MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry published a dramatic story about a man who, she says, may have wanted to kill her as she watched caucus returns in a hotel lobby full of people.
Harris-Perry’s account is full of dramatic writing intended to suggest she was lucky to escape from the encounter unharmed. It opens, “I don’t know if he was there to kill me”:
I don’t know if he was there to kill me.
Monday night I was sitting in a hotel lobby in downtown Des Moines with my back to a wall of windows, my eyes fixed on the TV, my attention wholly focused on early caucus results. I didn’t notice until he was standing right next to me, much closer than is ordinary or comfortable. When he started he speaking it was like he was picking up in the middle of sentence, finishing a conversation we had begun earlier, but I couldn’t remember ever meeting him.
What follows is a brief exchange with a man who seems to not be a fan of her work. He asks, “What I want to know is how you got credentialed to be on MSNBC.” At this point, Melissa Harris-Perry begins to believe he means her physical harm:
“I just want you to know why I am doing this.”
Oh – there is a this. He is going to do a this. To me. And he is going to tell me why.
There is no evidence in the story the man intended her any harm. He was, after all, in a public place surrounded by witnesses. The “this” may just have been what had already happened, i.e. walking up to her and expressing his dissatisfaction with her show. Based on Harris-Perry’s own description, the man in question never even tries to touch her.
I freeze. Not even me – the girl in me. The one who was held down by an adult neighbor and as he raped her. The one who listened as he explained why he was doing this. She freezes.
Again, the man never touched her. An awkward, verbal exchange in a crowded hotel lobby seems a long way from rape. But Harris-Perry isn’t done:
I freeze. He speaks. And moves closer. Is there a knife under the coat? A gun? Worse? And I can’t hear all the words. But I catch “Nazi Germany” and I catch “rise to power.” But I can’t move. I am lulled by a familiar powerlessness, muteness, that comes powerfully and unexpectedly. It grips me. Everything is falling away.
There’s really no context for these quotes. How did the conversation get from “I just want you to know why I am doing this” to Nazi Germany? We’re left to wonder and, as readers, we’re left with the idea that this person must have launched into a crazy fascist rant of some kind.
The story resolves moments (seconds?) later when Harris-Perry and her friend stand up, raise their voices, and “make a fuss.” The man turns away and “runs” out of the lobby. He gets in his car and drives off. Harris-Perry is left trying to explain to hotel security what she is yelling about, recounting previous threats she has received.
Apparently security isn’t too impressed by her story. Harris-Perry writes, “They listen politely, but this is the Iowa caucus, and I am not a candidate, so they go back to their evening.” Also, no harm was actually done, or attempted, and the man left. Harris-Perry eventually admits she has no proof the man meant her any harm:
I don’t know what kind of harm he was prepared to do. Perhaps the only threat was a barrage of hateful words – or maybe he planned to do something worse. I have faced both. Both seemed plausible in this encounter.
None of the words she describes him saying appear particularly hateful. Disrespectful, maybe, but we’re not given enough detail to decide for ourselves whether any of it was truly hateful. Despite the vagueness of all of this, Harris-Perry maintains, “It is not an exaggeration to say my students may have saved my life.” Or, you know, maybe not at all. Maybe they just witnessed their professor freak out over a rude person in a hotel.
The threat to her life apparently didn’t warrant a call to the police; if there was one, Harris-Perry didn’t mention it. It does sound as if the man was too aggressive approaching someone he didn’t know with criticism. Then again, we have yet to hear his side of the story. And given that a public figure with her own television show and 400k Twitter followers is suggesting he could be an unhinged killer, it’s fair to wonder who feels more threatened.