Several disturbing lapses in security preceded the stabbing ambush on Salman Rushdie at a talk in New York on Friday morning, according to witnesses and one former employee who told The Daily Beast he had long feared such an attack.
Among the shocking claims: No security checkpoint is required for attendees to enter the lecture hall at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was stabbed in the neck on stage, and bags were also allowed in the hall.
A “disgusted” former employee of the Chautauqua Institution, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said in an interview on Friday that these lax security measures—which he alleged remained in place against some employees’ recommendations—were bound to lead to an issue eventually.
“We warned leadership for years that something like this would happen,” the employee said. “But leaders felt extra security measures would ruin the friendly feel and openness of the institute.”
— Charles Savenor (@CharlieSavenor) August 12, 2022
The Chautauqua Institution did not respond to calls for comment about its security practices. Its website says the lecture hall is located within a gated community, which requires a pass to access—a pass that Rushdie’s attacker was able to purchase, the New York State Police said Friday.
Police said the alleged assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, ran onto the stage as Rushdie was introduced, stabbing the author twice—once in the neck, once in the abdomen. Rushdie remained in surgery on Friday evening, authorities said.
Matar was able to reach Mr. Rushdie easily, running onstage and approaching him from the back, the New York Times reported, citing multiple witnesses.
State authorities recovered a backpack belonging to Matar at the scene after he was taken into custody.
Erin Rowley, who frequents the institute and had family in attendance Friday, said that “you can bring whatever” into the amphitheater that hosts daily speakers throughout the summer.
“I know myself from attending other events there you can bring whatever you want in, except for food or drink,” Rowley told The Daily Beast. “People often have tote bags or shopping bags from the shops nearby. They do not check those things when entering.”
Kyle Doershuk, 20, who was working as an usher Friday, told The New York Times he saw Matar drop a backpack and rush the stage with a knife in his hand about 15 feet in front of him.
Doershuck called security at the institution lax, telling the Times that “something like this was just bound to happen.”
“There was a huge security lapse,” another attendee, John Bulette, told the Times. “That somebody could get that close without any intervention was frightening.”
The revelations are all the more shocking considering how at-risk Rushdie is: since his novel The Satanic Verses was published in 1989, he has been forced into police protection for a decade, been the target of attempted assassinations, and had a $4 million bounty put on his head that remains active to this day.
It was a police officer who eventually made it on stage and stopped Matar’s assault, authorities said, but only after Rushdie was stabbed twice. Governor Kathy Hochul praised the officer in a Friday press conference, saying he saved Rushdie’s life.
The former employee who spoke to The Daily Beast shared a similar sentiment. They said Friday that all recommendations from a security committee—about adding metal detectors, banning bags, increasing the number of security guards, and holding risk training—were all shot down by leadership in recent years.
Amid this dispute between the institute’s leadership and certain workers, the employee said the head of campus security and safety at Chautauqua—who was once the sheriff of Chautauqua County itself—resigned from the position in 2021, just two years after taking the job.
That head of security could not be reached for comment on Friday. A LinkedIn page shows that he left the Chautauqua Institute in Aug. 2021.
“Absolutely disgusting to me that leadership did nothing to prevent this,” the employee said. “We kept warning them and they wouldn’t listen.”