One of the men arrested for an alleged plot to carry out a shooting at a New York City synagogue has been connected to Twitter accounts with a long history of neo-Nazi activity and making threats, new research shows.
On Nov. 18, New York City police arrested two men at Penn Station carrying a “large 8-inch military-style knife, a blade longer than 4 inches, a Swastika arm patch, and a ski mask.” in connection to threats against a synagogue.
Police first became aware of one of the men after the Twitter account @Vrilgod began tweeting out threats. New research by an anti-fascist software developer, however, shows that the account’s racist online activity appears to go back years, including previous threats against synagogues.
“Sorry kitten daddy can't answer on discord right now he's doing #WhiteAryanTerror shit at the synagogue,” one of the accounts wrote in February 2021, according to Travis Brown and Casey Ho, anti-fascist researchers who shared their findings with VICE News. The accounts were routinely deleted, but the user would just start new ones and openly say he was behind the previously deleted accounts and keep posting.
The most recent account has since been deleted as well, but police said that Christopher Brown (no relation to Travis), a 22-year-old New York man, tweeted out things like ”big moves being made on Friday,” “gonna ask a Priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die,” and “this time I’m really going to do it.”
Police connected the account to the suspect. Taking the threats seriously, authorities put together a task force to find him and issued an alert to look out for the young man. Cops then traced the suspect to the home of his alleged accomplice Matthew Mahrer, 22. While they didn’t find the two young men there, officers did find a backpack containing a handgun and 30-round magazine. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the handgun was a “ghost gun”—generally described as an untraceable firearm often assembled at home—in a press conference on Monday. Adams said the alleged plot was not an “idle threat.”
The task force was tipped off about the two being at Penn Station, where Metropolitan Transportation Authority officers spotted them. The pair were arrested just before midnight on Friday without incident. In addition to the knives, it’s been reported that the suspect was wearing a T-shirt that said “I have a gun and am schizophrenic” at the time of his arrest. The pair face several charges including criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm.
Police said if they weren’t able to find the two men, hundreds of people were going to reach out to every synagogue in the city to warn the places of worship and the community of the looming threat.
The suspect allegedly told police the Twitter account belonged to him and that the two went to St. Patrick's Cathedral the day before for "a blessing.”
"I have a sick personality. I was going to be a coward and blow my brains out with (the gun)," the suspect told police, according to the criminal complaint. "It took me three years to buy the gun."
The arrested man has seemingly been operating in neo-Nazi circles on a major social media platform for years, according to Travis Brown, who was able to connect several Twitter accounts and a Discord server to the@vrilgod Twitter handle that police indicated belonged to the suspect—Vril is an esoteric neo-Nazism term that arose from a 1871 science fiction novel that features an Aryan super race. The researcher says he was then able to scrape and archive the tweets connected to the accounts.
Travis Brown was able to connect the accounts by using scraped Discord data that showed the @vrilgod account was connected to a network of overlapping usernames and posts, many of which identified new accounts as belonging to the owner of previously banned accounts. He then generated a list of tweets via archives on the wayback machine. While the accounts didn’t post the suspect’s name, they all share significant identifiers and branding like the same location (New York), height, the suspect’s middle name, and avatar.
The research, shared with VICE News, contained thousands of scraped tweets from multiple deleted Twitter accounts. Travis Brown found that the original name for the @vrilgod account was @K***Annihilator, but it was quickly changed. The accounts show that the poster has been actively involved in the Twitter-based neo-Nazi community for at least several years.
Over those years, the accounts made multiple references to attacking synagogues and committing domestic terrorism.
“Found a synagogue less than 4 miles from my house brb guys :).” one of the accounts tweeted over two years ago. The account also tweeted, “I’m about to make the Turner Diaries look like a fucking joke.”
VICE News reached out to the suspect’s lawyer for comment but did not receive a response.
The user posted that Twitter was the main place that he spent online but was also active on Telegram and Discord—both areas rife with neo-Nazi communities. Much of the posting was done in the style of the shitposting popular in the community. Matthew Kriner, a senior research scholar at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, analyzed the tweets and said the similarities show how engrained the user was in the online neo-Nazi community.
"The social media activity and ideological and tactical justification for targeting in the planned attack are consistent with the propaganda and content promoted in recent Terrorgram publications," said Kriner. “The disruption of the plot also shows that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are taking the threat of militant accelerationism seriously.”
According to the criminal complaint, the suspect told police that he runs a “white supremacist Twitter group.” While the scraped accounts show that the poster was active within Twitter’s community of neo-Nazis, he rarely posted about more organized far-right groups like Atomwaffen or The Base. He described the man who was arrested with him as a “follower” of his.
A bizarre aspect of the case, however, came to light Tuesday when Mahrer’s lawyer brought up his client’s Jewish heritage during a bail hearing. Outside the courtroom, the accused mother told reporters her son is “not who they are saying he is.”
“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 defense lawyer said on Saturday, according to New York Post.
The arrests come just weeks after the FBI issued a warning to all synagogues in New Jersey after receiving “credible information of a broad threat.” In connection to the threat, authorities arrested a 18-year-old teenager who ad written a pro-ISIS anti-semitic screed online and said he wanted to “curb stomp” LGBTQ people. The young man has since claimed he was “LARPing” as a terrorist.
Mayor Adams took aim at social media sites in a press conference on Monday saying they need ”to come to the table and reckon with the role they unintentionally play in the spreading of hate.” He spoke of how the alleged neo-Nazi mass murderer in Buffalo was not radicalized by friends and family but social media.
“This hate cannot be allowed to take hold and build and gain further ground. America must defeat the rising threat of domestic terrorism,” Adams said. “It is real. It is here.”
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.
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