Bloomington United’s Evening of Solidarity brought about 200 people Tuesday evening to the Monroe County Courthouse, but not everyone who showed up was in support of the rally.
Rabbi Sue Silberberg, executive director of the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center and one of the co-directors of Bloomington United, was interrupted as she spoke to the crowd about how Adolf Hitler normalized the persecution of Jewish people.
“Over the past two years, we’ve been watching a similar phenomenon here in America,” Silberberg said.
Toward the front of the crowd, someone yelled out.
“No, we have not,” David Majercak Sr. said.
Silberberg continued to talk. Majercak tried to yell over her.
“You’re the Hitler,” he said.
As he walked away from the square, Majercak told the IDS he originally thought the rally was against President Trump, who Majercak considers to be a great president. He found out it was against white supremacy, which he is also against, but still thinks the rally's general anti-hate message is weak.
“Everyone’s against hate,” he said.
But Silberberg and co-director Doug Bauder, also director of the LBGTQ+ Culture Center, said the event was particularly important right now because of recent community tensions, including Ku Klux Klan flyers that have shown up around the city and a farmers market vendor accused of having ties to white nationalism.
“We sort of see ourselves as a response team for hate,” Bauder said.
Bloomington United is about 20 years old, but the group had a large period of inactivity until a couple years ago. Now they are trying to address the increased number of hate incidents that seem to be occurring.
“We all sort of thought things were OK, which they never are,” Bauder said.
IU senior Ashlynn Patterson was at the rally with classmates as part of a field trip on the first day of an organizational theory class.
Patterson said she is aware of some of the growing tension in Bloomington, especially because of the KKK fliers distributed in the city and how they have put her and other members of IU’s small black community on alert.
“Black IU is small, and anytime anyone sees something, we all send it around to each other,” Patterson said.
She said people were reminding one another not to be out too late and to stay in groups because of the flyers.
Before being sent with her class, Patterson said she hadn’t heard about the rally.
She didn’t know what kind of difference it would make because most people who were there likely already supported the cause, and those who might be ignorant about the issues probably weren’t there.
“If people are angry, they’re always going to be angry,” Patterson said.
After the rally, Majercak returned and approached Silberberg about her speech.
He told Silberberg he didn’t like what she said and viewed it as anti-Trump rhetoric. Additionally, he told Silberberg that she is not Jewish.
Someone who is Jewish, he later told the IDS, wouldn’t be comparing Hitler killing millions of people to anything Trump has done.
Although she mentioned the current political climate in her speech, Silberberg said she didn’t mention Trump in her speech but still thought Majercak had a right to his opinion.
She also confirmed to the IDS that she is Jewish.
While Silberberg said she believes everyone has the right to free speech, she said it is important to speak against hateful ideas and the anger from Majercak and others.
“People like that make our responsibility to stand up for what we believe even more important,” Silberberg said.