New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Max Azzarello, man who died after self-immolating outside Trump trial, distributed pamphlets with NYU-related conspiracies

Azzarello had been seen sharing similar pamphlets in Washington Square Park in the days leading up to the demonstration.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
File photo: A lone protester outside the Criminal Courthouse across the street at Collect Pond Park on April 16, 2024. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Max Azzarello, the man who set himself on fire outside of the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse where former U.S. President Donald Trump is currently on trial late last week, dispersed pamphlets with NYU-related conspiracy theories on them prior to the fatal demonstration. The pamphlets included conspiracy theories that the university is involved in “blackmail rings,” “criminal propaganda” and “political revenge killings.”

Azzarello, who the university says was not affiliated with NYU, entered a park across from the courthouse on Friday afternoon and scattered dozens of the pamphlets before dousing himself in an accelerant. Emergency response teams brought Azzarello to a hospital burn unit in critical condition, where he later died, the New York City Police Department told WSN.

We are shocked by the news about the individual who set himself on fire in lower Manhattan, and that he was carrying flyers mentioning NYU,” university spokesperson John Beckman said. “The claims made in the pamphlet are utterly absurd.” 

The pamphlet also directed readers to his account on the publishing platform Substack, which detailed more NYU-related conspiracy theories, including one claiming the university and several high-profile affiliates were involved in various “Ponzi schemes.” The top article on the website is titled “I have set myself on fire outside the Trump Trial” which identified him as a 37-year-old man from Florida. 

The New York Times reported that Azzarello only began expressing an interest in conspiracy theories last year, and his oldest post on his substack, called “The Ponzi Papers,” dates back to April 16, 2023. He had previously graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Rutgers University, and worked several sales, technology and marketing jobs. Azzarello had also worked on Rep. Tom Suozzi’s campaign for Nassau County executive in 2013.

It remains unclear when Azzarello came to New York City, although he was seen in Washington Square Park last week with a sign that read “NYU is a mob front,” talking to students and parkgoers. Azzarello had reportedly planned to conduct the demonstration — which he referred to as an “extreme act of protest” — in Washington Square Park, but changed his plans because he thought the weather and trials would draw more people to the courthouse.

“To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain upon you,” the story reads. “But I assure you it is a drop in the bucket compared to what our government intends to inflict.”

Contact Dharma Niles at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Dharma Niles
Dharma Niles, Deputy News Editor
Dharma Niles is a first-year student currently studying journalism and politics at CAS, and has yet to choose between the six different minors she'd also like to pursue. You can generally find her playing NYT games, skittering around the city with a Celsius in hand or on Instagram @dharmaniles.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
Jason Alpert-Wisnia, Editor-at-Large
Jason Alpert-Wisnia is a junior majoring in Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, primarily focused on photojournalism and documentary photography. His photography ranges from coverage of professional sports, to political protests and music festivals. When he is not pounding the pavement with a camera in his hands looking for the next story, you are likely to find Jason in a used bookstore looking for rare finds or in the park reading. You can find him on Instagram @jasonalpertwisnia and contact him at [email protected].

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