Christopher Brown and Matthew Mahrer were arrested with a gun and knife at Penn Station in New York City on November 19, 2022, after the NYPD said they threatened to attack Jewish synagogues in online posts. Brown was wearing a swastika armband, police said.
Brown, 21, of Aquebogue, New York, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and making a terroristic threat and Mahrer, 22, of Manhattan, was charged with criminal possession of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon, court records show.
Officials said they learned of a “credible threat” to the Jewish community in New York City and a “be on the lookout” alert was sent to police officers around the area. Brown is accused of making antisemitic and threatening posts on Twitter. Brown and Mahrer were spotted by officers after taking the Long Island Railroad and were arrested Saturday morning, police said.
“As alleged, 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, among other things,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “A potential tragedy was averted when they were intercepted by police officers at Penn Station, given that online postings indicated an intent to use these weapons at a Manhattan synagogue.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference on November 21, “Thanks to the exceptional investigative work of the FBI and the NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force, the NYPD Intelligence Bureau and the MTA Police Department the suspects were apprehended before they could act on the alleged plan to murder members of the Jewish community in our city.”
The arrests were made early Saturday morning. Adams added, “This was not an idle threat. This was a real threat. After arresting the suspects, law enforcement officers recovered a Glock semi-automatic firearm … with an extended 30-round magazine, a laser sight, a large hunting knife, a black ski mask and a Nazi armband.” Adams initially said the gun was a ghost gun, but later clarified the gun’s serial number had been obscured or removed, but it was not a ghost gun.
Here’s what you need to know about Christopher Brown and Matthew Mahrer:
1. Christopher Brown & Matthew Mahrer Went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral Before Going to Buy a Gun, Police say
According to court documents, Christopher Brown and Matthew Mahrer met at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan to “get the blessing” from a Catholic priest before traveling together to buy a gun, NBC News reports.
In court, prosecutors said Brown and Mahrer traveled together to Pennsylvania to buy a gun “with intent to use it in an attack at a synagogue,” The New York Post reported.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at the press conference, “The focused, collective, efforts of the NYPD and our partners were able to uncover, investigate and most importantly stop a threat to our Jewish community. This was an urgent multi-agency operation to address danger that was developing in real time. … It is important that our communities know that we will never tolerate hate or violence in New York City.”
Mike Driscoll, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, said at the press conference the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force received information about “an individual believed to pose a physical threat to an unidentified synagogue.” Driscoll said, “With significant sense of urgency, members of the JTTF set about identifying the individual or individuals involved.”
Driscoll said investigators first identified Brown and then also identified Mahrer as an “associate.” Driscoll said there is “no indication” of a continued threat to the Jewish community or any community in New York associated with the case.
2. Brown Tweeted ‘Gonna Ask a Priest if I Should Become a Husband or Shoot Up a Synagogue,’ Police Say
According to court documents, Brown tweeted on Thursday, “Gonna ask a Priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die.” The suspect tweeted, “Big moves are going to be made on Friday,” and, “This time, I’m really going to do it,” prosecutors said. His Twitter accounts appear to have been removed.
The Daily Beast reported that Brown was wearing a shirt that said, “I Have a Gun and I’m schizophrenic.” The news site wrote, “Earlier in the week, the NYPD Intelligence Division had noted that an individual with the Twitter handles VrilKhan and Vrilgod had been mixing incel postings with talk of body armor, firearms training, and ‘shooting up a synagogue and dying.'”
Driscoll thanked the public for the tips shared in the case and asked anyone with information about Brown or Mahrer or any other potential threats to contact the FBI or NYPD. He said this is “still very much an active investigation.”
Bragg, the district attorney, said, “The allegations in the court filings are stark. Possession of a firearm, a high-capacity magazine, an 8-inch-long military-style knife, a swastika arm patch and a Twitter posting about shooting a synagogue. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will be using the full resources of our counter-terrorism program and our expanded hate crimes unit for accountability and justice in this matter. We do not tolerate illegal guns in this city. We do not tolerate hate and antisemitism in this city. And we do not tolerate violence in this city.”
3. Brown Told Police He Runs a White Supremacist Group on Twitter & Mahrer Is One of His Followers, Police Said
Prosecutors said in court documents that Brown told police he runs a “white supremacist Twitter group” and Mahrer is a follower, NBC News reported. He told police, “I was going to be a coward and blow my brains out with it. 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,” prosecutors said.
According to The Post, Brown is a “diagnosed schizophrenic.” Brown’s sister, Kayla Brown, told CBS News, “He’s not a bad person. He’s just very sick, you know, and he needs help. Last time I talked to my brother was last night. He said he was in Pennsylvania, I’m not sure why. And then he said the FBI called him. He wasn’t really sure why. He was confused, and then radio silence since then. … My brother is very sick, and he is unmedicated. You know, when we were kids, we dealt with a lot. He never dealt with that.”
She added, “We were always worried that he would hurt himself. My brother would never hurt anybody. He would hurt himself before hurting anybody else. I really wanna try and talk with him and tell him, ‘Listen, you need to get help. It’s gone too far. You need help. You’re hurting yourself and others and everyone out there that cares about you.”
Adams said at the press conference, “A Nazi armband. In New York City. In 2022. Think about that for a moment. Over 77 years ago after Allied soldiers liberated Auschwitz and exposed the full extent of the horrors of the Holocaust, hate is on the rise in America, a dark cloud over our nation. It 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. … This is a toxic mix with frightening implications for our society.”
4. Mahrer’s Family Says He Has Jewish Ancestry & His Grandfather Is a 93-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor
Mahrer’s attorney said in court that he has Jewish ancestry and his grandfather is a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor, The New York Post reported. Attorney Brandon Freycint told the newspaper Mahrer has been diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder, anxiety and AHDH.
“There are a lot of questions here,” Freycint told The Post. “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.” Mahrer’s mother told the newspaper outside of court about her son, “He’s not what they are saying he is.”
Adams said at the press conference, “From the massacre of Black shoppers in Buffalo to the killings at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs over the weekend, we see communities across the nation being targeted for their race, their beliefs and their way of life. This hate cannot be allowed to take hold and build and gain further ground. America must defeat the rising threat of domestic terrorism. It is real. It is here. And we must have a formidable approach to it. And we must reject the hate and division that drives it. This time, thanks to thorough coordination between multiple agencies, at numerous levels of government, we were able to avert this threat.”
Adams added, “It is clear there’s others that share antisemitic beliefs and hateful ideas. We must and will be vigilant in the weeks leading up to Hanukkah and this holiday season and the NYPD will do its part.”
5. Brown Was Ordered Held Without Bail, While Mahrer Posted $300,000 Bond After the Pair Appeared in Court
According to online records, both men appeared in court on Sunday, November 20. Brown was ordered held without bond, records show. Mahrer was released after posting $300,000 bond or $150,000 cash bail. The conditions of his release weren’t immediately available.
It was not immediately clear if Brown and Mahrer could face additional charges in New York state court or if federal authorities could also bring charges against them. Driscoll, of the FBI, said the investigation is continuing.
Sewell, the NYPD commissioner, said in a statement, “We’re extremely grateful to NYPD investigators and our law enforcement partners who uncovered and stopped a threat to our Jewish community. This morning’s arrests in Penn Station and weapon seizures are proof of their vigilance & collaboration that keeps New Yorkers safe.”
Bragg, the district attorney, added on Twitter, “We stand with the Jewish community and condemn all acts of hate and antisemitism. We thank our @NYPDnews and @FBI law enforcement partners for their ongoing collaboration in this case.”