By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh & Fern Sidman
Frightening details have emerged about the two men arrested Saturday in relation to “a developing threat to the Jewish community,” the New York Police Department said.
Officers from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) arrested Christopher Brown, 21, from Aquebogue, New York, and Matthew Mahrer, 22, of Manhattan, as the pair entered Penn Station on Saturday morning. After apprehending them, the two men “were turned over to the NYPD and FBI,” the MTA said in a statement. “The tremendous police work here reflects the MTA PD’s core purpose – protecting millions of daily commuters, in collaboration with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners,” the MTA said.
According to a report on Sunday in the New York Post, court documents allege that the mastermind of the pernicious plot told police that he runs an online white supremacist group and has Nazi memorabilia because “it is really cool.”
Christopher Brown, who tweeted anti-Semitic threats with the username VrillKhan and under the handle @VrillGod, told cops he and accused cohort Matthew Mahrer met at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan on Friday to carry out the attacks before they were apprehended by law enforcement, according to the Post report.
“I have a sick personality,” Brown told police, according to a criminal complaint, according to the Post report.
“I was going to be a coward and blow my brains out with it,” he allegedly told cops. “It took me three years to finally buy the gun. Matt is one of my followers. I have Nazi paraphernalia in my house. I think it’s really cool. I also operate a white supremacist Twitter group,” the complaint quoted him saying.
The Post also reported on Sunday that an attorney representing Matthew Mahrer has claimed that his client is of Jewish heritage. Defense attorney Brandon Freycint said that Mahrer has allegedly been diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD, and that “My client is of Jewish heritage. He resides with his parents and his grandfather is actually a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor — and my client is his part-time caretaker,” according to the Post report.
He added that, “There are a lot of questions here.”
As reported by JTA, with the arrest, NYPD officers seized an illegal firearm a big hunting knife, ammunition, and a Nazi armband. One of the suspects had posted on social media before traveling to New York City that he might “shoot up a synagogue and die.” Law enforcement sources had issued a threat warning, with the police department strategically sending cops to “sensitive locations” throughout the city, said NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. Investigators from the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force and the NYPD Counterterrorism and Intelligence Bureau, in collaboration with law enforcement partners “moved swiftly to gather information, identify those behind it, and operationally neutralize their ability to do harm,” Sewell said in a statement on Saturday.
Brown is being charged with making a terroristic threat, aggravated harassment, and criminal possession of a weapon. Mahrer is facing one charge of criminal possession of a weapon, a NYPD spokeswoman said. “A large hunting knife, an illegal Glock 17 firearm and 30-round magazine, and several other items” were seized, Commissioner Sewell said.
In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said, “The two defendants possessed 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, along with other things.”
He added that, “Hateful anti-Semitic targeting of synagogues is deplorable. The Manhattan DA’s office will now pursue accountability and justice in this case with the full resources of our counter-terrorism problem and recently enhanced and expanded hate crimes unit.”
Assistant District Attorney Emilio Hernandez said Mahrer and Brown traveled to Pennsylvania together and bought the gun “with intent to use it in an attack at a synagogue,” according to the Post report.
Hernandez added that “The parents of this defendant alerted police officers to the existence of a firearm within the backpack of the defendant inside the defendant’s apartment.”
The Post also reported that Brown was arraigned early Sunday and charged with making a terroristic threat and six weapons possessions charged, according to court records. He was held without bail.
Maher, 22, was arraigned Saturday on weapons possession charges and ordered held on $150,000 bail or a $300,000 bond despite a request by the Manhattan DA’s office that he be held without bail in the case, the Post reported.
Late Friday, the NYPD had alerted officers to be on the lookout for Brown, noting that he has a history of mental illness and had made threats to synagogues, adding that he “should be considered armed and dangerous.” The alert added that Brown had posted on Twitter that he was traveling from his home in Aquebogue, Long Island, to NYC to purchase a weapon. As per CNN, the threats, which began on a Twitter account on November 12, were successfully traced late Friday, linking them to a computer at a veterinary clinic where the suspect worked. The threats included references to attacking a synagogue: “Gonna ask a priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die,” one post allegedly read.
Another tweet read, “big moves being made on Friday.” A source said there were “frantic efforts” made to identify and locate the suspects. By late Friday, authorities issued a “Be on the Lookout” alert to the cellular devices of thousands of NYC cops, containing a picture and description of one of the suspects. MTA police were notified that the individuals may be traveling from Long Island to NYC via the train station. The investigation is ongoing, and it is not yet clear if the suspects have legal representation.
“Today, we’re extremely grateful to NYPD investigators and our law enforcement partners who uncovered and stopped a threat to our Jewish community,” Sewell tweeted. “This morning’s arrests in Penn Station and weapon seizures are proof of their vigilance & collaboration that keeps New Yorkers safe.”
The state of New York leads the country in anti-Semitic incidents, having reported a record high of at least 416 incidents in 2021, including at least 51 assaults, as per the Anti-Defamation League in New York. “It’s a horrifying development to think that this individual who was armed and could have done incredible damage was walking the streets. Thankfully, law enforcement stepped in quickly and was able to apprehend them before anybody was hurt,” said Scott Richman, Anti-Defamation League regional director for NY and New Jersey.