Erin Andrews's Stalker: Just Another "Normal Guy"

Neighbors are (predictably) shocked at the arrest of Michael David Barrett for stalking sportscaster Erin Andrews, because "he looked absolutely normal."

A judge will decide today whether Barrett will be released on bail pending his trial, but other than being accused of videotaping a famous sportscaster with a cell phone camera pressed to the peephole of her hotel room, Barret is apparently a totally average dude. His lawyer Rick Beuke, who has known Barrett for 10 years, says,

I don't think he's even had a traffic ticket. He's as regular a guy as you'll ever meet - a great friend. I must have calls from 30 people wanting to know what they could do to help.

Barrett's neighbor David Wayne adds, "I'm totally shocked. He looked absolutely normal - nothing distinguishing." Apparently Barrett did not have a large "stalker" sign pinned to his clothing at all times, nor did he have prehensile eyeballs or a long forked tongue that flicked in and out involuntarily. Other evidence of his normalcy, according to the AP: "Barrett kept his yard manicured, played golf and enjoyed cooking on a gas grill on a patio behind his $300,000 suburban Chicago town house." He lived in "Westmont, a leafy, middle-class suburb about 20 miles west of Chicago lined with quaint, gas-lamp replica street lights." He also, like so many criminals whose neighbors are shocked that they could have done anything wrong, "kept to himself."

Two related misconceptions are at play in almost every story of this kind, in which journalists happily quote a variety of friends and acquaintances on a criminal suspect's supposed normalcy. One is the idea that stalkers (or murderers, or rapists) actually look and act totally creepy all the time, and it's a complete shock when one of them also has a job or a house. The other seems opposite but is actually related — the idea (handily dismantled in Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear) that crimes like Erin Andrews's stalking cannot be prevented. If we assume that all stalkers are raving lunatics who foam at the mouth every time they see a woman (or, relatedly, that they are all poor, or homeless, or people of color, or otherwise outside the white middle-class norm), then of course we'll be surprised when a mild-mannered insurance company employee like Barrett is accused. But we're also likely to miss the real warning signs of stalking and violence against women.

Barrett is accused of taking seven videos of Andrews without her consent while she stayed in a Tennessee hotel, and may have made an eighth video of her in a Milwaukee hotel. It's not clear how well he covered his tracks during this time, but what is clear is that stalkers often exhibit traits — like paranoia and grandiosity — that may be visible to people close to them, if they actually know what to look for. These traits may not be enough to warrant arrest, but they are enough for a loved one to recommend therapy before obsession turns to stalking, or potentially for someone to warn the stalking victim. Michael Barrett may well have "kept to himself" to such an extent that neither of these steps were possible in his case. But if we focus on the idea of the stalker as someone who "looks different" or is so deranged he can't hold a job, then we essentially give actual stalkers camouflage. And we ignore the fact that outwardly "normal guys" are capable of abnormal things.

Judge Considers Bail For Accused Andrews Stalker [AP]
Judge To Decide Monday On Bail In Erin Andrews Video Case [AP, via USA Today]