An Auburn man, a regular 40-something working dad, took his wife to see “Transformers: The Last Knight” on Sunday.
The theater was busy, as you might expect given the much-anticipated opening weekend for the 3D movie — fifth in the popular sci-fi action series.
During the movie, some children started behaving badly, laying down on the ground and running in the aisle. One child, according to this man, reached over his shoulder and took a handful of popcorn from his bag.
The man did not report disruptions to management. Instead, he took to Facebook, posting a short hate-spewed rant about the behavior, noting it was “all I could do not to go (to) the truck an kill the whole lot … an the people (employees) running (the theater) for letting it happen … there was 4 white people an 45 (N-word).”
Spurred on by like-minded posts, he went on.
Saying he wanted to drag people out of the theater and shoot them in the face so he could go back in and watch the movie in quiet.
His specific target? Somalis.
Sunday was Eid, marking the end of Ramadan. And, according to Aisha Ibrahim of Lewiston, the theater was full of Somalis in celebration.
Does that mean children should be allowed to run amok? To interrupt the movie for others in the theater?
Absolutely not. In fact, the audience is warned in advance to be respectful of others in the theater. Clearly, that respect was lacking.
Did the behavior warrant this man’s threat to shoot people?
And, as his posts got uglier, his early supportive pals dropped off and were replaced by people challenging him, including Ibrahim. She accused him of being racist, and he quickly replied “I sure am an I proud …”.
Ibrahim has a 4-year-old daughter who loves to go to the movies, she said, but now she’s afraid. “I don’t want my daughter to go” because this man might be sitting there in the dark. Or, someone just like him.
In a matter of hours, what started as reasonable irritation about badly behaved children in the theater transformed into hate speech, first encouraged and then challenged on social media.
The Auburn man — who we won’t name so he doesn’t become a target himself — didn’t physically harm anyone and the First Amendment gives him great latitude to speak his mind, however offensive the words might be. Words become hate speech when they are directed at a specific group based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits.
Neither did the Facebook posts provoke violence from anyone — none that was reported — which leaves his message floating in the wide zone between his rightful civil liberties and someone else’s civil rights.
When words provoke violence, the Supreme Court’s latitude on free speech ends. Fighting words are not protected speech.
Of course, Facebook isn’t the place to settle how much hate is too much, but we do know that his words created enough fear in one young woman to interrupt her life. Which is a far greater matter than being interrupted by unruly children during a movie.
Let’s go back to the movie: According to one critic, the decade-old series of “Transformer” movies demonstrates the importance of humans. That bullying has become an epidemic the world over. That the weak and small are as important as anyone, and we must look after them no matter where they are from. And, that one person matters among the many.
That may have been the message on the screen. It was certainly not the message from the seats.