A potential “tragedy” was averted in New York City on Saturday when police arrested two heavily armed men who allegedly intended to attack a Manhattan synagogue, according to prosecutors.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officers arrested the two men at Penn Station. The men had a firearm, a high-capacity magazine, ammunition, an 8-inch long military-style knife, a swastika arm patch, a ski mask and a bulletproof vest, “among other things,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
“Hateful antisemitic targeting of synagogues is deplorable,” Bragg said, adding that “online postings indicated an intent to use these weapons at a Manhattan synagogue.”
Christopher Brown, 21, of Aquebogue, New York, was charged with making a terroristic threat, aggravated harassment and criminal possession of a weapon, according to police. Matthew Mahrer, 22, of New York, New York, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon.
“The Manhattan DA’s office will now pursue accountability and justice in this case with the full resources of our counter-terrorism program and recently enhanced and expanded hate crimes unit. We do not tolerate illegal guns or hate in this city,” Bragg said.
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The complaints detail Twitter posts allegedly made by Brown that discuss plans to “brutally murder people.”
“Gonna ask a Priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die,” Brown allegedly wrote on Twitter Thursday, according to the complaint.
“This time I’m really gonna do it,” he allegedly wrote the next day.
It is unclear which synagogue in the area Brown and Mahrer allegedly targeted. Attorneys for Brown and Mahrer did not immediately respond to requests for comment from USA TODAY.
According to the complaint, Brown told an officer he and Mahrer met at a cathedral early Saturday and “wanted to get the blessing.”
“I have Nazi paraphernalia in my house. I think it is really cool. I also operate a white supremacist Twitter group,” Brown allegedly told the officer, according to the complaint.
Brown was arraigned Sunday and is being held without bail. Mahrer was arraigned Saturday, and the court set bail at $150,000 cash or $300,000 bail. Both men are expected to appear in court again Wednesday.
Michael Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, said Monday there was no information indicating a continued threat to the Jewish community related to the case.
“Both subjects are both facing state charges,” Driscoll said. “No decision has been made yet regarding possible federal charges. That investigation continues.”
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The FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force, NYPD Counterterrorism and Intelligence Bureau investigators and law enforcement partners “uncovered a developing threat to the Jewish community” on Friday, New York Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in a statement Saturday.
Officers were sent to various locations throughout New York City in response to the threat, Sewell said.
In a police alert Friday, police said Brown had made “recent threats to unknown Jewish Synagogues in the New York area.” The alert said Brown “has a history of mental illness” and “recently expressed interest in traveling to NYC to purchase a firearm.”
New York City Council Member Ari Kagan shared an image of Brown on Twitter Saturday and said he was “relieved to learn that this individual is now in police custody.”
The arrests come as some of the largest U.S. cities are seeing a “dramatic” rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University. Last year, America’s major cities saw anti-Jewish hate crimes rise by 59%, Levin said.
Preliminary New York City Police Department data for 2022 showed antisemitic hate crime incidents are up 35%, Levin said. In Los Angeles, police data shows the number of antisemitic hate crime victims is up 13%. In Chicago, there have been at least 25 incidents so far this year, compared to eight in all of 2021, Levin said.
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Earlier this month, the FBI warned of a “credible” threat to synagogues in New Jersey and urged communities to take security precautions. Days later, federal prosecutors charged an 18-year-old New Jersey man for allegedly threatening to attack a synagogue and individual Jews in an online post, the Courier News and Home News Tribune reported.
“This comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in the New York-area Jewish community,” the Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey said in a statement Saturday. “As always, we ask the community to remain vigilant, but no further immediate community actions are needed at this time.”
In a press conference Monday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams warned hate “is on the rise” in the U.S. and has “become normalized by politicians and celebrities, amplified by social media and cable news and weaponized by the easy availability of guns in this country.”
“A Nazi arm band in New York City in 2022 – think about that for a moment,” Adams said.
Adams also called on social media platforms to take greater accountability for the spreading of hate online.
Eric Goldstein, CEO of the United Jewish Association-Federation of New York, appeared beside Adams at the press conference to thank law enforcement.
“What might have been the next Pittsburgh or Poway synagogue massacre was averted,” Goldstein said.
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