Man Sets Himself on Fire Near Courthouse Where Trump Is on Trial

A man set himself on fire Friday afternoon near the Lower Manhattan courthouse where jurors were being selected for the criminal trial of former President Donald J. Trump.

The man, who had lingered outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse earlier this week, doused himself with accelerant around 1:35 p.m. at Collect Pond Park, across the street from the building. Onlookers screamed and started running, and soon, bright orange flames engulfed the man. He threw leaflets espousing anti-government conspiracy theories into the air before setting himself on fire.

People rushed and tried to put out the flames, but the intensity of the heat could be felt at a distance.

After a minute or two, dozens of police officers arrived, running around and scaling the barricades to put out the fire. The man was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to a burn unit at the hospital. He died Friday evening.

City officials identified the man as Max Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Florida. Mr. Azzarello appeared outside the courthouse on Thursday, holding a sign displaying the address of a Web site where the same brochures were downloaded. The first article on the website says: “I set myself on fire outside of the Trump trial. »

Mr. Azzarello strolled through Lower Manhattan earlier in the week, holding a sign criticizing New York University in Washington Square Park on Wednesday before moving to Collect Pond Park on Thursday.

In the park on Thursday, Mr. Azzarello held up various signs and, at one point, shouted to a group of journalists gathered there: “The biggest scoop of your life or your money back!” » One of his signs claimed that Mr. Trump and President Biden were “about to bring a fascist coup on us.”

Authorities identified the man who set himself on fire as Max Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Florida. He appeared in court on Thursday. Credit…Nate Schweber for the New York Times

In an interview that day, he said his critical views of the U.S. government were shaped by his research on Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire and political provocateur who is a top campaign donor, and on cryptocurrency.

Mr. Azzarello said he left Washington Square Park because with the cold weather, he thought more people would be outside the courthouse.

“Trump is in on this,” Mr. Azzarello said Thursday. “It’s a secret kleptocracy, and it can only lead to an apocalyptic fascist coup.”

Mr. Azzarello arrived in New York shortly after April 13, police said, and his family in St. Augustine did not know his whereabouts until after the incident. While Mr. Azzarello was recently in Florida, he had ties to the New York area and worked for Rep. Tom Suozzi during his 2013 campaign for Nassau County executive on Long Island.

A man at a Brooklyn address associated with a possible relative of Mr. Azarello declined to comment Thursday.

However, over the past year, Mr. Azzarello’s behavior has become more erratic. He was arrested three times in 2023 on misdemeanor charges in Florida, and he posted online in August that he had just spent three days in a psychiatric hospital.

Later that month, while dining at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine, he threw a glass of wine over a framed autograph of former President Bill Clinton. He showed up again at the hotel two days later, on August 21, in his underwear and shouted profanities at guests while playing music from a loudspeaker.

Three days later, police arrested him for defacing and breaking signs belonging to several businesses. He collected a pest control sign from a business yard that warned passersby to keep children and pets away for their safety. In his comments to police, he said “the pest control company was there to exterminate children and dogs.”

His passport photo shows Mr. Azzarello sticking out his tongue.

In addition to his website, Mr. Azzarello was also active on social media, promoting anti-government literature on Instagram. Most of his online posts before spring 2022 were about his travels and family, and he noted that his mother died in April 2022 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

About a year later, he posted a photo of what appeared to be his Covid-19 vaccination card – defaced with the words “Super Ponzi” and the Bitcoin symbol.

People who witnessed the fire said they were in disbelief when they saw Mr. Azzarello, who was in an area of ​​the park reserved for Mr. Trump supporters, throw the fliers into the air and then flames soar towards the sky. Mr. Azzarello, who was wearing jeans and a dark gray T-shirt, fell to the ground in the middle of the fire.

Some pamphlets called New York University a “mob front” and also mentioned former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Al Gore and lawyer David Boies, who represented Mr. Gore during of the 2000 presidential election recount. Another pamphlet contained anti-government conspiracy theories, without indicating any discernible political direction.

Most of the officers who responded to the fire Thursday ran toward the courthouse, which is a few hundred yards across the street; some had difficulty immediately reaching Mr. Azzarello because of steel barricades in the park.

Al Baker, a court system spokesman, said the trial schedule would not be affected, although a court official was taken to the hospital due to the effects of smoke inhalation.

Fred Gates, 60, said he was cycling through the park when he stopped to watch Trump supporters and saw Mr. Azzarello preparing to light himself on fire. Mr Gates said he thought it was a prank or a show until he saw the flames.

Another witness, civil rights attorney Gideon Oliver, said he saw smoke rising from the park and a court official rushing out of a building with a fire extinguisher.

“When I saw and smelled the smoke, I thought someone, I assume it was one of the pro-Trump protesters, had started a fire in the park,” Mr. Oliver. “When I saw police and court officers running, I then thought maybe it was a bomb.”

Mr. Azzarello stood straight as he poured the accelerator on himself, then held a flame at chest level. As the people closest to him ran away, others screamed as they realized what he was about to do.

Screams and screams – but not from him – filled the air as flames consumed him and he slowly collapsed.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to for a list of additional resources.

Wesley Parnell, Alan Feuer, Chelsia Rose Marcius, Jan Ransom, Maria Cramer, Stefanos Chen, Nicolas Fandos And Dana Rubinstein reports contributed.

Gn headline
News Source :

Back to top button