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Pink Floyd's Roger Waters Sparks Backlash By Wearing Nazi-Like Outfit During Berlin Concert

While some accused the bassist of antisemitism, others pointed out that he was calling out fascism

Roger Waters
Frank Hoensch/Redferns/GettyImages

Former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters drew the ire of social media users who were outraged over a video of him sporting an all-black outfit with a red, Nazi-like armband at a recent concert in Berlin, Germany.

Waters has been traveling to cities around Germany as part of his This Is Not A Drill tour and his performances have been drawing controversy.

According to the BBC, Munich and Cologne tried to cancel his performances after Jewish organizations such as the Central Council of Jews accused him of antisemitism for his authoritarian-inspired costume.

While ardent Pink Floyd fans understood the meaning behind his bold attire and what he was going for–which we'll get to later–it didn't exonerate him from public scrutiny.

It also didn't help when, in the viral video, he was given a prop machine gun and took aim at the audience.

The International Legal Forum CEO Arsen Ostrovsky was appalled and shared a video of Waters performing at Berlin's Mercedes-Benz Arena on May 17 on Twitter.

Ostrovsky tweeted:

“Wow, this is @rogerwaters imitating a Nazi, while at a concert in … Berlin."
"This is just unhinged Jew hatred and Holocaust distortion. The man is vile beyond words.”

In Germany, it's illegal to display symbols and insignias associated with Nazis on flags and uniforms–although exceptions are made if they're for educational purposes.

Now, Waters is under investigation for his histrionics many thought went too far.

Germany police spokesman Martin Halweg said:

"We are investigating on suspicion of incitement to public hatred because the clothing worn on stage could be used to glorify or justify Nazi rule, thereby disturbing the public peace."
"The clothing resembles the clothing of an SS officer."

Speaking of context, here is why it matters in this case.

Waters has performed in the controverial costume mimicking Nazis at his concerts before purely for the sake of theater.

The logo on his armband of two crossed hammers within a white circle is similar to the one seen in the 1982 musical drama film, The Wall, based on Pink Floyd's eponymous 1979 album.

The screenplay written by Waters starred fellow musician-turned-activist Bob Geldof as Pink–a rock star who builds an emotional wall around himself after past traumatic events and pressures of rock stardom drive him to insanity.

In the film, Pink's spiraling mental state leads him to believe he has become a dictator and at one point hallucinates that his concert is a fascist rally.

Fans privvy to The Wall's commentary defended Waters and asserted that Ostrovsky and other critics unfamiliar with the movie were jumping to conclusions.

Ostrovsky's tweet added an explanation for context.

“The clip shows part of Waters’ performance of The Wall, in which he portrays an authoritarian fascist."
"It is a critique of fascism and to present it as ‘Jew hatred and Holocaust distortion’ is a mischaracterisation of the performance and its message.”

The Independent previously noted:

“After opening the show with a statement saying he ‘condemns antisemitism unreservedly’, Waters performed while wearing a long black jacket, gloves, and a red armband adorned with hammers, rather than the Nazi swastika."
"He also projected the name of Holocaust teen diarist Anne Frank on a giant screen during the shows, along with several other names of contemporary figures including George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minnesota police in 2020, and Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot and killed last year while covering a raid by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on a Palestinian refugee camp.”

The drama came to light after the cancellation of Water's performing engagement in the city of Frankfurt, Germany.

City officials released the following statement.

A translation by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency read:

“The background to the cancellation is the persistent anti-Israel behavior of the former Pink Floyd frontman, who is considered one of the most widely spread antisemites in the world."
"He repeatedly called for a cultural boycott of Israel and drew comparisons to the apartheid regime in South Africa and put pressure on artists to cancel events in Israel.”

Last year, Waters told Rolling Stone that he believed Israel was “an apartheid state” and he compared the country to apartheid-era South Africa.

He also denounced fellow musicians like Madonna Radiohead, Nick Cave, and the Chemical Brothers for performing in Israel.

Waters has denied the antisemitic allegations and thanked the fans who showed up for his shows in Germany in a Facebook post.