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.
Susyn was an actively involved parent at Dalton but in an anxious, fussy way, quick to step in with teachers or administrators to defend her children from the slightest mark on their records. Several friends of Morgan’s remember how Susyn was well known at Dalton for refusing to let her children take responsibility or blame for anything. Morgan didn’t openly defy her parents or teachers, but “she rebelled against the whole Dalton ethos of money,” says one friend. “At that age, you fancy yourself as a sort of Holden Caulfield type. It was sort of her version of that.”
Among her friends, Morgan was the wild card, unpredictable and exciting. She had dramatic mood swings. “You never knew which Morgan you were going to get. One day she would be so generous,” says a friend. “If you were in a bind she would come through, and the next day she would be demanding.” By her senior year, Morgan had invented a persona to whom she’d attribute her more outlandish behavior. She called her Rainbow. Rainbow appeared most often when Morgan was behaving impulsively. Like locking herself in a bathroom and not coming out. Or cutting herself, something she did from time to time all through high school and college. “When she was drinking,” a friend says, “she would only answer to Rainbow.”
Morgan attended Wellesley for only one semester, then enrolled at NYU’s Gallatin school, a small program of individualized study where she began writing fiction. Most of her stories read like turbocharged versions of her own life, emotional but not especially literary—more Candace Bushnell than Salinger. One was about a hard-partying girl who nannied on the side (Morgan had spent summers working as a nanny on Long Island). She turned her dorm, near St. Marks Place at Third Avenue and 9th Street, into an almost nightly party destination, flirting with the guard while her guests crawled on their hands and knees past the desk, out of view. She supplied cocaine. “A lot of guys, Dalton alumni, got her to buy it for everyone,” says one friend. Says another: “Morgan always liked the buying of it, the illicitness of it, almost as much as the drug itself. She got tight with all the drug dealers.” She moved on to heroin, courtesy of a dealer friend in Bed-Stuy. She and her friends would do the drug together when there was something worth celebrating: someone’s birthday or finishing a paper for school.
Before long, partying began to dominate Morgan’s life. Her parents were either oblivious to her drinking and drug use or unwilling to call her out for it, but it was never Morgan’s fault, a friend says. “It would always be somebody else who corrupted her.” Some nights, Morgan would lie down in the middle of the street and refuse to get up. “She wouldn’t have to have a reason,” says one friend. “It was just her general mood swings.” One night in 2007, Morgan dragged a friend to B-Side, a dive bar in the East Village on Avenue B near 12th Street, where she drank and talked for hours. The friend left her there alone at about 2 a.m. A few hours later, Morgan lay down on the dividing line of Avenue B and refused to move. When the police came, she yelled at them to go away. “Leave me here! I want to get run over! I don’t want to wake up!” The police took her to Bellevue, where she told people her name was Rainbow.
Aaron Greene is the second of three boys raised in the well-to-do village of Grand View–on–Hudson, in Rockland County. His father, Jeffrey, is the president of an architectural-restoration firm that has done work on the U.S. Capitol, the Metropolitan Opera House, and the Eldridge Street Synagogue. His mother, Desiree, is secretary of the company. As a boy, Aaron was fascinated by weapons, hand-making booby traps, pipe bombs, and a potato launcher with parts from a local hardware store. The local police chief would later tell reporters about “several incidents with him that I would characterize as kind of experimenting with explosives.”
Aaron’s parents, like Morgan’s, struggled to keep their child on a positive track. Aaron didn’t finish high school because, he says, of drinking and legal problems. For several years, he worked at his father’s company, traveling around the world to help on projects. He says he started using heroin on those long road trips out of boredom. A number of minor weapons charges followed, but he avoided doing significant jail time. He started collecting vintage weapons and military paraphernalia. He had an old Soviet Army coat and camouflage outfits from a variety of eras. He spent more time in the city, staying at a loft his parents kept on Crosby Street in Soho. In 2005, a little more than a year before he met Morgan, he spent eight months in jail for stabbing a bouncer on the Lower East Side after getting into a squabble. The bouncer later told a reporter the police seemed to go easy on Aaron, saying, “He seems like a rich kid, a good kid except when he does a little drugs.”
Aaron and Morgan met in rehab sometime in 2007, a few days after Morgan had been released from Bellevue. He was 26, and she was 22. He had a girlfriend, but that didn’t matter to her. “On the day we met,” Greene says, “she said, ‘I’m going to marry that man and have kids with him.’ ” Morgan’s friends say the couple seemed to instantly understand each other. Aaron indulged Morgan’s mood swings in a way no one else had. She liked how anti-Establishment he seemed, how scruffy and un-Dalton. All of her boyfriends before Aaron were like that. “But they had to have an intellectual core that she recognized,” a friend says. “I think she drove a lot of guys away by being too nutty, but he took her seriously.” They both liked to use drugs, and unlike most of the people they knew, neither one of them judged the other.
When Aaron’s parents met Morgan, a friend says, “they thought she was going to be good for Aaron—clean him up, make him more responsible.” Morgan’s family had no such feelings for Aaron and came to see him as the source of her problems. Aaron says Morgan’s parents were overprotective. “Her mother treated her like she was 5.” Almost right away, Aaron moved into an apartment on 15th Street that Morgan’s parents were paying the rent for. A year or so later, he moved along with her to the 9th Street place. While Morgan finished her program at Gallatin, Aaron mainly just hung around, turning a few heads when he came along to a Dalton reunion wearing a cowboy hat. Mostly, though, Aaron and Morgan partied. Friends would stop by and stay for days at a time or as long as the drugs lasted. At least one friend of Morgan’s regrets not recognizing how serious Morgan’s drug problem was. “We were guilty of turning a blind eye. We’d say, ‘Oh, there goes Morgan again,’ or ‘Oh, it’s Rainbow.’ ”
In 2009, Morgan told her family that she was enrolling in an M.F.A. program at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was bringing Aaron with her, and he would enroll in visual-art classes. There was some precedent for the plan: Aaron’s father had a degree from the Art Institute. But mainly, the couple were excited about the idea of setting out alone.
In Chicago, Aaron says he took out loans for classes. Morgan did not; her parents paid. The couple found an apartment on the North Side, and Aaron says he took a job helping out at a foundry to pay the rent. They played sophomoric, performance-art-style pranks—writing complaint letters under assumed names to restaurants, waiting to receive gift cards, then going to establishments that took the bait dressed as the people they had pretended to be in the complaint letters and taking pictures of one another for a scrapbook. But soon enough, they stopped bothering with anything much other than heroin. Their neighbors, Aaron says, were junkies. Aaron and Morgan would dabble along with them. “Then,” says Aaron, “she wanted to go on a run.”
Aaron says that he and Morgan agreed to go on a six-month drug run, and then get clean. Six months later—“to the day,” Aaron insists—he booked a hotel room with his last $500. Together, they tried to go through withdrawal. But as soon as they checked out of the hotel, Aaron says, Morgan started using again. That pattern—Aaron would try, from time to time, to get them clean, but Morgan would either refuse or go straight back to using—recurred regularly, according to Aaron. A friend of Morgan’s agrees: “The narrative is that Aaron got Morgan strung out. I mean, yes, he definitely facilitated her becoming a heroin addict. But once she was an addict, there were times when he wanted to get clean where she put the kibosh on that. She thought rehab was bullshit.” Whenever he at least tried to drag himself and Morgan out of their drug habit, Aaron says, Morgan would somehow manage to drag them back into it.
Less than two years after they’d left for Chicago, the couple returned to New York. Aaron says they came back because Morgan’s parents were experiencing friction in their marriage. “They guilted her into coming home,” he says, though it’s also possible they simply wanted to bring her closer to them. Morgan looked like a different woman. She’d stopped dying her hair blonde, and she’d lost what seemed like 30 pounds. “She’d clearly become a full junkie,” a Dalton friend says.
Morgan and Aaron moved back in together on 9th Street (her parents had kept the apartment), and she audited some writing workshops at NYU. Morgan would manipulate her parents for money, Aaron says. A friend who stayed with them says she would often hear Morgan on the phone with her mother saying, “Well, you and Dad aren’t even together! Why do you think I’m the way I am?” Aaron wouldn’t ask his parents for money. His only job seemed to be to buy drugs for them both. Using Morgan’s money, he would conduct the purchases in his parents’ car, driving up to Washington Heights and back again.
