A ‘gentle soul’ whose mother’s death sent him into decline: How Max Azzarello came to set himself on fire outside Trump trial

Max Azzarello, 37, who died after setting himself on fire outside the Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump is on trial, had recently started posting anti-establishment conspiracy theories online, including a lengthy article on Substack which blasted politicians, and billionaires and even made reference to The Simpsons.

The manifesto-style document warned of an impending “apocalyptic fascist world coup.”

At 1.30pm ET on Friday 19 April, he entered a park outside the New York courthouse, where Donald Trump’s historic criminal trial is taking place, and set himself on fire. The horrific incident lasted several minutes before the flames were extinguished by police officers and court staff.

Police told NBC news that he was declared dead by the hospital after he was admitted with severe burn injuries. No time of death was given by the police.

His friends described Azzarello as a “gentle” and “very personable” man. Some struggled to see how his final act was committed by the person they once knew so well, while others noted how his mother’s death had seemed to leave an indelible mark, driving him to support conspiracy theories and go a “little haywire”.

In his lengthy post, Azzarello described himself as an “investigative researcher”.

Police said that his driver’s licence showed he was born in 1987 and was a native of St Augustine, Florida. A registered Democrat, he attended the University of North Carolina from 2005 to 2009, according to public records and his LinkedIn page. He then obtained his master’s degree in city and regional planning in 2012 from Rutgers.

Those close to Azzarello described his as kind, creative, and well-informed — albeit concerned — about the world.

Steven Waldman, Azzarello’s friend from high school, described him to the New York Times as one of the most intelligent people he knew.

While at Rutgers, Katie Brennan, a former classmate, recalled him dotting hallways with encouraging Post-it notes for his classmates and singing karaoke versions of Frank Sinatra and Disney songs, the Times reported.

“He was super curious about social justice and the way things ‘could’ be,” Ms Brennan said. “He was creative and adventurous.”

By 2013, Azzarello worked as operations director for the campaign of Tom Suozzi, his LinkedIn profile reveals. The now-Congressman was at the time running for Nassau County Executive.

Since then, he worked in marketing, sales and technology roles, some of which were based in Philadelphia, his profile shows.

Years later, Azzarello moved to St Augustine, Florida, his social media indicates, working as a self-employed “research investigator,” consistent with his online post.

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