Two right-wing activists interrupted the Friday evening performance of a controversial production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in New York’s Central Park, causing a stir on social media — where numerous videos of the protest proliferated — and resulting in one woman’s arrest.
In the videos, a woman identified as Laura Loomer, an employee of the far-right website Rebel Media, can be seen storming the stage during the scene of the title character’s assassination, shouting “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right! This is unacceptable!”
The production of “Julius Caesar,” part of the popular free Shakespeare in the Park summer series at the park’s Delacorte Theater, has attracted controversy over its depiction of the title character, who resembles President Trump.
Some audience members yelled at Loomer to “get off the stage!” Soon, several security guards escorted her out of the theater amid shouts and boos from the audience.
Within the commotion, a second pro-Trump protester, Jack Posobiec, can be seen standing and yelling in the audience, “You are all Goebbels!” and “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands!” in reference to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and to a shooting at a Virginia baseball field earlier in the week that critically injured Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Shortly afterward, Posobiec, too, was escorted out of the theater.
Conservatives, including Trump’s adult sons, have criticized the play, and the public outcry from the right prompted Delta Air Lines and Bank of America to pull their corporate sponsorship from the theater last week.
“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” Delta said on Twitter last week.
The outcry also has sparked a debate about free speech, with some pointing out that Delta did not withdraw its funding from a 2012 production of “Julius Caesar” by the Acting Company and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis that staged the same play using an actor for the title character that resembled then-President Barack Obama.
In a string of tweets, the Public Theater confirmed the interruption at its Friday show and said it had been “part of a paid strategy driven by social media.”
“Two protesters disrupted our show tonight; we stopped the show for less than a minute and our stage manager handled it beautifully,” Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater and the director of the production, said in a statement. “The staff removed the protesters peacefully, and the show resumed with the line ‘Liberty! Freedom!’ The audience rose to their feet to thank the actors, and we joyfully continued. Free speech for all, but let’s not stop the show.”
Posobiec, a Washington-based Trump supporter who formerly also worked for Rebel Media, told The Washington Post on Saturday that, contrary to some media reports, he and Loomer did not coordinate their protests. Rather, he had attended the performance at the encouragement of alt-right personality Mike Cernovich, who posted a “challenge” on Periscope last week offering a $1,000 prize for anyone who could get tickets to the play and interrupt the show.
Though Shakespeare in the Park tickets are notoriously hard to obtain, with prospective audience members usually lining up for hours the morning of each performance, Posobiec said he was able to gain entrance to the play by showing up five minutes before it started. He added that, unlike Loomer, he hadn’t planned to rush the stage but was just going to stand up and make a statement protesting the play’s violence.
“I decided that the point right after where they stabbed President Trump would be probably the best, most impactful time to really make a statement,” Posobiec said. “Laura and I obviously are friends, but I had no idea she was going to be there until literally I saw her in the stands.”
Pro-Trump personalities on the Internet have blamed the media and the arts for promoting rhetoric that led to last week’s shooting that injured Scalise. Posobiec said he felt disturbed watching a character in Trump’s likeness get stabbed repeatedly on stage.
“The way they staged it was, stabbed again and again and again by pretty much everyone in the Senate. It’s very gory. It’s very bloody. It looked like a Quentin Tarantino production,” Posobiec said. “And the audience is cheering this. That is what made my blood run cold.”
New York Times reporter Michael Cooper, who attended the same performance, disputed Posobiec’s account of audience members cheering during the assassination scene.
Posobiec said he was not arrested. Loomer was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing, according to a New York police spokesman.
The New York Times reported that after Loomer was removed from the theater, she continued shouting “You guys are just as bad as ISIS” and “Because of liberal violence like this, a congressman this week was shot in Virginia.”
Loomer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning. Shortly after midnight, she tweeted that she had been released from jail but was not sorry for the stunt. Later Saturday morning, she posted on her social-media accounts that she was “NEVER going to stop demanding people to condemn the normalization of political violence against the right” and had obtained a lawyer.
Posobiec and Loomer are both outspoken supporters of Trump who have a history of making a splash on social media with disruptive protests and pranks, including against former first daughter Chelsea Clinton.
Posobiec, who described himself as a member of the “new right,” once promulgated the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory by live-streaming a visit to the Washington restaurant Comet Ping Pong. He also was one of the organizers of the “DeploraBall” that celebrated Trump’s inauguration.
He promised he would continue actively protesting on behalf of Trump and his policies.
“I’m not going to sit and write a 5,000-word essay about how much I feel about a political issue,” Posobiec told The Post. “I’m going to get up and do something about it.”
“Julius Caesar” opened at the Delacorte Theater on May 23 and runs through June 18.