Police briefly investigated an incident Tuesday evening at a coffee shop in Auburn during which eyewitnesses said a white man who appeared to be in his mid-20s stood on a chair, yelled Nazi slogans including "Heil Hitler" and flashed a gun to the cafe's manager.
Customers called police at Mama Mocha's on Gay Street after the man — who hasn't been identified by police — walked in with a young woman, ordered a coffee, sat down by himself on a couch for a while and proceeded to stand in a chair in the middle of the cafe to shout Nazi and white nationalist rhetoric.
"He was giving Heil Hitler arm motions pretty aggressively," said Sarah Barnett-Gill, the owner of the coffee shop, known for its minority and LGBT-inclusive atmosphere. "He loudly started talking about Nazi rhetoric and White Lives Matter and giving a racist monologue."
The cafe's manager, Richard Trammell, said he was outside on the phone when the incident started, but he rushed back inside when he saw the man wave the Nazi salute.
"As he was walking out, I told him not to come back, and he showed me his gun," Trammell said. "I have a Black Lives Matter pin on and being a black man, I wasn't really shook. I wasn't really scared. But it was a very charged situation."
The store's manager said police are not pressing charges because they did not witness the event and the man had a license for the gun he carried and briefly flashed.
"He said he wasn't doing anything and was just talking to people," Barnett-Gill said. "They had to let him go tonight."
Some of the witnesses at the shop expressed frustration that charges aren't being filed.
"Police handled it. I mean, not a lot was done. We say he is banned, but that doesn't keep him from coming back," Trammell said. "Especially with the security issues of him having a gun, we're kind of on our toes now."
Police confirmed they responded to a disorderly persons call at the business. They identified the suspect as a 21-year-old male.
"It was determined that the suspect was legally in possession of the weapon concealed on his person," police said in a statement. "The incident did not occur in the presence of APD Officers; as such, any criminal charges would have to be filed by a complainant."
Eyewitnesses and shop staff said the man's name is Zachary Taylor Hay. The Plainsman has not independently confirmed the name, but the store's manager said he got the name from police who identified the man by that name.
He is being banned from both of Mama Mocha's locations.
A number of people of color, including staff, were present at the shop when the man yelled the racist and white nationalist rhetoric.
"They were rightly traumatized by that," Barnett-Gill said. "My staff ran out immediately and told him to get down and that we don't say things like that here. That's when they noticed he was wearing a gun."
He left and went to his car at that point without any physical altercation, witnesses told The Plainsman.
"He got down, and the barristas stood firm and tried to walk toward him," Barnett-Gill said. "He left the front door, and he was screaming that this is a free country and he has a right to free speech and he can say whatever he wanted."
Some people from the shop went to the car and took a picture of the license plate, which they provided to police. A roaster and two barristas were working Tuesday. The manager of Mama Mocha's other location, Richard Trammell, was also there.
Trammell said Hay made sure his gun was visible as he was leaving, and a woman was with Hay. He had her leave before he broke out into his tirade, eyewitnesses said.
No one interviewed by The Plainsman was able to take video footage because the incident happened so fast, but staff are looking into whether they might have security footage.
The incident left cafe-goers shaken and scared.
"It's really disorienting to think about — in a place like Auburn, in my cafe, which has always been inclusive and loving and never aggressive — that a gun-wielding Nazi got up and started screaming at the people of color," Barnett-Gill said. "It doesn't even seem like it's real."
Barnett-Gill said she was thankful her staff stayed calm and got the man out of the cafe without serious physical incident.
"That could have been really bad," Barnett-Gill said. "The gun was tucked in his pants, and he would have had to lift his shirt to show it to them."
Trammell said he felt the incident wasn't random.
"Being one of the more liberal places in Auburn and one of the more open places in Auburn, I definitely feel like it was targeted," Trammell said. "For him to do that is very asinine, but it's also terrifying."
Trammell said it points to a larger issue of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups feeling emboldened.
"In light of the recent editorial that came out from Linden, calling for the KKK to band back up and start lynching people, it definitely feels like it was a part of that," Trammell said.
Similar incidents have happened nationwide.
A man shouted “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump" during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” last year in Baltimore. Witnesses to that event said they were afraid the man, who was later found to have been drunk during the incident, was about to pull a gun.
"I come from a city in North Alabama that had an active KKK in the community, and it was scary then and scary now," Barnett-Gill said.
Tim Nail reported from the scene.
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Chip Brownlee, senior in journalism and political science, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman.