A progressive activist named Shree Chauhan approached White House spokesman Sean Spicer in an Apple Store over the weekend and hounded him with questions like “How does it feel to work for a fascist?” Chauhan claims Spicer responded with a racist “threat” but it appears she misunderstood what he said. Chauhan wrote about her experience in a post at Medium:
I was devastated by the election but I have channeled my anxiety, sadness, and anger into action. I tell anybody who will listen, ways in which they can resist. I have explained how dire the situation is to my closest friends and family, and I also organized that Betsy DeVos blockade at a local D.C. school with families and community partners…
As someone that has lived in Washington, D.C. for nearly a decade, it is customary to give public figures their space. I’ve left Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor alone at a grocery store and have done the same for Senator Chuck Grassley on a train.
However, given what Mr. Spicer and his boss are doing to this country, I do not believe they are entitled to these norms and customs. Donald Trump and his Klan are openly trampling on the rule of law, our Constitution and our democracy.
After asking Spicer how it feels to work for a fascist, Chauhan continues harassing Spicer. “Have you helped with the Russia stuff? Are you a criminal as well?” she asks, adding, “Have you committed treason too, just like the president?”
If you’re wondering what “the Russia stuff” is, she’s referring to the unproven accusation that people in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to “hack the election.” Of course, there is no proof any such thing happened thus far, which makes accusing people of treason a bit premature.
In her Medium post, Chauhan makes much of what she claims was a racist “threat” against her by Spicer. Here’s what she says happened:
When I confronted Mr. Spicer, I wanted to speak truth to power. It wasn’t until hours later that it was revealed to me that Mr. Spicer had said, “such a great country that allows you to be here,” to me.
So I watched the video over and over again. I had other people watch it. I watched it with the sound off so I could watch Mr. Spicer’s lips and make sure words match up with the consonants I thought I heard. I watched it with the volume all the way up with my eyes closed.
And his words were clear. “Such a great country that allows you to be here.” That is racism and it is an implied threat.
She adds, “I am still stunned by the boldness of having my citizenship threatened on camera.”
But there’s a problem with Chauhan’s description of events. It sounds to me as if there are a couple words at the end of Spicer’s reply which Chauhan left out. In the video, she steps on the end of his reply so it’s hard to make out. Spicer seems to be saying, “Such a great country that allows you to be here like this.” I listened to it half a dozen times. Again, Chauhan is speaking over him but the last word, “this,” is pretty clear.
That bit at the end, “like this” makes it clear Spicer wasn’t threatening anyone’s citizenship. He is talking about what is happening at that moment in the Apple store, i.e. he is being harangued in public by a complete stranger. He’s saying it’s great that in America anyone, no matter how nutty they seem, can ask questions of the people in power without fear of repercussions. Now, do I think Spicer is happy about being accused of treason while shopping? I do not. But I don’t think he was making a deportation threat. I think he was gritting his teeth and saying in effect, ‘Well, this is America.’ The difference is important because Chauhan’s write up and her Twitter account have really been focused on this alleged racist threat made against her citizenship.
After adding, “Thank you very much,” Spicer turns to someone else and begins another brief conversation. Chauhan continues to pester him with questions like, “You know you work for a fascist, right?” and “How do you feel about destroying our country, Sean?” Given that Spicer has been accused of a capital crime (treason) while shopping on his day off, I think he handled it about as well as could be expected.
Here’s the video she shot of her interaction with Spicer.