A man yelled “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump” from the balcony during the intermission of “Fiddler on the Roof” Nov. 14 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in Baltimore.
Witnesses, who were shaken and scared by the incident, said the man, Anthony Derlunas, 58, was escorted out of the theater without incident within minutes of the outburst to the crowd’s applause. He told police he had been drinking and a scene in the play reminded him of his hatred of Donald Trump.
“I thought he was going to start shooting. I ran under the balcony to get security,” said Sarah Grossman, who was at the play with her husband, Doni, and started crying during the incident. “I didn’t know, it was so scary … I was shaking.”
Derlunas, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, apologized for his actions and said he was working to reach local rabbis to apologize to the Jewish community.
Grossman’s friend Jessica Krasnick was seated in the center balcony section with her husband, Phil Chorney. Derlunas was in the left section about eight rows above them, she said. It was a couple of minutes into intermission when he began yelling, and the theater soon got as quiet as it was during the show. She heard him yell, “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump” and saw him give the Nazi salute twice.
“I stood there in shock and I had tears rolling down my cheeks,” she said. “I was excited to talk to Phil about how great the play was, and instead we just sat in silence for the rest of intermission and in silence for the ride home. Just alone with our thoughts about it.”
Krasnick said she wasn’t particularly worried about something happening to her since there were a lot of people between her and Derlunas.
In a statement released Nov. 15, the Hippdrome said this behavior “is not, and will not be, tolerated.”
“We apologize to those patrons who were affected by this unfortunate incident,” the statement said. “Our venue has a proud tradition of providing shared experiences to people from all walks of life, right in the heart of this wonderfully diverse city, and we intend to continue that tradition in the spirit of bringing people together, not dividing them.”
The statement said the Hippodrome employs a team of security personnel to implement bag checks, conduct screening and metal detection and to monitor cameras throughout the venue. Security quickly removed Derlunas and coordinated efforts with local police, who met him after he was escorted out of the building, the statement said.
Derlunas told police “the final scene before intermission reminded him of his hatred for Donald Trump,” according to the police report. In the final scene of the first act, a joyous wedding celebration is upended by a pogrom.
Police said Derlunas spoke to them calmly, and had a “strong scent of alcohol on his breath.” He told police he had been drinking heavily, and his girlfriend told police he did take medication he usually takes that evening. Police believe his intention was to express his dislike for the president, the report said.
Derlunas was permanently banned from the Hippdrome.
The police criminal investigation division was notified and is conducting a follow-up investigation, and the local jurisdiction where Derlunas lives was also notified.
Grossman doesn’t think she would have reacted how she did, going for cover under the balcony, had the killing of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh not occurred. She thought shooting, following Derlunas’ shouts, was “a natural progression” since that was what the accused Pittsburgh gunman did.
“You don’t think about something like that happening at a play, not like you think about it happening at a synagogue or anywhere else where it’s happened,” she said. “It just seemed like the perfect target audience. They know ‘Fiddler’ is going to be full of old Jews. You can’t run out of a theater easily.”
Krasnick recalls in Hebrew school when teachers would ask students if any of them had experienced anti-Semitism, and only a few hands would go up. She thinks more students might raise hands these days.
“History repeating itself has a lot more meaning to me now than when I was younger,” she said. “I never thought this would be possible again.”
The Hippodrome incident happened on the same day that a swastika and racist graffiti was found in a bathroom at Goucher College. Also this month, there were two incidents of KKK fliers being distributed in Anne Arundel County. This week, similar flyers were found in Howard and Carroll counties, and early last month Locust Point residents awoke to find their neighborhood littered with rascist and anti-Semitic KKK fliers. These events come as a Baltimore Sun investigation found that incidents of hate or bias in Maryland rose 35 percent from 2016 to 2017, and that Jews were the second-most targeted group after African Americans. The FBI reported a 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes during that same time period.