Morgan never shot herself up—Aaron would inject them both—and they would have a recurring argument, a friend says. “Me first.” “No, me first.” Sometimes Morgan would say she deserved to go first because she was supplying the money: “I do everything to get it. You’ve got to do me first!” Other times, she’d make a practical case. “You have to be awake when you do it.” And if Aaron nodded off in the middle of injecting her, she’d shout, “You’re hurting me!” until he did it right. Aaron refused to sell the more important pieces of his weapons and military-memorabilia collection to pay for drugs. But Morgan started to complain that Aaron wouldn’t do anything to help get more money. “Everything is my responsibility,” she’d say.
On February 17, 2012, Morgan met a man at Johnny’s Bar in the Village, went back with him to his apartment, waited for him to fall asleep, and fled with his backpack. Inside were two laptops, an iPhone, a wallet, and credit cards. When Morgan used the cards, the police traced them to her. She was charged with third- and fourth-degree larceny. Five days later, on February 22, Morgan and Aaron and another friend were arrested in Washington Heights. They’d just bought some heroin, and Aaron, in the driver’s seat, had pulled over to inject himself. A cop found empty heroin bags on the floor, pot, a digital scale with heroin residue in Morgan’s bag, and, in the trunk, a .223 caliber Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle registered to Aaron’s family. Aaron pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor, and served part of a five-month jail sentence. Morgan’s case, not for weapons but drugs, was adjourned in contemplation of later dismissal (it was restored again after she was rearrested in December). Still, Morgan was hysterical in custody, crying and screaming. She called her mother, not just for help but for something to get her through withdrawal. “I’m going to be sick,” she shouted. “Bring me something!” Morgan was released before Aaron. “When I got out,” he says, “there was a big stash waiting for me at home.”
Morgan was five months along when she learned she was pregnant last summer. Aaron says she weaned herself off heroin during her pregnancy, if not as quickly as he wanted. That fall, someone said they witnessed Aaron sprinkling a white powder on the pavement inside Washington Square Park and slamming the powder with a rock, triggering a small explosion. “I’m making bombs to blow up the arch,” police say the witness claimed Aaron said. Not long after, Aaron says he let someone use the 9th Street apartment to take a shower. He now believes that person was an informant or an undercover cop.
At 6 a.m., on December 29, the sun hadn’t quite risen and a light snow was starting to fall. Morgan, just days from her due date, heard the knock on the door. The police said they were there because of the credit-card-fraud charge against her. Morgan seemed confused. “I know about the case,” she said. “I was told the situation was taken care of.”
She woke up Aaron. “There are cops!” He came out of the bedroom and was told to sit on the couch. By then, the police had seen the shotgun, the plastic container with a strange powder, the jerry-rigged grenade launcher. Morgan stood behind Aaron and called her mother as the police placed handcuffs on her. The officers went on to find the DIY instructions for bomb-making and booby traps and a collection of pages printed from the web with the title The Terrorist’s Encyclopedia. They soon decided that the powder was likely HMTD, enough to cause a substantial explosion, and evacuated the building as well as the buildings on either side.
The police cuffed Aaron and began to lead the couple away to separate squad cars. “I fucked up,” Aaron said. “But I love you.”
Morgan said, “I love you.”
Aaron admitted right away to making the HMTD himself. Morgan, meanwhile, seemed to distance herself from Aaron and the weapons. She said she hadn’t realized the extent of his collection. She said that after Sandy Hook, Aaron had said they ought to go buy more guns “before the law is changed.”
Aaron was jailed immediately. Morgan went into labor shortly after her arrest and was brought to St. Luke’s Hospital. Melody went directly into Morgan’s parents’ care. Morgan agreed to wear an ankle monitor, hand over her passport, and spend 30 days in a rehab center and another 30 in an outpatient facility. At her court date, she managed one stolen glance at her father, sitting two rows behind her. She mouthed Hi.
