TROY, N.H. — The calls to Town Hall started last Wednesday evening, as tear gas and shock had barely settled from a violent siege on the nation’s Capitol, some 450 miles away.
What about the police chief?
Word had spread that local Police Chief David Ellis Jr. — a vocal, unabashed Trump supporter — attended the rally, which evolved into the most serious domestic attack on the US government in modern history. People weren’t happy.
Angry callers, many with out-of-state area codes, had read online an Ellis interview from the event and the complaints grew more incessant the following day, enough that town employees struggled to get their work done. Then came the threats, which worried town officials and prompted them to lock the doors of the historic Town Hall.
This week, Town Hall remains on lockdown, a State Police review of the threats is underway, and the police chief is at home under quarantine due to his out-of-state travel while officials deal with a public relations nightmare and wrestle with what to do, if anything. The response underscores the extensive, unyielding support for President Trump, even after a mob of supporters attacked the Capitol as lawmakers met to affirm the election of the next president.
While attendance at last week’s rally has resulted in lost jobs, lost business, and difficult conversations elsewhere in the country, here in tiny Troy — where Trump carried the last election and the state slogan of “Live Free or Die” evokes a certain dedication to independence — some residents have been reluctant to criticize the chief’s presence at the rally.
“He’s got his First Amendment rights,” said Richard Thackston, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who said he doesn’t believe he has the legal authority to dictate Ellis’s personal political activity.
In the days since the insurrection tested the very fabric of democracy, the reverberations have been felt across the country, from the highest reaches of government all the way to this town of 2,100 at the foot of Mount Monadnock.
“I don’t even know if people knew Troy, New Hampshire, existed before this,” said Tammy Nagle, pulling on a cigarette on her front porch on Wednesday, bundled against the morning chill.
Ellis has said to reporters that he took no part in the violent mob that breached the Capitol building. Still, the association of a town official — let alone its law enforcement leader — with an episode that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, has sparked a local maelstrom.
New Hampshire state Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley has called for Ellis’s firing, though local officials have said such a move isn’t currently on the town’s agenda. Meanwhile, State Police are examining e-mails and voicemails left with Town Hall employees.
“People just need to grow the hell up — excuse my language — and deal with it,” said resident April Beauchamp, 35, of the animosity aimed at the town. “It’s stupid. Why are you threatening our town?”
Ellis, who has previously made his support for Trump well known, couldn’t be reached for comment this week. His attendance at the rally came to light after he was quoted in an online story last week in Washington, D.C., denouncing the violence and calling the rioters’ treatment of law enforcement at the Capitol “ridiculous.”
“There’s a lot of Trump supporters that are awesome people,” he told New York magazine’s Intelligencer. “Like me.”
Across the country in recent days, reports have mounted of off-duty law enforcement officials found to have attended the rally and, in some cases, breached the Capitol. The violence muddied political identities, with a typically pro-police contingent assaulting officers.
“We’re talking about violent events here,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “It’s not just a meeting of a political party discussing some economic issue. If I see a police officer or police chief in my jurisdiction participating in this, I feel very uncomfortable, whether I’m on the Democratic or Republican side.”
Many departments explicitly ban officers from participating in a political rally, Haberfeld noted.
For those in Troy — where the population is roughly 97 percent white — the external backlash has resulted in some residents circling the wagons.
Working from his garage, one local business owner lamented that the chief should be able to attend a protest on his own time without inviting scorn.
“Isn’t that what this country’s about — the ability to go voice your opinion in your free time, respectfully?” said the man, who asked that only his first name, Todd, be used for fear of retribution.
On Wednesday afternoon, a woman heading into the town’s market seemed surprised to be asked about the local controversy.
“The police chief is my husband,” she said.
While imploring those who don’t know her husband to “mind their own business,” Lynn Cullen-Ellis said that he had no idea that the rally — which Trump promoted in protest of Joe Biden’s election victory — would devolve into violence.
“This was the last thing he expected,” she said. “We’ve been to two rallies, and there’s never been an issue.”
In 2016, Cullen-Ellis said, as she and her husband were grieving the overdose death of their 28-year-old daughter, Trump’s campaign reached out and invited the couple to a rally in Laconia. Trump shook their hands and spoke with them about their daughter, she said. The experience helped cement the couple’s support for the then-candidate.
Even in this hamlet devoid of big-city problems, David Ellis has managed to attract controversy.
In a bizarre episode in 2007, a Troy resident who claimed to have been harassed by local police drove a bulldozer through the front of the police station. No one was injured, and at the time, officials said it didn’t appear the man was targeting any specific officer, according to local media reports. But a state trooper claimed he’d heard the perpetrator say shortly after the incident, “Maybe now Dave Ellis . . . will listen.”
Last month, Cheshire County District Attorney Chris McLaughlin was forced to call Ellis after he learned that the chief had hung Trump campaign material inside the police department — a violation of a state statute that prohibits the use of public property for electioneering.
“[I] called up the chief to ask about it, and it’s my understanding he took them down,” McLaughlin said.
As of this week, meanwhile, Trump-related controversy had yet to die down.
The front doors of the Town Hall remained locked to all visitors except those with an appointment. At the nearby police station, a reporter was directed to the local Select Board.
Not far from the station entrance, a scarecrow stood guard, slumped against the building’s side wall. It wore a red sweatshirt bearing a single message:
John Ellement and Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.