Updated: The sole black Republican Party district chairman in Arizona resigned from his post in the wake of Saturday's shooting, citing threats from the Tea Party faction and concerns for his family's safety, The Arizona Republic first reported.
Republican District 20 Chairman Anthony Miller was not the only party official to resign following the shooting that killed six and wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and a federal judge. But Miller had been an especially dedicated campaigner for the GOP, and said he only stepped down in the face of "constant verbal attacks" and other forms of intimidation.
"I wasn't going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday," he said. "I love the Republican Party but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone."
Miller, 43, told HuffPost he decided to resign after his wife expressed concern for their safety. Miller had been the target of heavy criticism from Arizona Tea Partyers, in part because he worked on Sen. John McCain's campaign last fall. (The Tea Partyers favored McCain's opponent, J.D. Hayworth.)
But the attacks also took on a racial hue. One critic referred to him derogatorily as "McCain's boy," Miller said. Other language was even less ambiguous. At an event in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Miller said someone called out, "There's Anthony, get a rope."
Yet Miller balks at crying racism.
"To say that anyone has been racially motivated, I can't really draw a conclusion," he said. "But a lot of people told me 'You're not a conservative, you're a RINO.' In my mind, that's just as bad as being called a n-----, honestly. When you call someone a n-----, it's saying they're less than, and RINO is the same thing."
Newly-elected district Secretary Sophia Johnson, First Vice Chairman Roger Dickinson, and former district spokesman Jeff Kolb are also stepping down, according to the Republic, although Dickinson contested the claim that they are all going willingly.
"I did not resign from my position," Dickinson told HuffPost in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "The articles in the paper are incorrect ... Sophia Johnson did resign, but not for the reason that's quoted in The Arizona Republic."
Dickinson, whose move last year made him ineligible to retain his leadership post, said he will continue to serve the Arizona Republican Party in the voluntary position of precinct committee person.
Kolb told HuffPost he was, in fact, resigning, but that it wasn't out of fear -- he was following Miller's lead. "For me personally, it's not a fear for my personal safety, it just had to do with the tone and tenor within the organization," said Kolb, who was appointed to the volunteer position by Miller a year ago.
The party became fractured between Miller supporters and a "small but vocal group" of detractors who frequently targeted Miller in emails, Kolb said.
Tension between the two factions had been growing since early December, but Kolb said he and other Miller appointees made the final decision to resign this weekend. When Miller decided to step down, Kolb said, he knew he would be removed from the post if he did not step down himself. He officially resigned on Monday.
"I've never understood why they had this hatred for him," Kolb said of Miller's opponents. "I guess there were some people who thought that since he'd worked for McCain he wasn't conservative enough. But if your goal is to get Republicans elected, then being bogged down in a bunch of fighting about who is conservative enough is not an effective way to do that."
Miller signaled on Wednesday he feared the polarization he'd experienced in Arizona state politics would extend beyond incendiary rhetoric.
"We don't have to agree but we have to respect each other," said Miller of his fellow Republicans. "I just saw that respect chipping away, and when you lose that respect, that's where violence occurs."