Ac­cu­sa­tions of emo­tional abuse fol­low Min­nesota AG can­di­date

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FROM PAGE ONE - Julie Turke­witz and Farah Stockman

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.

TIM GRUBER / NEW YORK TIMES

Keith El­li­son (right), shown cam­paign­ing for at­tor­ney gen­eral in Wood­bury, Minn., last week, is fight­ing for his rep­u­ta­tion amid abuse al­le­ga­tions.

Karen Mon­a­han

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