When you hear about journalists being threatened, you might think of the Vice reporters arrested in Turkey, or Honduran gangs targeting investigative journalists. But even in the U.S., journalists face threats — as MSNBC pundit Melissa Harris-Perry discovered while covering the Iowa caucuses on Monday. Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, published an essay on Tuesday detailing her terrifying encounter with an unidentified man at Monday's caucuses. Harris-Perry, along with 22 of her students, was watching the caucus results on a TV in a Des Moines, IA hotel lobby, when a man walked up and started threatening her. "I don't know if he was there to kill me," Harris-Perry wrote in an essay published by Wake Forest University's Anna Julia Cooper Center. In her essay, Harris-Perry described how a stranger angrily questioned how she was "credentialed" to be on MSNBC before ranting about "Nazi Germany."
The MSNBC host wrote that she wondered if the man was armed with a knife or a gun beneath his coat. Harris-Perry, who is a rape survivor, wrote that she froze during the situation in Iowa, as she had when she was raped as a girl. What saved her, she explained, was seeing her students in her peripheral vision and remembering why she, and they, had traveled to Iowa. Thinking of her students gave her the strength to create distance between the man and herself, and to report his behavior to the hotel's security. The man apparently got in a car and drove away. "I did not think, 'No! Get away from me,'" Harris-Perry wrote. "I thought, 'Not in front of my students!'" Harris-Perry explained in the essay that while she didn't know what the man's intentions were, her students helped her escape the situation before it escalated further. Harris-Perry won't let the man's threats stop her from teaching political journalism, though. She ended her essay by sharing that she'd recently been named Wake Forest University's first Maya Angelou Presidential Chair and that she plans to continue her political work.