Man sets himself on fire outside Trump trial courthouse in New York

<span>A police officer uses a fire extinguisher as emergency personnel respond to a report of a person covered in flames outside court in New York on Friday.</span><span>Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters</span>
A police officer uses a fire extinguisher as emergency personnel respond to a report of a person covered in flames outside court in New York on Friday.Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

A man was in critical condition in a New York hospital on Friday after setting himself on fire outside the lower Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump is on trial in a hush-money case.

Pictures of the incident were carried live on television and spread on X, formerly Twitter.

Authorities identified the man as Maxwell Azzarello, from St Augustine, Florida, and said he had thrown pamphlets in the air containing anti-government conspiracy theories before setting himself alight. He had also made at least one similarly themed posting online.

“At 1.30 this afternoon we observed a male walk into the center of the park, he starts shuffling around his clothes, he opens up a book bag, takes numerous pieces of paper, he throws the pamphlets throughout the park and then he pulls out a canister and put some kind of liquid on himself, and he lights himself on fire,” Jeffrey Maddrey, chief of the New York police department, told reporters at an afternoon press conference.

“Civilians, court officers, members of the police department, they run into the park, they make efforts to put him out, they use their coats, they use fire extinguishers. Eventually, fire department of New York responders were able to extinguish the fire.”

He said Azzarello, who was born in 1987 and arrived in New York from Florida earlier this week, was “alive and intubated” in the burn center of New York’s Cornell medical center.

Three NYPD officers and one court officer had been treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries received as they attempted to douse the flames, Laura Kavanagh, the city fire commissioner, said.

The incident occurred just as Judge Juan Merchan was recessing for lunch on the third day of the former president’s trial for fraud, shortly after a full jury of 12, and six alternates, were seated.

It happened in an area of the plaza close to where small numbers of protesters have gathered each day since the trial began on Monday, other than Wednesday’s day off.

Joseph Kenny, NYPD’s chief of detectives, said the pamphlets and social media posts made by Azzarello suggested the trial was a backdrop to Azzarello’s action, rather than a reason for it.

“The pamphlet seems to be propaganda-based, almost like a conspiracy-theory-type of pamphlet, some information in regards to Ponzi schemes, and the fact that some of our local educational institutes are a front for the mob,” he said, adding that Azzarello had no criminal history in New York, and was not previously known to authorities.

Tarik Sheppard, the deputy commissioner of the NYPD, also said detectives did not believe Trump, or his supporters, were the focus of the Azzarello’s action.

“We do not believe this was targeting any particular person or a particular group. We just right now labeled him as a sort of conspiracy theorist and we’ll go from there, but the investigation will continue,” he said.

Video images broadcast live showed Azzarello kneeling on the ground, and waving his arms, as flames engulfed him. Television commentators described the scene as a number of police officers and a man in a civilian suit ran towards him.

One person attempted to swat at the flames with a coat or blanket, before another sprayed a fire extinguisher at him. The man remained motionless, after the fire was put out, and removed by paramedics.

Afterwards, police closely examined the area of the fire, studying a charred pile of the pamphlets that were still smoking.

A bystander described the incident: “He made a noise and he threw all those pamphlets. It’s shocking. There’s some people crying in the park. There’s just nothing you can do.”

Inside the courtroom, Merchan, seemingly unaware of events outside, told the newly selected jurors that opening statements were set for Monday at 9.30am, and recessed the hearing for lunch.

CNN said a person believed to be a secret service agent walked up to Trump inside the courtroom and spoke quietly in his ear.

The Associated Press contributed reporting