Jewish Organization First Spotted Tweet that Led to Quick Arrest of Suspects En Route to Attack Shul
By Yehudit Garmaise
Two MTA police officers arrested two men who were riding the subway on their way to attack a NYC shul over Shabbos thanks to the quick work of an employee of Community Security Initiatives (CSI), who called the NYPD about a distressing Twitter post.
As soon as one CSI employee saw a Twitter post that made “alarm bells go off,” said CSI leader Mitch Silber, the former head of NYPD intelligence, “we basically told [the NYPD], ‘We know you get a lot of incoming, but you should pay attention to this.”
On Nov. 18, a Twitter user with the handle @VrilGod had posted, “Big moves being made on Friday,” about “shooting up a synagogue,” by 10pm on Friday night.
CSI’s tip was the first action that led to what Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called the NYPD’s “exhaustive intelligence gathering that led to the arrests” in Penn Station at midnight on Friday night.
The Jewish community first took responsibility to monitor online hate speech that threatens violence after police discovered that Robert G. Bowers, who killed 11 Jews and wounded others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Shabbos morning on Oct. 27, 2018, had first posted hateful manifestos online announcing his plans, as mass shooters often do, explained Eric Goldstein, the CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York at a press conference on Monday.
Bowers had posted his hate speech on Gab.com, a platform, similar to 4chan, 8chan, and Telegraph, which allows violent hate speech that might be blocked on Twitter and Facebook.
“Mitch and his team now spent every waking moment working across the community to ensure our safety, and they work hand-in-hand with the volunteers at Community Security Service (CSS), and our friends at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in this critical work,” Goldstein said.
While using online filters and searching for terms, such as “Jewish,” “New York,” “synagogue,” “kill,” “shoot and die,” Silber told the New York Times, a security analyst who works for CSI spotted the alarming posts that set off a chain of action that quickly led to the arrests of Christopher Brown, 21, and Matthew Mahrer, 22, just before midnight last Friday night at Penn Station.
Amidst never-ending hate crimes nationwide, on Nov. 20, Gov. Kathy Hochul directed New York State Police to "ramp up monitoring" on social media, and to identify hateful sentiments and possible threats to "communities that are potential targets of hate crimes."
On Monday, Mayor Adams, who reassured Jews that the NYPD “will do its part and be vigilant in the weeks leading up to Chanukah, credited, “law enforcement for being able to prevent an attack, like the shocking stabbings that took place at a rabbi’s house [in Monsey] during Chanukah in 2019.”
On Friday, however, the NYPD was only able to catch suspects Brown and Maher thanks to the CSI, which first spotted the online threat to a NYC shul and quickly sounded the alarm.
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