NEW YORK — Guardians Angels boss Curtis Sliwa issued what amounted to a defiant apology Thursday for saying he thought a man roughed up by his crew on national TV in Times Square was a migrant because the man spoke Spanish — a flub some city leaders are calling a “hate crime.”
“Washed-up comic book villain instructed his herd of wannabe vigilantes to beat up a guy they decided ‘looked like’ a migrant,” Councilman Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) tweeted. “A hate crime. Live on TV. Violence of any kind, whether against cops or innocent people in Times Sq, must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
During a live broadcast on Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday night, Sliwa had the cameraman pan to a fight between the “migrant” and several red-jacket sporting Guardian Angels.
“Our guys have just taken down one of the migrant guys right here on the corner — 42nd [St.] and Seventh [Ave.],” Sliwa said during the broadcast, calling the man a shoplifter. “They’ve taken over.”
But the man stopped by the Guardian Angels and given a summons for disorderly conduct wasn’t a migrant or a shoplifter, police confirmed. He was simply a 22-year-old Bronx resident walking down the street.
Sliwa changed his tune, but only slightly, when contacted by the Daily News on Thursday.
“My language could have been much milder and calmer, no doubt about it, but I was in the eye of the storm at that point. It turned out it was wrong about the person that we had taken down and held and gave to the police,” he said. “He got arrested on another charge, I guess disorderly conduct. But hey, those things happen.”
A police source who had seen both body-worn camera footage and surveillance footage of the incident said the man the Guardian Angels roughed up “may have been a little bit drunk, but he was just trying to make his way down Seventh Ave. when Sliwa’s goons stopped him.”
“He tried to push past them and they strong arm him to the ground,” the source said.
Sliwa didn’t know what was happening, but quickly made up the migrant angle, the source added.
“He’s out of his f------ mind,” the source said. “He doesn’t know what was going on and he begins babbling about him being a migrant.”
During the broadcast, Sliwa, who has been known to lie about crimes to get publicity, went on to say the migrant crisis was “out of control” and to claim his Guardian Angels had stopped the man from shoplifting. When he resisted, they fought with him, Sliwa said.
“Let’s just say we gave him a little pain compliance,” continued Sliwa, a failed 2021 GOP mayoral candidate. “His mother back in Venezuela felt the vibrations. He’s sucking concrete.”
The man the Angels tackled to the ground appeared irate at the scene, but calmed down when he got to the precinct station house, where he put on a pair of glasses and began explaining that he had done nothing wrong, the source said. The man had no criminal record and has had a valid NY driver’s licence since 2019.
When interviewed by police, the Angels, one of them Sliwa’s bodyguard, had thought the man was “coming at” the talk show host, the sources said.
In an interview with the AP on Wednesday, Sliwa admitted he believed the man was a migrant because he was “speaking Spanish” and because other Guardian Angels had encountered him with other Spanish speakers on previous patrols.
Sliwa didn’t talk about the broadcast on his radio show Thursday.
But in an interview with the Daily News, Sliwa said the man was with two others when he punched a woman Guardian Angel in the breast.
“They’re rumbling and they’re pushing their way toward where we are and the next thing I know they clocked a female Guardian Angel — this one guy who wound up getting arrested,” said Sliwa, who said the man “belligerint.”
Witnesses called the man a migrant and he had a bag of baby clothes that cops planned to determine were stolen, Sliwa said.
“This is third-hand information and I’m processing this — I personally should not have taken third-hand information. That was my mistake,” Sliwa told The News. “Obviously that’s a big mistake. But the guy did get arrested. Obviously the charges were downgraded from what we were told, which is not usnual in a city with Alvin Bragg in Manhattan.”
Despite his mea culpa, Sliwa didn’t believe he or his crew should be charged with a hate crime.
“It turns out he’s not a Venezuelan. I should not have implicated him as being that. (But) the Venezuelan immigrants — they’ve been on a crime spree.
“My anger boiled up. Clearly I haven’t indicted Venezuelan people,” he admitted. “The Guardian Angels are mostly minority. I, like a lot of New Yorkers, are really angry now at what the governor and the mayor and the president have done by bringing these people, many of whom have criminal records because they were never checked, here.”
Sliwa’s statements caused a firestorm on social media Thursday.
“The Guardian Angels are equal-opportunity civil rights abusers,” Comptroller Brad Lander tweeted Thursday morning. “What’s ‘out of control’ is Fox News & Curtis Sliwa fomenting vigilante violence with hateful rhetoric.”
During an interview on CNN, Gov. Hochul was asked to look at the Sliwa clip.
“You can not take the law into your own hands,” Hochul said of the violence. “This is not the Wild West. This is New York State.”
Councilwoman Diana Ayala (D-Manhattan, Bronx) said the Guardian Angels clash stems from Mayor Adams’ rhetoric about how the migrant crisis could “destroy” the city.
“The Curtis Sliwa incident is a direct result of the rhetoric that the administration has put out that there’s a wave of crimes being committed by migrants. It’s not true,” she said. “This poor kid from the Bronx got beat up, and it’s directly connected to that rhetoric.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the 22-year-old wasn’t facing any assault charges, just the summons for disorderly conduct, police said.
“He was observed by police to be acting in a loud, threatening manner causing public alarm,” the spokesperson said. “As a result, he was issued a summons.”
Sliwa created the Guardian Angels in the late 1970s amid a rising crime rate in the city’s subway system.
His statements Wednesday added fuel to already enflamed tensions in New York City as officials struggle to handle an ongoing rise in migrant arrivals for more than a year.
A group of migrants attacked two NYPD officers outside a shelter in Times Square on Jan. 27, sparking outrage.
There’s also been heated debate over the city’s shelter and benefits policies for the new arrivals. A growing number of progressives have voiced concern over the prospect of anti-migrant bigotry sweeping the city.
Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said Sliwa’s antics has made living in the city harder for everyone.
“The mayor, Sliwa and the Republicans spouting hateful false narratives are turning our city into an unsafe, violent place of vigilantism against black and brown New Yorkers and it needs to stop,” Awawdeh said.