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Man who burned down the Fox Studios Christmas Tree appears in court 

The 49-year-old alleged arsonist arrested for setting fire to the Fox News 50-foot Christmas tree back in December made an obscene gesture at cameras in court after failing to reach a plea agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

Craig Tamanaha, 49, was back in New York County Criminal Court for the first time since December 9 – a day after being arraigned for allegedly setting the Fox News’ All-American Christmas Tree alight on 47th Street and Avenue of the Americas in Midtown.

The accused arsonist – wearing a COVID-19 facemask, a gray shirt and jeans – was exclusively pictured in court by DailyMail.com on Tuesday – and appeared unusually calm and relaxed before gesturing a middle finger at the camera. 

After failing to reach an agreement on his plea deal, the court has set a new date for his appearance on June 10. 

When police picked up Tamanaha on the day of the fire, he was quoted as telling a detective: ‘I have been thinking about lighting the tree on fire all day long.’ 

A work crew was back outside the Fox News headquarters the day after the fire to put up and decorate a new 50-foot Christmas tree, which Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said in an internal memo to staff would serve ‘as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this.’ 

Craig Tamanaha, 49, leaves Manhattan Criminal court flipping the cameras after a hearing for the incident where he burned down a Christmas Tree in front of Fox Studios in December of 2021

Tamanaha's defense failed to agree a plea agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office during his first court appearance since last year on Tuesday (picturd). His next court appearance, likely a deposition, is now set for June 10

Tamanaha’s defense failed to agree a plea agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office during his first court appearance since last year on Tuesday (picturd). His next court appearance, likely a deposition, is now set for June 10

Tamanaha caused about $500,000 in property damage, sources told the New York Post, and affected other trees in the area

The perpetrator was taken into custody outside the News Corp building on December 8, 2021

Tamanaha caused about $500,000 in property damage around the area of Avenue of the Americas and 47th St, sources told the New York Post, and affected other trees in the area before being arrested

Tamanaha, who is described as unhoused and ’emotionally disturbed’, faced six misdemeanor charges last year and under the 2020 criminal justice reform laws, but was released a day after his arrest. Arson is only considered a felony in New York if the arsonist harms or attempts to harm a person, or carries out the attack as a hate crime.

A day prior to his court conviction, on December 8, Tamanaha was arrested on a slew of charges, including second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree reckless endangerment and fifth-degree arson, because of the city’s lenient bail reforms. 

Weeks before the incident, Tamanaha allegedly flashed outside Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial court and according to a criminal complaint from December.    

The 49-year-old has a lengthy criminal record spanning at least 20 years and two states, and he was arrested last month for exposing himself outside the Ghislaine Maxwell trial in the city.

In 2002, the then-30-year-old Tamanaha was picked up in Abilene, Texas, on a public intoxication charge. Between 2017-2018, he was arrested on three separate occasions and charged with public intoxication, burglary and resisting arrest.

Tamanaha’s father, Richard Tamanaha, from Hawaii, told the New York Post at the time that his son is a drug addict and is prone to destructive behavior.

‘Oh, he’s a nut. I can’t control him,’ the elder Tamanaha told the tabloid. ‘Mentally, he’s not all there.’

Tamanaha was detained in November for exposing himself in front of the United States Court House in Manhattan as Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial was going on inside.

An NYPD spokesperson said that Tamanaha had three prior arrests: two earlier this year in March for controlled substances in March and one in 2015 for an open container.

Fox News employees called police after watching Tamanaha climb the tree at 12.14am on December 8 and set it on fire. He tried to scramble away, but was taken into custody.

In order for a judge to set bail, Tamanaha would have to have been charged with at least third-degree arson, which constitutes a hate crime.

‘You’d have to intentionally damage a building or vehicle by starting a fire or explosion as a hate crime, which is an extraordinarily high bar for bail eligibility. Having a personal bias or animus toward Christmas doesn’t legally cut it,’ Bederow added.

When a suspect is released on bail for a crime against another person, that person can be granted an order of protection to make sure the suspect stays away from them.

