Accusations of emotional abuse follow Minnesota AG candidate
MINNEAPOLIS — When Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2006, it made him an instant national star: a charismatic young black leader who was now a symbol of the Democratic Party’s commitment to diversity and equal rights.
Back home in Minneapolis, Ellison was revered in a close-knit circle of progressive activists. He began a romantic relationship with one of them, an environmental organizer named Karen Monahan, who later moved in with him in 2015.
Monahan posted happy photos on social media of the two of them hiking, traveling and even attending a party at the White House with President Barack Obama and the first lady.
Behind the scenes, though, their relationship was rocky. Monahan often accused Ellison of cheating on her, leading to blowout arguments, according to more than a dozen people who knew the couple.
Now, as Ellison runs for attorney general in Minnesota, Monahan has accused her former boyfriend of emotional abuse and says he once shouted profanities at her while trying to drag her off a bed.
Ellison denies abusing Monahan and said in a statement after the allegations emerged that he cares “deeply for her well-being.” Democratic Party leaders in Minnesota have asked a lawyer to look into Monahan’s allegations, but continue to support Ellison’s bid to become attorney general.
The questions around Ellison come eight months after Sen. Al Franken, another popular progressive leader in Minnesota, resigned amid allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances. Now, Ellison, a high-profile leader on the left, is fighting for his reputation and facing a tough campaign with an opponent using the abuse allegations against him.
Monahan’s accusations represent a potentially new chapter in the #MeToo movement in which the allegations against a public figure are not primarily about sexual violence or harassment, but emotional abuse. But the allegations against Ellison, who declined a request for an interview through a spokesman, are turning into a test among many liberals for where to draw the line between a messy relationship and an emotionally abusive one, and some say they are not sure where it is.
“I want to make sure that women are believed,” said Betsy Hodges, a former mayor of Minneapolis who identifies as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and who used to see Ellison, 55, and Monahan, 44, together at political events. “I also want to make sure that we follow a process when we evaluate. A bad breakup is not the same thing as abuse.”
Monahan’s accusation about the altercation on the bed has drawn the most attention. Yet the core of her allegations against Ellison regard what she calls “narcissist abuse,” a term that is gaining popularity online as a way to describe suffering experienced by partners of self-centered people.
“Narcissist abuse is very difficult to understand,” said Monahan in a recent interview. “It’s the gaslighting, it’s the habitual lying, it’s the making it seem like it was my fault for even asking why something happened.”
“It was crazy-making,” she said. “My hair was falling out, I was anemic — narcissist abuse is horrid.”
In the summer of 2016, about a year after Monahan moved in, Keith Ellison began to tell his friends that the relationship was not working out. That August, Ellison attended a conference on transgender issues and then met with a female friend to talk to her about legal papers she had received from her ex-husband. Monahan accused him of cheating, recalled Shay Berkowitz, a friend of Ellison’s.
“They didn’t bring out the best in each other,” she said, adding that the relationship ended, but Monahan remained in his house until she could get her own place.
It was after that fight that Monahan said that she was lying down on a bed and listening to a podcast episode when Ellison asked her to take out the trash. When she did not respond verbally, he grew angry, she said.
In a profanity-laced tirade, she said he asked her to leave and called her a bad guest.
“He kept trying to pull me and pull me and pull me off ” the bed, she said. “And I just laid dead. Because I was scared.”
Ellison left to catch a flight, she said, but warned her to be gone when he returned.
Monahan said she had a cellphone video of the incident, but has so far declined to make it available to reporters. She told CNN that she misplaced it, but wrote on Facebook that she would not provide it because victims should not be forced to prove their claims. Shortly after she made the allegation, Monahan called the police and said that her computer had been hacked and “that email conversations between her and Ellison have been randomly deleted off of her laptop,” according to the police report.
Keith Ellison (right), shown campaigning for attorney general in Woodbury, Minn., last week, is fighting for his reputation amid abuse allegations.