Aaron Greene is sitting in a white plastic chair in a visiting room at Rikers Island prison. He is lantern-jawed and handsome, with several days of stubble, his long, shaggy brown hair parted down the middle. If it weren’t for the beige prison fatigues, he might be anyone on the street. “I have an affliction,” he says, fixing his moss-green eyes on me. “I put too much faith in people. Including right now.”
Six weeks earlier, acting on a tip, police had raided a Village apartment on 9th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where the 31-year-old Greene was living with his 27-year-old girlfriend, Morgan Gliedman. Inside the disheveled third-floor, one-bedroom walk-up, police found a sawed-off twelve-gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun; a twelve-gauge Ruger over-under shotgun; a flare launcher tricked out to be a replica of an M203 grenade launcher; and some choice manuals printed off the Internet with such titles as FM 5-25 Explosives and Demolition, Improvised and Modified Firearms: Deadly Homemade Weapons, and The Terrorist’s Encyclopedia. But what concerned the police most—and caused them to evacuate much of the block for several hours on a snowy Saturday morning—was a plastic container with an explosive powder later determined to be hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMTD—the same substance believed to have been used in the 2005 London mass-transit bombings. “This is a serious explosive used in terrorists’ attacks previously,” a police spokesman said. “What it means is still unknown.”
Greene was initially thought to be an Occupy Wall Street activist. Having collected guns and explosives from an early age, he was said to have a weapons fetish. One newspaper report noted that Greene had told Gliedman’s parents that his grandfather was a member of the Nazi Party under Hitler. Gliedman, meanwhile, was a Dalton and NYU graduate—the rent for the 9th Street apartment was paid by her father and mother, a respected Upper East Side oncologist and a real-estate broker. Greene and Gliedman were drug addicts who regularly used heroin together. At the time they were arrested, Gliedman was nine months pregnant with their child. Reports seemed to suggest that Greene was the leader of the pair, a corrupting influence who drew Gliedman away from a charmed Upper East Side childhood and led her down a bad path. The picture of the couple that emerged was the stuff of a tabloid editor’s dreams: a spoiled rich girl and her no-account boyfriend turned drug-addled hippie terrorists, living with a crazy stash of guns and explosives smack in the middle of one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
At Rikers, Greene seems resigned to his fate—he’s in lump-taking mode. At the same time, he wants to correct what he says are blatant falsehoods in the way he and Gliedman have been portrayed. “I am not a terrorist,” he says. But then he struggles to say exactly what he is. “I have … some pretty eccentric hobbies.” He talks about being raised in a family of sportsmen and going duck hunting upstate. “I should have gone into the military,” he says. “I’m like a little kid, like I’m still living out in the woods where you can go blow shit up in your backyard.”
When I ask him about Gliedman, he looks down at the floor. “I haven’t seen her or talked to her, and that’s been very upsetting,” he says. The couple’s baby, a girl named Melody, was born the day after their arrest. She is currently being cared for by Gliedman’s parents, who have said she is healthy. Greene hasn’t seen Melody yet and doubts he will anytime soon. “It’s unfortunate that I can’t be a part of my child’s life,” he says. Although he says several times that what happened is his fault, he also says Gliedman played a role. “She could be very manipulative,” he says. Then he adds, smiling a little, “In a good way.” He seems torn between protecting her and shifting some of the blame to her. “She manipulated me.”
To hear Greene tell it, he and Gliedman were nothing more than two troubled young people in love, struggling to kick drug habits, one of them with a harmless, if unusual, interest in weapons. He isn’t a Nazi or political activist, and didn’t corrupt her, he says. Neither of them ever intended to blow up anything. In Greene’s view, he and Gliedman weren’t terrorists—they were more like Sid and Nancy or Kurt and Courtney, only unknown and with an apartment full of dangerous toys. Viewed that way, their story isn’t about homegrown terrorism. It’s about slackerdom, especially when taken to ridiculous extremes.
The Gliedmans lived on Park Avenue for a time but moved to First Avenue while Morgan was in high school. “I think her family really wanted to be part of that Upper East Side life,” a friend of Morgan’s says. Morgan’s father, Paul, is the director of radiation oncology at Beth Israel Medical Center in Brooklyn; her mother, Susyn Schops Gliedman, is a real-estate agent with Douglas Elliman. Morgan and her younger sister and brother all attended Dalton, where Morgan aspired to be a writer. While her father’s career was undeniably prestigious, being a doctor only went so far in a school where the Tisches were classmates. Morgan was bright, with wide eyes and a round, expressive face—pretty but not a refined, classic Manhattan prep-school type. “She wasn’t the princess her mother wanted her to be,” a friend says.