The audience reacts after a man interrupts the "Fiddler on the Roof" performance at the Hippodrome Theatre. (Video courtesy of Rich Scherr)
The man who shouted “Heil Hitler, heil Trump” at a Baltimore performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” apologized Friday for his outburst, saying he chose the wrong words when he was attempting to compare President Donald Trump to the Nazi leader.
Anthony M. Derlunas II, 58, said the play, which tells the story of a Jewish family facing persecution in tsarist Russia, reminded him of Trump’s immigration policies. His comparison “came out wrong” and was “beyond a mistake” he said during an interview at his home in Joppa.
“Instantly it was like, ‘Oh my God, what did you do?’ ” said Derlunas, who acknowledged he had been drinking heavily before the show. “The thing that I can’t stand is Trump spreading hatred, and what did I do? I spread hatred.”
Derlunas’ outburst came during the intermission of the show at the Hippodrome Theatre on Wednesday evening. He was escorted from the theater’s balcony by security, and police issued him a stop ticket — less serious than a citation.
Police spokesman Matt Jablow said his words were protected by the First Amendment.
“My heart was just racing,” he said. “I didn’t even really pay attention to the second act.”
Derlunas’ actions earned swift condemnation from the public — particularly the Jewish community.
On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League urged the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office to press charges against Derlunas.
“For those in attendance, this anti-Semitic outburst was a threatening, intimidating act of disorderly conduct. We have seen the devastating and tragic consequences of hateful rhetoric repeatedly in recent weeks,” Doron F. Ezickson, ADL’s Washington, D.C., regional director, said in a statement. “While the perpetrator’s comments themselves may constitute protected speech under the First Amendment, his conduct disturbed the peace and stoked fear among audience members, undermining their sense of safety and security during the performance.”
The state’s attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Friday.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said Thursday that the outburst was especially disturbing in the wake of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11.
“We’re all very sensitive and concerned in the wake of the recent shootings,” Libit said. “Shouting that seems to be the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a theater, or shouting ‘bomb.’”
How I could have been so stupid and insensitive I don't know.
Anthony M. Derlunas II, who yelled "Heil Hitler, heil Trump" at a "Fiddler on the Roof" performance
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Derlunas said he understands the reaction.
“I shouldn’t have taken my political frustrations out at a public show,” he said. “How I could have been so stupid and insensitive, I don’t know.”
“I was so insensitive. But I am not a racist, I am not anti-Semitic,” he said. “I feel so sorry for the fear and the people’s night that I ruined. I just wasn’t thinking at the time.”
Derlunas said he had consumed several glasses of wine at his hotel prior to attending the show, which contributed to his outburst.
“Any time you drink you lose all sense of reasoning,” he said, adding he rarely consumes alcohol. “That didn’t help my thinking one bit.”
”When things like this happen hopefully there’s an opportunity for us to sit down when things calm down a bit and talk and see who we can educate,” Libit said. “If there’s any way for us to use this as a moment of education I think we should.“
Derlunas said he had previously attended other Hippodrome shows. The theater banned him from returning to the venue for life after Wednesday.
“I would ban me too if I was in their position,” he said.
A spokesperson from the Hippodrome said Derlunas left the theater a voicemail apologizing for his actions.
“The Hippodrome stands by our statement from yesterday,” the theater said in a statement Friday. “We welcome guests of all walks of life, but we will not tolerate behavior that is disruptive or disturbs the peace in our venue.”
“Fiddler on the Roof” runs through Sunday in Baltimore. The shows will go on as scheduled, according to the Bond Theatrical Group, and police will have an extra presence during their remaining performances.