Thursday, September 3, 2020

When Trouble Comes Knocking

I work in an industry (media) which garners you attention.  Most of the time the attention is very positive and welcoming.  Sometimes the attention is not so nice, a criticism or a critique from someone who clearly isn't a fan.  A handful of times, that attention is scary.

My first experience with a 'fan' who was crossing the line was when I was at KDAO in Iowa.  Every summer  the station would appear in every major parade in the area.  Pretty much every weekend, the station vehicle, an old classic convertible with magnetic banners on the side of the car emblazoned with the station logos, would roll into a community, get in line and we'd wave as we drove past the locals. 

That one summer, by the third parade, I noticed a woman who seemed to be at every parade, usually screaming my name until I waved.  She was middle aged, a little homely, but she sure seemed to love the station.  I initially thought 'oh cute, a fan,' but as it became evident she would be at every parade (over a 50 mile broadcast area) I started to get concerned.  She only showed up at the parades I was driving the car.  She then started to show up at my other live station events.  I rationalized to myself as long as she's only showing up at events that's fine.  

One day I saw her standing on the street across from my apartment in Eldora.  I confronted her and asked what she was doing.  She said she happened to be in the neighborhood.  I firmly told her that's fine if you were in my neighborhood for legit reasons, but if she was only there to see me, I made it clear she was crossing some lines. She got the message.  The only time I saw her afterwards was at station events.  When I left Eldora to move back to the Twin Cities, someone left a rose on the windshield of my car.  For about three weeks afterwards, I was convinced she had followed me to Minnesota.  She hadn't but I was still freaked out.

About 5 years ago, I was doing a show when I noticed my producer had disappeared.  This wasn't unusual, as they had to open the door for people upstairs in the afternoon after the rest of the staff had left.  Suddenly, there was a guy standing outside of the studio window, watching me.  I went into the producer's room and asked who he was, and my producer, who was very new at the time, said "he's a big fan and he just wanted to see you do the show."

This is a big no no.  If he wants to do this, he can call and ask.  You don't just open up the door and allow people to see me like it's the Como Zoo.  During the next commercial break, I talked to the guy, who was REALLY intense, and told him I was  glad he stopped by, but he had to go.  The look he gave me scared the crap out of me.  I half expected a gun to come out.  Looking wounded, he turned and left.  I had to have a long conversation with the producer about who we let into the building.

I've had my share of death threats.  These are usually people extremely wound up because they're not taken seriously, so they lash out, usually at the person who they feel is their 'enemy.'  They just arrested a guy for doing the same thing to Minnesota Governor Walz.  We confronted one guy who threatened me and he insisted it was a misunderstanding.  When we played him the audio of his threat, he apologized and said sometimes he gets worked up.  We got a restraining order against him.

I even once had my own predator who entered my life under the guise of friendship but was really looking for me to become her sugar daddy (hilarious on a lot of levels).  

I won't lie; today I'm scared.  We have Trump out encouraging the unhinged to commit violence against people who don't agree with them politically.  He's labeling protestors 'terrorists' and encouraging vigilantes.  The next two months leading up to the election will only get worse.  When you have 17 year old kids murdering people in the streets of Wisconsin, the next step in the evolution of right wing terrorists threatening and assaulting people in the street, you're getting to a point of no return.

When you unleash extremism, encouraging it to go into these dark places, extremism will not easily go back.

I'm concerned one day I'll be attacked.  Everyday I ask 'if this is the day I walk out of the station and see some 17 year old indoctrinated kid, with eyes full of hate, holding a gun on me?'  Regardless of the threat, I've never once thought of quitting.  People need to hear differing voices.  If I quit, the bullies win, and if it is not clear to you yet, I don't like bullies.  

On Election Night 2016, we had a guy call the station and threaten my wife and kids. I didn't storm off the air and run home.  I called my wife, the station called the police and I did my show.  The goal was to get me off the air that evening.  I wasn't about to oblige.  

Stand up to the bullies. If they're at the point where they have to threaten us to try to win, they know their world is collapsing.  Their threats are the last grasps of their control falling apart.  

I pray we all get through the next 60 days safely.

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