Suspects in anti-Semitic threats targeted N.Y. synagogue, D.A. says
Two armed men arrested in connection with online threats against New York City’s Jewish community had a Manhattan synagogue in their sights, a prosecutor said Sunday.
Matthew Mahrer, 22; and Christopher Brown, 21, were arraigned Sunday on 11 total charges, including criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm, according to the criminal complaints in the case.
Brown was also charged with making a criminal threat.
Attorneys representing the defendants separately did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prosecutors said in their court filings that Brown used Twitter Thursday to make this alleged threat: “Gonna ask a Priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die.”
On Friday, he tweeted, “This time I’m really gonna do it,” prosecutors said in the filings.
If he had a specific synagogue in mind, the documents don’t say which.
The social media statements got the attention of the multi-jurisdiction Joint Terrorism Task Force, which gave a heads up to MTA police. Transit officers spotted and arrested the pair at Penn Station late Friday, authorities said.
The duo was nabbed following “a developing threat to the Jewish community,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said in a statement Saturday.
The two had traveled to Pennsylvania late last week to purchase a gun, prosecutors said in the charging documents.
Brown said in a statement he gave to prosecutors after his arrest that he intended to buy the gun but backed out at the last minute, according to the criminal complaints.
He met Mahrer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral “to get the blessing,” before traveling to Pennsylvania with a man identified only by his first name, according to prosecutors’ account of Brown’s statement. The day of the week isn’t made clear.
“I changed my mind because I was nervous about the police and didn’t want the gun anymore,” Brown is quoted as saying.
Brown said he had sent $650 by cell phone app to Mahrer; the police report doesn’t make clear what happened to that money. Mahrer ultimately purchased the weapon from the man who drove them out of state, Brown said, according to prosecutors.
Earlier in the week, Brown is also alleged to have tweeted, “Big moves being made on Friday.”
The two were seen on security video Friday night entering an Upper West Side apartment building, which corresponds to Mahrer’s residence, authorities said. Mahrer was carrying a bag, later recovered from the lobby by police, authorities said.
Inside the bag was a Glock-style semiautomatic pistol, a large-capacity magazine, and 17 9mm rounds, authorities alleged.
More than an hour later the two were spotted, detained and ultimately arrested at Penn Station. Brown had in his possession an 8-inch military style knife, a swastika arm patch, and a ski mask, prosecutors alleged.
He explained the gun to prosecutors, they said: “I have a sick personality. I was going to be a coward” and use it on himself, he said.
He told them he runs what he called a “white supremacist Twitter group” and Mahrer was a follower, according to the charging documents.
“I have nazi paraphernalia in my house,” Brown is quoted as saying. “I think it is really cool.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office is prosecuting the pair, said in a statement that their arrest might have prevented hate violence.
“A potential tragedy was averted when they were intercepted by police officers at Penn Station,” he said, “given that online postings indicated an intent to use these weapons at a Manhattan synagogue.”
Maher was being held in lieu of $150,000 cash or $300,000 partially secured or bonded bail. Brown was being held without bail. Their next court date was scheduled for Wednesday.
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Yasmeen Persaud, Jonathan Dienst and Myles Miller contributed.