year in prison for threatening D.G. because of his race and because he was campaigning for elected office, according to the Justice Department's press release.

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