19-year-old gets prison for NYC coffee shop blast
NEW YORK – He imagined himself as the anti-corporate antihero of the film and novel "Fight Club," pulling a subversive stunt to spit in the eye of corporate America, authorities said.
Kyle Shaw was sentenced to a prison term Tuesday for what police called his effort to bring the cult classic to life by setting off a homemade bomb outside a Manhattan Starbucks. No one was injured.
Shaw, 19, declined to speak as he was sentenced to a 3 1/2-year term for a May 2009 blast that prosecutors described as a dangerous, ideology-driven exploit that he planned to repeat. His lawyer portrayed it as the inexplicable conduct of a troubled teenager. Shaw was 17 at the time of the blast.
"Public safety is the number-one consideration in arriving at this sentence," set in a plea deal, Manhattan assistant District Attorney Christopher Ryan said. "However, we don't forget (Shaw) is 19 years old and, hopefully, has a future beyond this crime."
Facing an arson charge that carried a minimum of 15 years in prison, Shaw pleaded guilty in September to lesser charges including attempted arson.
Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. didn't immediately respond to an e-mail Tuesday seeking comment.
The pre-dawn explosion in May 2009 on Manhattan's Upper East Side shattered windows at the Starbucks. It prompted 911 calls from 40 blocks away and brought the mayor and governor to the scene. It followed a series of other — still unsolved — early-morning explosions at consulates and the Times Square military recruiting station in the previous four years. Police initially thought the Starbucks blast might be related but quickly concluded it wasn't.
Police looked for leads for weeks. Then an acquaintance of Shaw's told them Shaw had been telling people he was the culprit and planned more attacks to protest global capitalism, Ryan said.
"He was, according to his friends, a self-proclaimed anarchist. Whether he understood exactly what that means or not, I don't know," Ryan said.
"Fight Club," a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk, involves a secret club in which men beat each other up in an attempt to feel more alive. It was made into a 1999 movie starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt.
Police said Shaw cast himself as the novel's Tyler Durden, played by Pitt, who eventually uses the fight club as a vehicle for anti-consumerist violence, orchestrating escalating attacks on symbols of corporate America in the name of "Project Mayhem."
Shaw formed his own fight club, with boys beating one another in Central Park and other locales around the city, police said. Then he told at least one friend to watch the news over Memorial Day weekend last year because he was about to launch his own version of "Project Mayhem," police said.
The Starbucks blast happened that weekend, around 3:30 a.m. May 25, 2009. Its source was a plastic bottle packed with fireworks powder, with a hand-lit fuse as a detonator.
Investigators ultimately recorded Shaw telling someone in a phone call that he was responsible for the Starbucks bombing and planned another before the end of that summer, Ryan said. Police found homemade bomb materials, a newspaper clipping about the attack and a copy of "Fight Club" at Shaw's home, authorities said.
But Shaw's lawyer Adam Perlmutter said the link between the blast and the novel, which he said Shaw read, was overblown.
"It wasn't about the book or the movie. It was about a stupid, stupid course of conduct. ... We've never been able to discern what was underlying it," he said. "I don't think it was an anti-corporate, anarchist campaign. It's just a very troubled youth."