I spent hours last night watching AOC’s description of what happened to her in the first week of January. If you’re interested in my take it’s here. But this morning I came across this Erik Wemple piece from yesterday comparing what happened to AOC to an incident from a couple years ago when anarchists showed up at Tucker Carlson’s house.

In early November 2018, a crew of lefty protesters showed up at the D.C. home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson to denounce his hateful rhetoric on air. Though he wasn’t home at the time, Carlson told an interviewer that it was a terror-filled event, referring to his wife’s experience: “She had been in the kitchen alone getting ready to go to dinner and she heard pounding on the front door and screaming. … Someone started throwing himself against the front door and actually cracked the front door,” Carlson said.

That last part was false. The door was just fine.

So in Wemple’s view, that story is not so different from the one AOC told about hearing someone pounding on her office door. Wemple argues Carlson is being a hypocrite for criticizing AOC’s story while telling a similar one about his own wife.

I see a difference and here’s the best way I can explain it.

Do you like horror movies? If you’ve seen a few horror movies then you’re aware of what a “jump scare” is. In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s a pretty decent description from Wikipedia:

Common in film since the 1980s, the jump scare has been described as “one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies”. Jump scares can surprise the viewer by appearing at a point in the film where the soundtrack is quiet and the viewer is not expecting anything alarming to happen, or can be the sudden payoff to a long period of suspense.

Some critics have described jump scares as a lazy way to frighten viewers, and believe that the horror genre has undergone a decline in recent years following an over-reliance on the trope, establishing it as a cliché of modern horror films.

So the way this works is that you have a character in the film, usually the protagonist, in a situation where there is a real threat. The audience knows the threat is somewhere out there, looking to kill the protagonist with a big knife or something worse. And then, for some reason, the protagonist decides to walk down a dark alley or enter a deserted house, etc. And we have a moment of tension and suspense where the audience is thinking, don’t be stupid, the killer/monster is out there! Sometimes the director will even resolve that tension for a moment so you think the danger is over: Oh, it was just the cat.

And then, from nowhere, a hand reaches out and grabs the protagonist by the shoulder. The audience had been relaxed but now jumps and maybe screams: It’s the killer! But then it turns out it was just the protagonist’s best friend who also thinks they shouldn’t be in the deserted house alone. False alarm. You screamed but now you’re rolling your eyes because you fell for the oldest trick in the book. To sum up, the elements that make a jump scare work are:

A real threat. (The monster)

A tense moment. (Don’t go in there alone!)

The surprise resolution. (Wow, Becky, you really scared me.)

That’s how jump scares work in the movies and I think that’s what AOC’s video describing Jan. 6 amounts to. It has all the same elements.

A real threat. (The violent mob wasn’t very far away and they really might have hurt her if they’d gotten to her.)

A tense moment. (AOC was calmly trying to order lunch for her and a staffer. All was well. Suddenly someone is pounding on the office door and shouting “Where is she?!” AOC ran to hide in the bathroom, fearing the worst. She spends 10 minutes telling the story of this 30 seconds of fear.)

The surprise resolution. (She’s hiding behind the bathroom door, but it turns out the shouting man is a Capitol Police Officer trying to evacuate the building.)

The fear was real but it’s also momentary because the pounding on the door wasn’t a real threat, just a trick to make the audience squirm.

The situation at Carlson’s house was different. The mob that showed up at his house was fairly small. They didn’t crack the front door so far as I can tell (though you can sometimes hear wood crack under pressure without seeing a visible crack). The difference is that in Carlson’s case the actual mob was on the other side of the door, not a police officer coming to say there was a bomb threat. Carson’s story was a real scare from a group that is committed to politically motivated violence, i.e. punch a Nazi and everyone not to the left of Che Guevara is a Nazi.

That said, the Capitol riot was a lot more dangerous than anything that happened at Tucker Carlson’s house. It was orders of magnitude worse in terms of violence. People were trampled and died. A woman was shot and killed. A police officer was beaten. Another officer was crushed during a 30-minute pitched battle. Another died hours after being hit in the head. It was chaos and lots of people got hurt.

So, yes, AOC’s fear was real and yes there was a real threat to her safety out there. But it didn’t come pounding on her door. The mob never got to her, just one of the cops trying to protect her. It’s okay to have some sense of perspective about this, especially because people really died in this situation.

That’s why I think this issue is so contentious. On one side are people saying, AOC wasn’t really in danger and they have a point. It was a cop banging on her door. On the other side are people saying, AOC really was in danger and…they have a point. There was an enraged mob beating and killing people not very far away. By intentionally misunderstanding one another each side manages to accuse the other side of lying about the threat when in reality…they both have a point.

To be clear, political violence from either side of the aisle is absolutely wrong and can never be justified. And even the fact that we had a jump scare in a congressional office tells us this was something out of a horror movie. I’m not a fan of AOC’s politics, but she shouldn’t be living in a horror movie, not even the early parts of the movie with the jump scares. Whether you are on the right or the left, if your idea of politics is making someone else afraid, you’re the problem.