Several minutes into intermission during a musical about Jewish traditions, a man stood up, raised his arm in a Nazi salute and then started to shout.
“People started running,” Rich Scherr, who was in the audience, told The Washington Post. “The next thing I expected to hear was gunshots, frankly.”
The incident occurred just weeks after 11 people were gunned down at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. The alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, is accused of saying that he wanted to “kill Jews” while he was in the synagogue.
Scherr posted a video online Wednesday, showing people at the Baltimore theater standing, some shouting to “get out!” After the salute, he said, “a lot of people started heading toward the exits.”
“I think with everything that’s been happening lately, people were scared,” Scherr said, referring to the synagogue massacre last month and the mass shooting that occurred Nov. 7 at a bar in Southern California. “People were saying that their hearts were beating really fast, and there were a lot of ‘What’s wrong with this world?’ kind of comments.”
“Fiddler on the Roof,” set in a Russian village in the early 1900s, follows a Jewish milkman named Tevye as he watches his children grow up and enter a world shrouded in anti-Semitism.
Authorities said an investigation revealed that Anthony M. Derlunas, 58, had been watching the show with his girlfriend when he stood up and started to shout.
Officers responded to a call at 9:46 p.m. about a disorderly person, and when they approached Derlunas, he told them “he had been drinking heavily throughout the night,” according to an incident report. The report stated that Derlunas’s girlfriend told authorities that he also usually takes medication but that he had not done so Wednesday evening.
During an interview with police, Derlunas said that the final scene of the first act “reminded him of his hatred for Donald Trump which caused him to stand up and yell ‘Hail Hitler, Hail Trump,’” according to the incident report. He added that “everyone around him got angry, and he didn’t realize there were so many Trump supporters,” the report stated.
Authorities said Derlunas was banned from the theater and removed from the building without incident.
Derlunas could not immediately be found for comment.
Audience member Samit Verma, who said he was watching the musical with his wife, told The Post that he heard a man shouting in the audience and then saw “a chaotic scene” unfolding in the crowd.
He said in an email that at first he could not tell what the man was saying, but “as more people exited the main theater I could clearly see him making a Hitler salute and yelling ‘Heil Hitler.' ”
Anti-Semitic incidents spiked 57 percent in 2017 in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The group’s annual report, released in February, identified 1,986 examples of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assault in 2017 — the largest single-year increase and the second-highest number since it started tracking the data in the 1970s, The Post reported.
FBI data released this week showed that reported hate crimes in the United States rose 17 percent last year, with an even larger increase in anti-Semitic attacks.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that the new FBI report “provides further evidence that more must be done to address the divisive climate of hate in America. That begins with leaders from all walks of life and from all sectors of society forcefully condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate whenever it occurs.”
After the incident at “Fiddler on the Roof,” the Hippodrome Theatre said such behavior “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.”