Florida man who lit himself on fire outside Trump trial courthouse touted conspiracy theories

NEW YORK — A Florida man set himself on fire in a city park across from Manhattan Criminal Court where former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial was being held Friday to draw attention to an array of conspiracy theories including his belief that Ivy League colleges were “fronts for the mob,” authorities said.

There was no indication, however, that the man, Max Azzarello, had any specific grievances related to the trial or Trump.

Court officers and police monitoring reporters and photographers outside the courthouse raced over to put out the pillar of fire that enveloped Azzarello, 37, in a penned-off section of Collect Pond Park across the street at about 1:30 p.m.

“I was about 20 to 30 feet from him. I started yelling, ‘This guy’s doing something, he might be doing something!” Fred Gates, who witnessed the fire, told the Daily News. “When he… when the fire (broke out) it was just disbelief,” he said.

“I never saw anything like this.”

Authorities at a news conference identified the man as a resident of St. Augustine, Florida. He remained in critical condition Friday.

Azzarello, described by authorities as a “conspiracy theorist,” posted a rambling manifesto just before the blaze began.

“I am an investigative researcher who has set himself on fire outside of the Trump trial in Manhattan,” he wrote. “This extreme act of protest is to draw attention to an urgent and important discovery: We are victims of a totalitarian con, and our own government (along with many of their allies) is about to hit us with an apocalyptic fascist world coup.”

A QR code on fliers he carried directed people to where his manifesto was posted online, officials said.

Azzarello recently arrived in Manhattan from Florida, police said.

Dressed in a grey T-shirt and dark pants, Azzarello calmly walked to the center of the block-long park before he suddenly threw all his pamphlets into the air, NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said.

“He then takes a canister and pours some kind of liquid on himself and lights himself on fire,” Maddrey said. “The male takes a couple of steps while he’s on fire and eventually falls into a police barrier and falls down to the ground.”

Azzarello caught fire, as did a small patch of concrete where some of the accelerant, described as an alcohol-based liquid used for cleaning, had spilled, Maddrey said. The flames reached about 8 feet high as first responders tried to put out the blaze, images from the incident show.

“They used coats, they used fire extinguishers,” Maddrey said. “Eventually, the FDNY responds and was able to extinguish the fire.”

EMS rushed Azzarello to New York Presbyterian-Cornell Hospital, where he was in critical condition Friday afternoon. Three police officers and a court officer were also taken to area hospitals suffering from smoke inhalation, fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.

A 73-year-old man who had been walking through the park heard a clattering of the papers when they hit the ground — then saw something he wished he hadn’t.

“The papers were kind of stiff. That drew my attention,” the man, who identified himself as Dave, said. “I saw him take out a can of liquid and put it over his head.

“He doused himself real good at which point I thought ‘This is going to be awful.'” Dave said, recalling the horrific scene. “He then took out a lighter and lit himself on fire.”

It took first responders “a while” to put out the blaze, Dave said.

“He was fully aflame,” he said. “It was pretty bad. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Word of the self-immolation occurred as prosecutors and Trump’s attorneys finished selecting the final alternate jurors for the hush money trial involving porn actress Stormy Daniels, which is expected to continue on Monday.

Gates said Azzarello was calm as he took two gas cans out of his backpack.

“(He) put them down on the ground, just slow, calm,” Gates recalled. “Then he took a bunch of fliers out of his backpack, threw them into the air and then he picked up one (can) and dumped it on himself and then he picked up another and dunked the other half of himself and by that time I was running.”

An investigation into the incident was continuing Friday.

A LinkedIn page in Azzarello’s name indicates he went to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill between 2005 and 2009. He also earned a master's of city and regional planning from Rutgers University.

His rambling screed touched on Ponzi schemes, bank failures, the rise of cryptocurrency, the television show “The Simpsons” and Harvard University, which he called “one of the largest organized crime fronts in history.”

“To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain upon you,” Azzarello wrote about his alleged self-immolation. “But I assure you it is a drop in the bucket compared to what our government intends to inflict.”

NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said Azzarello’s fliers were “propaganda based.”

“(It was) almost like a conspiracy theory type of pamphlet,” Kenny said. “It had information in regards to Ponzi schemes and that some of our local education institutes are fronts for the mob. There’s a bit of a conspiracy theory going on here.”

Azzarello has no criminal record in New York and he wasn’t on anyone’s radar, police said.

“We do not believe he was targeting any person or group,” Kenny said. “He’s a conspiracy theorist.”

Surveillance cameras recorded Azzarello walking into the park. Detectives were investigating how he made his way to the park and were also looking for his car, Kenny said.

Detectives have reached out to Azzarello’s family, who said they didn’t know he was in the Big Apple, Kenny said.

The NYPD was expected to review security procedures both inside and outside the courthouse following Friday’s fire. The park was open to the public Friday afternoon so Azzarello “did not breach the security protocols” the NYPD made with court officers and the Secret Service, Maddrey explained.

“We will reassess our security with our federal partners,” he said.

Despite the horrific turn of events, court proceeded Friday, Al Baker, a spokesman for New York State Courts, said.

“The entire court is impacted by this. The court officers rushed to help aid the man,” Baker said. “Everyone who works in this building every day, their heart goes out to this incident. The judge himself has expressed concern for him, but in terms of the timing, and the process that is unchanged, the court proceeding will continue.”