Discussions of anti-Semitism amid increases in hate crimes in Maryland and nationwide were ignited again after a man shouted a pro-Nazi and pro-Trump salute during a performance of Fiddler on the Roof in Baltimore.
Audience member Rich Scherr said the outburst happened during intermission at the Hippodrome Theatre on Wednesday, prompted fears that it was the beginning of a shooting. The man, who had been seated in the balcony, began shouting
“Heil Hitler, Heil Trump…. People started runnin. I’ll be honest, I was waiting to hear a gunshot. I thought, ‘Here we go.’”
Samit Verma was seated in the balcony when he heard shouting and saw a man holding his hand straight up in a Nazi salute. Ushers rushed to the man and audience members made their way out of the theater and into the hall quickly. Verma said in an email to the Baltimore Sun.
“The people around me appeared to be quite shaken by the incident. There were some people in tears.”
Police were called and security escorted the man out a few minutes later, a police spokeswoman said, and the show continued. That the audience applauded as the man was removed.
But Scherr, 49, said it was hard to focus on the play after that.
“My heart was just racing. I didn’t even really pay attention to the second act.”
The man was not arrested nut issued a stop ticket, which is the least severe measure police can take when responding to a complaint, followed by citations and arrests. Stop tickets do not carry any fines or other penalties and do not require follow-up. Police spokesman Matt Jablow said,
“As reprehensible as those words are, they are considered protected free speech because nobody was directly threatened.“
Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of a Jewish family as it faces persecution in tsarist Russia.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the incident was concerning to the Jewish community, and he understood why theatergoers worried the outburst could have signaled the start of a more violent episode.
“Things like that anywhere, much less crowded theaters, is a really potentially dangerous thing, you know. We’re all very sensitive and concerned in the wake of the recent shootings. Shouting that seems to be the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a theater, or shouting ‘bomb.’
I’m certainly grateful that it wasn’t the start of some broader, more violent incident. Whatever he was intending to say was hateful and hurtful and potentially very dangerous… it sounds like some of the people were kind of moving quickly to get out of the way.”
The US has seen a recent surge in anti-Jewish incidents, including a shooting last month at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people.
Audience member, Heather O’Hare, said everyone was shuffling and getting up to go to the restroom during the intermission when she heard the disturbance.
“People in the front orchestra seats started to turn and look up at the balcony, and someone started shouting back: ‘Go Home, Nazi!’
We were kind (of) confused and numb about what actually was happening, but several audience members were palpably upset and decided to leave during the intermission break. The entire right half of the row in front of me was gone after Act One.”
Another audience member Alan Brigida, a school teacher, said the incident reminded him of moments in history when people unified together following the persecution of one group. Brigida said,
“We don’t feel that pain every day, but I felt it then. Although I’m not Jewish, I felt Jewish when I heard those words at that performance.
It’s a little sobering because it’s getting closer and closer to home. How safe are any of us anyway?”
Trump tweets a lot, as we all know. So far, nothing about this incident. #RacistBase
Sick, sad world. A man stands at intermission of tonight’s performance of Fiddler in Baltimore and yells, “Heil Hitler,” along with pro-Trump references. pic.twitter.com/slDcPwF7re
— Rich Scherr (@writerguyRich) November 15, 2018
(Photo, Screengrab; via Baltimore Sun)