A man accused of torching Hell’s Kitchen outdoor dining sheds, smashing windows and trying to set fire to LGBTQIA+ spaces across the West Side in August 2021 has been charged with hate crimes after prosecutors found anti-gay material on his Facebook account. Alex Blodgett, 39, faces up to 25 years in prison if found guilty of the spree, where he is accused of setting 14 fires in one night.
The Brooklyn resident had already been charged with arson but had the charges upgraded to hate crimes after his Facebook posts about gay men and LGBTQIA venues were uncovered. Among the targets of the campaign he is accused of committing on August 16, 2021, were Atlas Social Club, whose windows were smashed, and VIV Thai on 9th Avenue, whose dining shed was set alight. Blodgett is alleged to be the man caught on camera throwing rocks at Atlas Social Club.
Chelsea French restaurant LouLou and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Greenwich Village were also targeted. Blodgett was arrested just after the fire at LouLou, on 8th Avenue and W19th Street three hours after he set his first fire.
In Tuesday’s press release, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the hate crime charges, adding: “Hate has no place here in Manhattan, and New Yorkers of all backgrounds deserve to feel safe. As alleged, this individual left a wake of physical destruction but also made an entire community unsafe because he targeted LGBTQIA+ establishments. We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute these types of unacceptable bias incidents.”
Blodgett’s posts were not disclosed in detail by the DA but the office said a search warrant revealed “a series of anti-LGBTQIA+ statements, with specific bias against gay men and gay venues” on Facebook. Blodgett, 39, had initially been charged with second and third-degree arson. He now faces 11 felony counts including two of second degree criminal mischief as a hate crime and four of fourth degree criminal mischief.
Prosecutors say that Blodgett’s hate campaign started at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Greenwich Village at 1am, allegedly tying a rag to the front door handles and setting it on fire, as well as setting a trash can and planter in front of the door alight.
Next, the DA alleges, he headed to Hell’s Kitchen, and threw rocks through the windows of the Atlas Social Club on 9th Avenue between W50th and W51st Street before setting the nearby VIV Thai’s floral outdoor dining structure ablaze.
He moved south to Chelsea, where he allegedly set fire to the decorative leaves affixed to Chelsea’s LouLou restaurant — whose employees were inside and called 911. Chased by police, prosecutors stated that Blodgett was caught at approximately 4am with a lighter in his hand. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation and later charged with arson.
At the time of the attacks, Atlas Social Club expressed relief that Blodgett had been arrested. “This morning we woke up to the news that at 2:30am a… let’s call him ‘troubled individual’ smashed all our windows and then proceeded to light on fire the sidewalk structures of two other restaurants down 9th Avenue,” the team shared on Instagram. “Thankfully, with the help of the NYPD, said individual has already been apprehended. Let’s hope the new windows last… Anybody else need a drink?”
VIV’s owner also told news outlets of his shock. “When I came this morning to open the restaurant, it was like all burning over here,” Narondwit Lee from VIV told ABC 7 Eyewitness News.
The allegedly anti-gay arson spree joins an unsettling trend of bias-motivated hate crimes, including several incidents of hate-related arson over the past year. According to official NYPD data, cumulative hate crimes are up 12.5 percent from the same period in 2021.
Blodgett will be tried in the New York Supreme Court by Assistant DA Katherine Byrns.