The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Incel’ devotee in New York terrorized Manhattan diners with bomb hoax and pepper-sprayed several victims, feds say

NEW YORK — A self-described "incel" who is part of an online community of men angry about their lack of sexual opportunities terrorized outdoor dining patrons of a Manhattan restaurant with a bomb hoax in February and has recently pepper-sprayed five victims, resulting in three arrests, officials said Wednesday.

Malik Sanchez, who officials say has been on a tear in the past six months, harassing and accosting people he encounters often while recording it, was arrested Wednesday morning on charges he entered an enclosed outdoor seating section at a restaurant in the Flatiron district where he approached two female diners. Once inside, he declared: “Allahu akbar. Bomb detonation in two, in two minutes. I take you with me and I kill all you,” according to court papers filed at the time of his arrest.

Sanchez was ordered held without bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona Wang after prosecutors called him a menace to the community and noted his failure to appear at past court appearances.

The women and several others in the restaurant’s outdoor structure gathered their belongings and fled in fear after Sanchez’s stunt on Feb. 13, which he recorded on a video shared to YouTube, according to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

“It’s clear in the video victims were terrified and the defendant’s actions terrorized them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaylan Lasky argued at Sanchez’s bail hearing. One woman reported that she was “paralyzed with fear” during the event, Lasky added.

He was also arrested in three pepper-spraying incidents, and officials say he assaulted two others with the pain-inducing chemical. During one arrest he had mace and a stun gun, officials said. At his home, investigators recovered five magazines for a Glock handgun, although they did not find a gun, as well as an aerosol gun, a paintball gun and “multiple canisters of mace,” prosecutors said.

None of Sanchez’s prior arrests was bail eligible under New York’s recently-reformed bail laws, so he was not held in custody after any of the incidents. On Oct. 20, he sprayed a woman in the face on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and two days later climbed to a perch on the Queensboro Bridge, spraying at pedestrians, court papers from his criminal court cases show.

In the first case, for which he was charged with misdemeanor assault, harassment and illegal possession of the spray, he was offered a conditional dismissal deal. In the second, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation that did not result in any punishment, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. He had been facing a misdemeanor case for reckless endangerment, trespass and illegal possession of the spray.

In the March 20 encounter, the documents also show, he is accused of beating his pepper spray victim in the head with a cellphone and a tripod. His misdemeanor assault, harassment and possession of a weapon case is still pending.

The district attorney’s office could not immediately say why he was offered a dismissal and a plea deal that did not involve any jail time, probation or community service.

Opinion: Robert Aaron Long apparently thought he was the victim of his own desire. He’s not alone.

Sanchez, 19, who goes by “Smooth Sanchez,” was charged in the Feb. 13 incident with one count of conveying false and misleading information and hoaxes, for which he could serve up to five years in prison. His case was handled by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Investigators documented a history of hateful public rants, some live-streamed, in which Sanchez harassed and threatened women on the street, at one point referring to himself as “a virgin for life.”

Sanchez lives with his mother and makes about $200 a month doing DoorDash deliveries, according to an accounting of his finances he provided to the court. He also collects donations from his Internet followers, who apparently pay him with requests for his live-streamed street performances, documents say.

In an encounter on March 20, he allegedly approached women dining outside and made hand gestures in which he pretended to point a gun at them. He refused to leave and pepper-sprayed one of the women in the face, authorities said.

His lawyer Clay Kaminsky insisted that his client believes his bad acts are “pranks” and said he’s “egged on by people across the Internet” giving him money for his live-streamed performances. “In some of these instances where the government is alleging he maced people, if you watch the video . . . people are coming and starting a physical altercation with him,” Kaminsky argued.

Since 2014, authorities said, incels have been responsible for at least five deadly attacks in the United States and Canada, beginning that May when Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 when he targeted a California sorority house and pedestrians. Rogers had posted rants online, in particular a video “manifesto,” attacking women who had rejected him and threatening violence.

Fury among incels, also known as “involuntary celibates,” is often aimed at women in online attacks and acts of violence. The communities are “founded on the belief that society unjustly denies them sexual or romantic attention, to which they believe they are entitled,” according to an FBI agent’s account detailed in the complaint.

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement that Sanchez “frightened innocent victims, sowed chaos, and diverted precious law enforcement resources.”