When police arrested 22-year-old Christopher Brown early Saturday morning, he was wearing a black T-shirt stenciled with “I Have a Gun and I’m schizophrenic.” He was carrying a bag found to contain a hunting knife, a black wool balaclava, and an armband emblazoned with a symbol of hate.
“A Nazi swastika,” a police official told The Daily Beast.
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.”
“Big moves are going to be made on Friday,” one post read, according to the official. “This time, I’m really going to do it.”
The detectives traced the postings to an IP address associated with a veterinary hospital. They said they identified Brown as the person who had been using the computer to talk of “big moves.” They traced him to physical addresses in Riverhead on Long Island and Dobbs Ferry in Westchester. But he was not at either location.
In the meantime, police issued Intelligence Alert #78340324, an internal BOLO (Be On The Lookout notice) for Brown. The BOLO included a photo of him and reported, “The above listed individual has made recent threats to unknown Jewish synagogues in the New York area.”
The BOLO further reported some of what detectives say they had learned while seeking to locate him: “This individual has a history of mental illness and has recently expressed interest in traveling to NYC to purchase a firearm. The subject should be considered armed and dangerous.”
By then it was Friday, and the detectives knew that every moment could have brought word that tweets had turned into terror. The Joint Terrorism Task Force had joined in as the continuing hunt for Brown led to an apartment on West 94th Street in Manhattan, where a 22-year-old acquaintance named Matthew Mahrer resides with his parents. Neither Brown nor Mahrer were there, but detectives did find a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol and a 30-round magazine in a backpack.
Thankfully there was no “big move” as the manhunt continued on into the early morning hours of Saturday. The detectives got a tip that Brown and Mahrer were headed for Penn Station. Around 3 a.m., sharp-eyed Metropolitan Transportation Authority cops spotted them there. The two were taken into custody.
Mahrer was charged with illegal weapons possession. Brown was also held on a weapons charge. He may face further charges similar to those lodged against 18-year-old Omar Alkattoul, who was arrested on Nov. 10 in New Jersey for “using social media to send a manifesto containing a threat to attack a synagogue based on his hatred of Jews.”
Brown’s two Twitter accounts have been taken down. It was not immediately clear if he and Mahrer had retained lawyers.
Saturday’s arrests in New York showed that more than two decades after 9/11, the NYPD and the JTTF are still keeping vigil. And the nerve frazzling night had ended without event.
“Whether it was the biggest thing in the world, maybe not, but this one might have materialized into something if they hadn’t stopped it,” a police official said.
He added, “We’ll never know if that’s true. But it shows one thing for sure: They’re on top of it.”