Man sets himself on fire in protest area outside Trump hush money trial in Manhattan – NBC New York

A man set himself on fire outside the courtroom where former President Donald Trump is facing charges in a hush money case, witnesses and officials said.

The person, identified as Maxwell Azzarello, set himself aflame after walking into Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday, in the designated protest area across the street from the courthouse in lower Manhattan where Trump’s trial is taking place, according to NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey.

He started shuffling around his clothes and opened a backpack, taking out pamphlets and throwing them around the small park. Azzarello then took out a cannister, poured a liquid accelerant on himself, and lit himself on fire, Maddrey said. Police believe the accelerant was a type of alcohol-based substance used for cleaning.

He was able to take a few steps while on fire and walked into a police barrier, then fell down, according to Maddrey. Video appeared to show the moments after the self-immolation, as Azzarello laid on the ground burning, at times seemingly seizing.

There was already a heavy NYPD presence already outside the building due to the high-profile nature of the trial, and officers rushed to get what appeared to be a fire extinguisher to douse the flames, while others tried to use jackets to cover the fire. Their first attempt to put out the blaze was unsuccessful, and video appeared to show the man trying to sit up.

The fire was ultimately put out minutes later after police and FDNY brought a larger extinguisher, leaving a smoky scene outside court as a gaggle of reporters and horrified witnesses looked on.

The man was taken away by EMS to a burn unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Cornell Medical Center in critical condition, the FDNY said. Six other first responders, including at least three NYPD officers and a court officer, also suffered minor injuries while responding to the incident, according to the fire department.

The bomb squad swept the park after the incident looking for any possible devices. Nothing was found, police said.

A man sets himself on fire in protest area outside Trump hush money trial in Manhattan.

It came as a full jury of 12 people and six alternates had been seated in the case against Trump, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial will place Trump in a Manhattan courtroom for weeks, forcing him to juggle his dual role as criminal defendant and political candidate against the backdrop of his tightly contested race against President Joe Biden.

For more coverage of the Trump trial, click here.

Who is the man who set himself on fire?

Maxwell Azzarello, a 37-year-old from St. Augustine, Florida, came to New York City earlier in the week, NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said at a press conference. While it wasn’t clear when exactly he arrived in the city, police said he was in Florida as recently as April 13. His family was unaware he had traveled to NYC, Kenny said.

Police said it is believed he walked over from Leonard Street, adjacent to Collect Pond Park, and set himself on fire soon after. It was not immediately clear if he drove to the area of lower Manhattan or had taken some form of public transit.

“This gentleman did not breach security protocols. The park was opened to the public. But, of course, we’re going to take a look at everything and with the magnitude of what’s going on around right here, we’ll reassess our security with our federal partners,” said Maddrey.

Azzarello was said to have thrown pamphlets around before self-immolating. According to Kenny, the pamphlets were “propaganda-based” and involved a conspiracy theory “in regards to Ponzi schemes.” They also contained theories that about local educational institutes and the Mafia.

Police said it did not appear Azzarello carried out the incident with any intention of targeting Trump supporters or protesters, and didn’t seemingly have any intentions beyond promoting the conspiracy theories detailed in the pamphlets.

It was not clear whether Azzarello said anything before lighting himself on fire, but police didn’t have any information leading them to believe he did. The department did comb through his social media and found he posted something online in advance that was connected to the incident, which shared more information about the conspiracy theories the pamphlets touted.

The vast conspiracy theory he described online involved the American government, a university, political figures and major financial players. His actions did not appear to be a clear direct response to what the Trump trial going on inside inside the courtroom, but rather were done at that particular place and time in order to draw media attention to his conspiracy claims.

Kenny said it did not appear Azzarello had any criminal history in New York. Police records show he was arrested on four misdemeanor charges including criminal mischief, property damage, disturbing the peace in Florida in Aug. 2023

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