New York law enforcement and fire department personnel inspect the...

New York law enforcement and fire department personnel inspect the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court, Friday, April 19, 2024, in New York. Emergency crews rushed away a person on a stretcher after fire was extinguished outside the Manhattan courthouse where jury selection was taking place Friday in Donald Trump's hush money criminal case. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Only a few hundred feet from the Manhattan court where Donald Trump was to be tried on felony counts related to hush money payments, 37-year-old Max Azzarello on Friday fatally set himself on fire.

Azzarello, a longtime Sea Cliff resident most recently residing in Florida, threw leaflets in the air before pouring the accelerant that would set him aflame.

Presumably, he picked Collect Pond Park, for his suicide — a style of martyrdom better known to Buddhist societies — because news cameras and onlookers would be there for the big Trump event.

Authorities said Azzarello’s handouts promoted “conspiracy theories” about powerful politicians and billionaires. But these days it can be difficult to see the blurry border between a paranoiac cry for help and a studied “conspiracy theory.”

One day before his self-immolation, Azzarello was spotted holding a sign outside the Trump trial that said: “Trump is with Biden and they’re about to Fascist Coup us.”

The leaflets also discussed Ponzi schemes and claimed local educational institutions are involved with organized crime, among other ideas. Some leaflets were billed: “The True History of The World.”

Before the darkness enveloped him, Azzarello worked as a field staffer for Tom Suozzi’s 2013 reelection campaign for Nassau County executive. Later he worked in marketing, sales and technology, and called himself a “research investigator” in online postings.

Suozzi, who hadn’t seen or spoken with him since then, said through a spokeswoman, “We are all keeping Max and his family in our prayers.”

The Azzarello case will be ultimately regarded as a small example of America’s broad-based mental illness problems. But it was especially poignant, given what we know of him, through a fleeting media lens. He turned his violence on himself — much apart from all those cases where a deranged person slays others.

Friends and family called Azzarello humane and gentle — before his mother died about two years ago. Azzarello went from writing a moving tribute to her on Instagram to a shift in social media messaging with rants about cryptocurrency and the “criminal government,” the Daily Beast reported.

The story hurts in a special way, even to those of us with no connection to him.

Azzarello was thoughtful enough to have arranged for his organs to be donated upon his death. The nonprofit organ donation group LiveOnNY said Azzarello’s kidneys had saved two lives by Sunday.

Human horror comes in many varieties. So many people are so emotionally fragile or susceptible to violence against others or themselves — before we even know it — that it’s easy for the public to lose sight of those with problems.

Recent mental health consciousness-raising, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, must and will go on.

A friend’s mother called the Max Azzarello she once knew “a real wonderful, terrific young guy who had his whole life ahead of him.” But in the end he chose to turn inward the violence inside him, and one of his last postings said: “To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain upon you. But I assure you it is a drop in the bucket compared to what our government intends to inflict . . . ”

In his very last posting on Instagram he wrote “I love you” over and over again.

Maybe what’s different about his final act is that it elicits no outrage.

Just pure, palpable sadness.


 COLUMNIST DAN JANISON’S opinions are his own.


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