The police indicted both Aaron and Morgan on weapons charges. Morgan’s family immediately began trying to absolve her of the more serious offenses and blame them on Aaron. “He’s trying to pin it all on her,” Susyn told one reporter. Morgan’s criminal-defense attorney, Gerald Shargel, maintains that “Morgan did not have the upper hand in this relationship” and “her will was often overcome by Aaron’s personality and the nature of the relationship.” The police seemed to focus on Aaron, too. By the time members of the Occupy movement disavowed the talk that Aaron was ever involved in the group, the police had begun probing a possible Nazi link. In the 9th Street apartment, they had found a letter, undated and unsent, that Aaron had written to a friend upstate, in which Aaron had said his parents were worried he would “kill 100 people” and had sent him to Greece. Elsewhere in the same letter, Aaron had scrawled the word kill and the phrase kill them all and scribbled what looked like an SS symbol. In January, police searched the home of the friend, Daniel Whittaker, in Orangeburg, finding 21 guns, brass knuckles, two stun guns, and a switchblade. Whittaker was a prison guard who was under suspension on a drug charge (he was later acquitted). He was charged with misdemeanor weapons possession.
Aaron’s lawyers, Charles Clayman and Isabelle Kirshner, have contested the Nazi claim, noting that Aaron had relatives who died in the Holocaust and accusing the police of spreading “innuendos, half-truths, and slurs.” When I asked Aaron about being a Nazi, he laughed. “I do some interesting doodles,” he said. “If someone saw them and made some conclusion because of that, then that’s wrong.” He was quick to note that he is half-Jewish, on his father’s side. “I’ve been to, like, a zillion Seders.” Of the idea that he planned to blow up the Washington Square arch, Aaron said, “Bullshit! I loved that arch. I studied art. I never would have done anything to that arch or that park.” He told me several times that Morgan had nothing to do with the weapons and that his interest in them involved “no ill intent.” A friend of Morgan’s who stayed with them for a few weeks attests to that. “He had weird shit,” the friend says. “He had a gas mask they traded for drugs. He made knives. But he never showed me guns in a threatening way. He showed me in a friendly, ‘Isn’t this cool?’ way.”
“Aaron comes from a caring, loving family,” Clayman told reporters at his arraignment. “Unfortunately, this is another example of the pain and destruction of drug addiction.” But the NYPD believes there were plenty of reasons to treat the case as it has. “There were two shotguns,” Commissioner Ray Kelly said in January. “There were high-capacity magazines. I think that gives us pause for thought as to whether or not we should pay attention to the statement about whether or not someone is going to blow up anything.”
Aaron and his attorneys have so far not been able to win him the right to see Morgan or meet Melody. Morgan’s family seems determined to write him out of their daughter’s life. “Paul and Susyn and their children are a wonderful family, and Morgan is a great mom,” says Martha Cohen Stine, the lawyer representing the Gliedmans in Family Court. “The Gliedmans stand by their daughter. They love their granddaughter very much. Morgan is starting a new chapter where she can go forward and care for her baby. And Morgan and the family are relieved that she is extricated from Aaron.” In February, Morgan, having completed inpatient rehab, was granted the right to supervised overnight visits with the baby. Since then, Stine says, she has been living with the baby at her parents’ place. At her most recent court appearance, Morgan was smiling and showing off cell-phone photos of Melody.
Aaron is realistic about his near-term future. He expects he’ll be in jail for as many as ten years. But after that, he hopes to have a life with Morgan and Melody, all of them together. (His parents have filed their own petition for custody of the baby; it’s pending in Family Court.) Aaron says he has no idea whether Morgan would want him in Melody’s life or what she thinks of him now. But he says he believes Morgan might really want to get clean, now that she has a purpose. “Addiction isn’t something you’re born with,” he says. “It’s something you afflict on yourself.” Several of Morgan’s friends agree. “Morgan has wanted a child since we were children,” says one. “If anything would get her clean, it would be having a child,” says another.
At NYU, before her drug problems became full-blown, Morgan wrote a story about a teenage girl trying to decide whether to have an abortion. The girl in the story can’t stop fantasizing about the baby inside her and the life she might have, sometime in the future. “Like people do,” she wrote, “we had some sex. Like people who want to love each other do, we tried not to think. And this is what happens. A present or a prison. A little me, a little him. A Polly Pocket who would have a summer birthday, his brown eyes, my pale skin, a too young mom and a too confused dad. It could be worse.”