How NYC synagogue shooting was foiled by Jewish group analyst

‘This time I’m really gonna do it’: How NYC synagogue shooting was foiled by Jewish group online security analyst who spotted troubling tweets about deadly plan and tipped off NYPD

  • Matthew Mahrer, 22, and Christopher Brown, 21, were arrested after they were planning to attack NYC synagogues and members of Jewish community 
  • The pair were busted on Friday on the Long Island Rail Road with Brown carrying weapons and a Nazi armband, according to police sources
  • Mitchell Silber, who leads the Community Security Initiative for the UJA-Federation of New York said an online security analyst saw early signs of a threat
  • Defunct Twitter handle @VrilGod linked to Brown had a series of alarming tweets caught by the analyst’s filters used to identify possible online threats
  • The tweets resulted in a police investigation that ended in the arrest of Brown and Mahrer just before midnight last Friday at Pennsylvania Station

The plot to shoot up a Manhattan synagogue was thwarted by a Jewish online security analyst, who came across chilling tweets foreshadowing the planned attack, and told the New York City Police Department.

The NYPD arrested Christopher Brown, 21, and Matthew Mahrer, 22, and seized weapons at Penn Station, stopping the potentially deadly threat against the city’s Jewish community.

A now defunct Twitter handle @VrilGod linked to Brown had been the platform for a series of alarming tweets which were caught by the analyst’s filters used to identify possible online threats.

Starting on November 12 Brown announced: ‘Big moves being made on Friday.’

‘Gonna ask a Priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die,’ he tweeted on Thursday.

On Friday, he followed up, saying: ‘This time I’m really gonna do it.’

Christopher Brown, 21

Matthew Mahrer, 22

Christopher Brown, 21, (left) and Matthew Mahrer, 22, (right) were arrested after they were planning to attack NYC synagogues and members of Jewish community

Brown (pictured) and Mahrer were busted on Friday on the Long Island Rail Road with Brown carrying weapons and a Nazi armband, according to police sources

Brown (pictured) and Mahrer were busted on Friday on the Long Island Rail Road with Brown carrying weapons and a Nazi armband, according to police sources

The NYPD arrested Brown and Mahrer at Penn Station and seized their weapons - stopping the potentially deadly threat against the city's Jewish community

The NYPD arrested Brown and Mahrer at Penn Station and seized their weapons – stopping the potentially deadly threat against the city’s Jewish community

Mitchell Silber, who leads the Community Security Initiative for the UJA-Federation of New York told the New York Times ‘alarm bells went off’ when the analyst, who remained nameless, reported the tweets.

It resulted in a police investigation that ended in the arrest of Brown and Mahrer just before midnight last Friday.

Incidents of harassment and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions have increased nationwide and have intensified as celebrities like the rapper Kanye West and the basketball player Kyrie Irving have come under fire for antisemitic posts on social media.

This month, federal investigators issued a warning about a security risk at New Jersey synagogues and questioned a man who holds ‘radical extremist views’ in connection with it.

On Tuesday, city and state authorities in New York announced increased security at synagogues and other Jewish institutions going into a long Thanksgiving weekend.

Gov. Kathy Hochul directed the State Police to intensify monitoring and increase support for communities that are potential targets of hate crimes.

She also signed legislation requiring people convicted of hate crimes to undergo sensitivity education and training, as well as establish a new campaign under the state’s Division of Human Rights to promote inclusion and tolerance.

New York City, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said her department would be responding by ‘strategically deploying assets at sensitive locations.’

Analysts on Silber’s team who contacted the authorities about the threat were monitoring filters that scrape the internet for possible local attacks by employing search terms like ‘Jewish, New York, synagogue, kill, shoot and die,’ Silber said.

The initiative was created after the Tree of Life synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, where 11 worshippers were gunned down in a 2018 mass shooting, he said.

The filters search mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as other chat forums including 4Chan, 8chan, Gab.com and Telegraph.

The tweets on Friday morning, from the account linked to Brown, stood out from the online antisemitic vitriol because ‘they were talking about action’ and included a time and day Silber added.

