NEW YORK – One of the wannabe Nazis busted for allegedly plotting to shoot up a city synagogue is Jewish and his grandfather survived the Holocaust, prosecutors and relatives said Sunday.
Matthew Mahrer, 22, who was arraigned on weapons charges Saturday night, conspired with Christopher Brown, also 22, to buy a gun and “shoot up a synagogue and die,” according to their criminal complaints, before police stopped them.
“I never figured he would get involved in something like this. He’s Jewish, you know? It’s unbelievable,” said Mahrer’s maternal grandfather, Stuart Rubenstein. “I don’t know how he got involved. The other kid was more involved. The other kid must have talked him into it.”
Rubenstein said Mahrer’s paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.
Brown declared his intentions to make “big moves” in a string of tweets over the past several days, sending the NYPD and federal authorities into a scramble to find him. “I have a sick personality. I was going to be a coward and blow my brains out,” he told police after his arrest Friday night.
Brown admitted he was a white supremacist, and has made several comments alluding to or bragging about violence online, assistant District Attorney Alexander Bourdakos said during his arraignment on weapons and terror charges.
Brown told prosecutors that Mahrer was one of his followers. Brown, who bought a gun in Pennsylvania, also had a copy of “The Turner Diaries” – a 1978 novel frequently cited by white supremacist terrorists, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh – in his Long Island home, prosecutors said.
He and Mahrer were busted at Penn Station late Friday night, after Brown started posting his plans on his now-defunct Twitter account, “VrilGod.”
Brown’s string of tweets started Nov. 12, when he announced “Big moves being made on Friday,” prosecutors said.
“Gonna ask a Priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die,” he tweeted on Thursday, and on Friday, he followed up, “This time I’m really gonna do it,” according to prosecutors.
The tweets, and others, sent police scrambling to find Brown, and at 11:50 p.m. on Friday, after police released a wanted poster, Metropolitan Transit Authority officers spotted him and Mahrer in Penn Station and took him into custody.
Police found a bag with a Glock-style pistol, a large-capacity magazine, and 17 9 mm bullets in a bag in the lobby of Mahrer’s apartment building at about 11 p.m. Video showed Mahrer carrying the bag as he and Brown walked into the building about 45 minutes earlier.
When police arrested the duo, Brown had “a large 8-inch military style knife, with a blade longer than 4-inches, a Swastika arm patch and a ski-mask,” according to the criminal complaint.
“It took me three years to finally buy the gun,” he told police. “Matt is one of my followers. I have Nazi paraphernalia in my house. I think it is really cool. I also operate a white supremacist Twitter group.”
Brown said he and Mahrer met at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before buying the gun because he “wanted to get the blessing,” according to the complaint.
A friend of Mahrer’s named “Jay” drove the pair to his house in Pennsylvania to buy a gun, and Brown sent Mahrer $650 through Cash App to make the purchase, he said, according to the compliant.
“I changed my mind because I was nervous about the police and didn’t want the gun anymore, but Matt bought it anyway from Jay,” he said, according to the complaint. “I was there when Matt bought the gun from Jay. We were playing with the gun. I held the gun and then gave it to Matt, who put it in his book bag. We drove back to Manhattan.”
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.
He admitted he was a white supremacist, and has made several comments alluding to or bragging about violence online, Bourdakos said.
“In November 2021, (Brown) posted comments online that he wanted to die by ‘police suicide’ as well as (that) he had previously violently attacked a transgender person and was most proud of being ‘good at raping women,’ Bourdakos said.
His Legal Aid Society lawyer, Arthur Mendola, asked for his release without bail, saying that he has no criminal record and works at an animal shelter.
Mahrer, who was arraigned late Saturday night on weapon possession charges, was ordered held on $150,000 cash bail or $300,000 bond.
“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,” Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said. “Hateful antisemitic targeting of synagogues is deplorable. I am grateful to our law enforcement partners – the NYPD and the FBI – for their quick intervention in apprehending these individuals before they could carry out any attack.”
On Sunday, Mahrer’s grandfather told the Daily News he’s puzzled that his grandson got involved with such a plot.
“There was no inkling of anything like this,” he said. “He’s a good boy; he’s got some health issues.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.