But there is no legal order a judge could give to prevent Tamanaha from approaching the Fox News tree again. ‘You can’t give the Christmas tree an order of protection, so security will have to stand guard,’ Bederow told Fox News.

Tamanaha was initially arrested (pictured) on second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree reckless endangerment and fifth-degree arson, because of the city's lenient bail reforms

Tamanaha was initially arrested (pictured) on second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree reckless endangerment and fifth-degree arson, because of the city’s lenient bail reforms

The shell of the tree outside the News Corp HQ in Times Square the day after the tree caught fire on December 8

The shell of the tree outside the News Corp HQ in Times Square the day after the tree caught fire on December 8

NYPD officers guarded the tree to maintain its safety, starting a day after the fire on December 8 as they seemed in good spirits

NYPD officers guarded the tree to maintain its safety, starting a day after the fire on December 8 as they seemed in good spirits 

Fox staff received this internal memo on December 9 after the tree incident

Fox staff received this internal memo on December 9 after the tree incident 

Tamanaha caused about $500,000 in property damage, sources told the New York Post. NYPD detectives told DailyMail.com that it was a completely random act and not politically motivated against Fox News or News Corp, which owns The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal.  

Tamanaha could have been held by a judge for a psychiatric evaluation if he was experiencing mental illness. He was released from custody at the Midtown North Precinct.

Tamanaha is listed as having an address in Brooklyn, but regularly loiters in the area, police said.

‘It’s an individual that’s known to us — he has a series of low level arrests and drug arrests. He was issued some earlier this year — some appearance tickets and didn’t come back to court, which unfortunately is something we see all too often. He also has some low-level arrests out of state — I believe it’s Texas,’ Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told ABC 7.

‘I think it’s definitely one where he’s working alone. That’s what it appears. This is all very fresh … It’s probably a little preliminary to say what the motivation was — was mental illness a factor? We’re looking at all of that and we’ll probably have more to say,’ Shea added.

He had a lighter in his possession when he was arrested but the FDNY has not been able to confirm yet if that’s what he used to set fire to the tree.

The incident is another sad example of the senseless and random crime that is ravaging the city and it also affected tourists last Christmas, the first holiday season that New York has been able to welcome international visitors since 2019. 

De Blasio has been largely blamed for the surge in violence, after softening bail reform to let criminals out of jail early then moving homeless people out of shelters and onto the streets or into hotels during the height of the pandemic. 

Craig Tamanaha was first detained by police weeks before the Christmas tree attack, when he exposed himself outside court at the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell

Craig Tamanaha was first detained by police weeks before the Christmas tree attack, when he exposed himself outside court at the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell

An NYPD spokesperson said that Tamanaha had three prior arrests: two earlier this year in March for controlled substances in March and one in 2015 for an open container. He also has legal troubles in Texas

An NYPD spokesperson said that Tamanaha had three prior arrests: two earlier this year in March for controlled substances in March and one in 2015 for an open container. He also has legal troubles in Texas

New York City mayor Eric Adams has promised a crackdown on crime and put a ban on homeless people from sheltering in subway stations and cars since the new year. 

He has recently had to justify himself for the arrest of a woman who was selling mangoes on the New York City subway.

He said that people must ‘follow rules’ when selling food on the subway and expressed concern that some customers may get sick after buying food from unlicensed vendors, according to the New York Times. 

‘Next day, it’s propane tanks being on the subway system,’ the mayor said at a press conference earlier in May. ‘The next day, it’s barbecuing on the subway system. You just can’t do that.’ 

Meanwhile, three nearby Christmas trees which were also decorated with lights were also damaged by the blaze.  

The 50-feet tree had also been decorated with 10,000 glass ornaments, 100,000 lights and it had taken staff 21 hours to assemble.

The fire was seen as another sign that crime in New York City was spiraling out of control, with violent attacks on subways and random assaults in the street happening far more frequently than in the past two years. 

The latest NYPD data show overall crime spiking 41.26 percent in May compared with May 2021. Robberies have skyrocketed the most out of any type of crime this month, by 44.5 percent, compared to the same time period last year. 


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