MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry says she had a bizarre and threatening encounter with a stranger in Iowa this week, where she’d taken a group of students from her politics class at Wake Forest University to observe the Democratic caucuses.

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Harris-Parry teaches politics and international affairs; she’d brought students with her who are part of the Wake the Vote program, an “intensive civic learning and democratic engagement experience.” She wrote in a blog post on a Wake Forest site that the stranger approached her while and she her students were gathered in a hotel lobby in downtown Des Moines. He started speaking as though they were continuing an earlier conversation, she wrote, while standing strangely close. And then, as Harris-Perry started to feel uncomfortable, he began demanding how she got on TV:

“What I want to know is how you got credentialed to be on MSNBC.”

I am not sure if it is how he spat the word credentialed, or if it is how he took another half step toward me, or if it is how he didn’t respond to my question, but the hairs on my arm stood on end. I ignored it. Told myself everything was ok.

“Well. It is not exactly a credential…” I began.

“But why you? Why would they pick you?”

Now I know something is wrong. Now his voice is angry. Now a few other people have stopped talking and started staring. Now he is so close I can feel his breath. Before I can answer his unanswerable question of why they picked me, he begins to tell me why he has picked me.

Harris-Perry has previously written about being a rape survivor, an experience she says she flashed back to as the man told her, “I just want you to know why I am doing this.” She froze, she writes:

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“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.

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.

At that point, Harris-Perry writes, the man moved closer, muttering several things she didn’t catch, although she did hear “Nazi Germany” and “rise to power.”

Just as suddenly, she recalled that her students were nearby, she says, and became determined that no one was going to harm her in front of them:

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Instead of sitting still as he tells me what he is going to do and why, I jump up. I move. I put space – a table – between him and me. My friend jumps too. It is breathtaking how fearlessly – almost recklessly – she throws herself between he and I. Together we raise our voices and make a fuss. He turns. He runs out. He jumps in a car. He drives off. We try to explain to hotel security what has happened and how I receive hate mail and even death threats, how I have had people show up at my workplace, how this might be serious. They listen politely, but this is the Iowa caucus, and I am not a candidate, so they go back to their evening. And we go back to ours.

Harris-Perry worried that if the man harmed her, she writes, her students wouldn’t get to complete the Wake the Vote program: “It was the fear of a ruined lesson plan that propelled me out of my seat and away from the potential attacker.”

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Now that is a teacher to the core.

On Twitter, Harris-Perry thanked people for their concern and reiterated that she is safe:


Contact the author at anna.merlan@jezebel.com.
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Image via AP.