How a Jewish security network alerted police to the New York City threat

A tip from a Jewish security organization prompted police in New York to arrest two men accused of planning a synagogue attack. Police seized a large hunting knife and an illegal gun belonging to one of the men when they were picked up at Pennsylvania Station on Friday.

Eric Goldstein, the chief of the UJA-Federation of New York, during a news conference Monday, commended his group’s security team for identifying threatening posts from Christopher Brown, who was wearing a swastika arm patch when he was arrested on Friday.

But the process that led to the arrests of Brown, 21, and Matthew Mahrer, 22, was detailed during a public webinar Tuesday – offers a rare glimpse of how a comprehensive system of online surveillance by Jewish organizations and close ties to the police enable the community to repel violent threats.

“This is one of those times when this historic and close relationship with law enforcement is beneficial,” said Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a joint project of the UJA Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

Identifying the threat

Rebecca Federman, a threat analyst for the group, first noticed the ominous Twitter post that would ultimately lead police to Brown when she logged into her computer on Friday morning: “I’m going to ask a priest if I marry or shoot a synagogue and shall die.”

At 11:30 a.m. Federman, who is involved with an Anti-Defamation League team, had worked with her colleagues to relay the message — and other information about the anonymous account that posted it — to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eric Goldstein Adams, NYPD officer
Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA Federation of New York; New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and Mayor Eric Adams at a press conference at City Hall Monday about how the Jewish community tipped police off that a suspect was planning attacks on synagogues. Photo from the Office of the Mayor of New York City

The Community Security Trust, which tries to prevent anti-Semitism in the UK, also flagged the news overnight, alerting two other American groups that monitor anti-Semitic threats: The Secure Community Network, which works with Jewish associations, and the Community Security Service . leading a squad of synagogue volunteers.

“I’m sure all of our acronyms could be a comedy routine,” said Hindy Poupko, who hosted the webinar for the UJA Federation.

But in the case of the New York threat — and a similar one aimed at synagogues in New Jersey earlier this month — those involved said the organizations worked smoothly together.

Around 2 p.m., New York City Police Department contacted Silber’s team to request copies of the Twitter messages in order to obtain information from the social media company about the person behind the account.

Silber spent seven years as a senior officer in the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Division and was able to use his connections with law enforcement to get them to take the threat seriously: “I know you get a lot in your inbox,” he recalled remembered the communication to police on Friday, “but we think this one is really important.”

Then they waited. When a regional federation security manager in Queens reached out at 9 p.m. to say the NYPD was warning Brown with a “watch out” warning, Silber said he was trying to stalk the department’s intelligence chief, Thomas Galati reach out to see if The warning was a result of the tip from the Jewish community.

“Yes, Mitch, that’s the guy,” Galati reportedly told him when he answered the phone, even though he happened to be in Australia. “It’s live right now.”

Close ties to the police

These close ties to senior police officers are a relatively new phenomenon for Jewish organizations.

“You’re looking back at Jewish life 50 years ago — the kind of relationships they had with law enforcement wasn’t like that,” said Greg Ehrie, who joined the ADL in 2020 after more than two decades as vice president of law enforcement and analysis at the FBI .

These law enforcement backgrounds are now commonly seen on the resumes of top security officials at major Jewish organizations.

For example, Michael Masters, director of the Secure Community Network, affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America, is a former chief of staff of the Chicago Police Department and a member of the Advisory Board of the Department of Homeland Security.

Ehrie, who previously oversaw FBI investigations in New Jersey, said federal law enforcement has a unique ability to “digest” the type of information identified by analysts at ADL and other Jewish nonprofits, but that those groups Provide a clear benefit to the community: You can direct resources to specifically focus on threats faced by Jews.

The ADL has about 35 analysts at its Extremism Center who study online threats full-time and share their insights with both law enforcement and groups like the Community Security Service, which claims thousands of volunteers at synagogues and Jewish institutions across the country .

Evan Bernstein, the organization’s director, said Jewish security officials set up an emergency group chat on Friday to coordinate messaging. That meant he could be sure that whatever bulletins he sent out to hundreds of CSS members in New York City — who keep vigil outside of their schools — matched what his colleagues were seeing.

Meanwhile, while the Jewish groups awaited updates from law enforcement, they had also helped shomrim groups — Orthodox security patrols in Jewish neighborhoods — activate their volunteers across Brooklyn on Friday night.

boasting of plans

Despite its growth in recent years, the Jewish security surveillance infrastructure naturally lacks the security clearances and subpoena powers of actual police forces. That means its ability to identify threats and provide leads to police is usually limited to those posted in dark corners of the internet.

But fortunately, according to the analysis, many of those aiming to perpetrate anti-Semitic violence cannot avoid doing these posts. Like Brown, the New York suspect, Omar Alkattoul, the 18-year-old New Jersey man arrested earlier this month for threatening to attack a synagogue, reportedly caught the attention of law enforcement after making an anti-Semitic rant online Manifesto had spread.

“It doesn’t necessarily make sense from a logistical standpoint,” said Federman, the New York analyst, “but I think a lot of these people want the recognition.”

“It’s sort of their flex – if you will – to demonstrate that they really were that bad, that they really planned this.”