A Twitter user with the handle @VrilGod linked to Brown posted a series of alarming tweets caught by the analyst's filters used to identify possible online threats

A Twitter user with the handle @VrilGod linked to Brown posted a series of alarming tweets caught by the analyst’s filters used to identify possible online threats

Prosecutors and relatives of Mahrer (right) said that the 22-year-old is Jewish - and his grandfather is a Holocaust survivor

Prosecutors and relatives of Mahrer (right) said that the 22-year-old is Jewish – and his grandfather is a Holocaust survivor

Mitchell Silber, who leads the Community Security Initiative for the UJA-Federation of New York said an online security analyst saw early signs of a threat

Mitchell Silber, who leads the Community Security Initiative for the UJA-Federation of New York said an online security analyst saw early signs of a threat

It was believed that the threat might occur on Long Island, so consultants alerted law enforcement there.

But by the early afternoon, the security team found additional online profiles again linked to Brown which mentioned other threats.

City police officials were alerted to the apparent threat in New York City at about 2pm.

‘We basically told them that, ‘We know you get a lot of incoming, but you should pay attention to this,’ said Silber.

Brown and Mahrer were charged with felonies, including criminal possession of a weapon and making a terroristic threat.

Authorities seized an eight-inch military style knife and an illegally held gun with a 30-round magazine from Brown, who they said was also in possession of a swastika arm patch and ski mask.

Police said Brown had a history of mental illness and had recently expressed an interest in coming to New York to buy a gun.

Brown had also told authorities that he operated a white supremacist Twitter group and that Mahrer was one of his followers.  

In a criminal complaint obtained by the New York Post, Brown allegedly told police that he has ‘a sick personality,’ when pressed about the attacks and the gun.

‘I was going to be a coward and blow my brains out with it,’ Brown allegedly told police after his arrest.

The 21-year-old also told police that Mahrer was ‘a follower’ of his.

‘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,’ Brown allegedly told police, according to the complaint.  

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said that he and the Police Commissioner were immediately notified once it was made known that it was a credible threat

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said that he and the Police Commissioner were immediately notified once it was made known that it was a credible threat

Silber said that the online security initiative was created after the Tree of Life synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, where 11 worshippers were gunned down in a 2018 mass shooting

Silber said that the online security initiative was created after the Tree of Life synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, where 11 worshippers were gunned down in a 2018 mass shooting

Robert Bowers is a truck driver accused of killing 11 and wounding seven during an attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018

Robert Bowers is a truck driver accused of killing 11 and wounding seven during an attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018

Brown also reportedly posted a video of himself saying that he was going to ‘brutally murder people with hatchets and whatnot.’

Inside the apartment of Mahrer’s parents, whom he lived with, police found a gun and bulletproof vest after their arrests.  

On Monday Prosecutors and relatives of Mahrer said that the 22-year-old is Jewish – and his grandfather is a Holocaust survivor.

Stuart Rubenstein, Mahrer’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, appeared shocked by the disturbing news of his grandson.

He said he ‘never figured he [his grandson] would get involved in something like this,’ The Daily News reported.

‘He’s Jewish, you know?’ Rubenstein said, in part. ‘The other kid was more involved. The other kid must have talked him into it.’

Maher has been charged with criminal possession of a weapon and is currently being held on a $150,000 cash bail or $300,000 bond.

Although his lawyer said that based on his heritage, Mahrer should not face potential charges related to a hate crime.

Brown is charged with making a terroristic threat and several weapon possession charges.

Brown, who appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court Sunday morning wearing a camouflage puffer jacket and blue jeans, was ordered held without bail.  

Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and other law enforcement officials spoke at a news conference at City Hall on Monday and were joined by a number of religious leaders and members of the Jewish community.

Adams said that he and the Commissioner were immediately notified once it was made known that it was a credible threat. He said their number one priority was to apprehend the suspects as soon as possible.

The Mayor was limited on what he could share during the press conference but spoke about the role of social media and how it ‘must become more responsible in the spreading of hate.’

‘We saw what happened in Buffalo the individual involved was radicalized not by his parents, not by his family,’ Adams said.

‘He was radicalized by this new community that is really given life through social media.’

In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League found more than 2,700 incidents of anti- Semitic behavior nationwide. 

That number marked a staggering 34 percent jump from the from 2020. 

In an interview with PBS earlier this year, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League said that it’s a troubling statistic. 

‘This is the highest total we have ever tracked in more than 40 years of doing this work. And we should keep in mind that anti-Semitic acts were going down in the United States for almost 15 years, and then, in 2016, they started to move up.

‘And we’re now at the point where we have nearly triple the number of incidents today that we did in 2015.’

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