A federal judge has agreed to consider the pretrial release of a white nationalist military officer who prosecutors allege was planning domestic terrorism “on a scale rarely seen in this country.”
Magistrate Judge Charles Day said Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Maryland that the government had not met the standard for continued detention of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson, who was arrested in February on drug and weapons related offenses. Prosecutors called him a “domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.”
Government officials had argued that Hasson, who was arrested Feb. 15, should remain in custody pending his trial. Hasson has pleaded not guilty to the weapons and drug charges, and his lawyer said in a court filing that no further charges were expected.
Despite the prosecutors’ assertion that Hasson intended to kill Democratic political figures and liberal commentators, they apparently were unable to find a statute under which he could be charged as a terrorist. Legal experts say it is difficult to charge domestic terrorists unless they are affiliated with Islamic extremist groups. Authorities have not cited any concrete actions he took that could be charged as conspiracy or attempted murder.
In a court filing submitted earlier this week, however, federal prosecutors argued that two charges of possession of an unmarked and unregistered silencer are directly related to Hasson’s alleged terror plot. “The silencers serve one purpose: to murder quietly. The defendant intended to do so on a mass scale, and his detention has thwarted his unlawful desire,” the prosecutors wrote, arguing that Hasson “continues to pose a serious danger and must be detained pending trial.”
At a future hearing, not yet scheduled, defense attorneys will stipulate conditions for Hasson’s release. If Day finds them acceptable, Hasson will be freed from jail.
“He’s got to have a whole lot of supervision,” Day said, mentioning home confinement and electronic monitoring as options. “Somebody who’s got eyes and ears on him like nobody’s business.”
Federal prosecutors alleged that in addition to accumulating firearms and silencers, Hasson “routinely perused” the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in two attacks in 2011, whose beliefs were also cited by the gunman who killed 50 people at a series of New Zealand mosques last month. In what prosecutors described as an apparently unsent draft email from September 2017, Hasson addressed a well-known American neo-Nazi leader, whose name has not been disclosed, identifying himself as “a long time White Nationalist, having been a skinhead 30 plus years ago before my time in the military.” Hasson’s arrest renewed concerns about members of white nationalist and other extremists groups infiltrating the U.S. military.
According to prosecutors, Hasson compiled a list of targets including a number of Democratic politicians and left-leaning political commentators. The names on the list include “Sen blumen jew” (presumably Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.,) and “poca warren” (presumably Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.).
There are also references to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a long list of additional Democratic senators, including Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Tim Kaine, D-Va. The list also includes likely references to a number of House members (Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.), television hosts (Joe Scarborough and Chris Hayes of MSNBC, Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo of CNN), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and the Democratic Socialists of America.
On the same day he finished the list, the court filing says, Hasson completed the following Google searches over the course of three hours: “what if trump illegally impeached,” “best place in dc to see congress people,” “where in dc to congress live,” “civil war if trump impeached” and “social democrats usa.”
In an April 23 filing, prosecutors said Hasson had previously searched for the addresses of two unnamed Supreme Court judges and two unnamed social media executives along with the phrases “best n----- killing gun,” “white homeland,” “when are whites going to wake up,” and “please god let there be a race war.” Prosecutors also allege that Hasson was present at a 1995 assault by a neo-Nazi leader in a jacket with swastika patches.
Per the court document, Hasson had been serving as an acquisitions officer at the Coast Guard’s D.C. headquarters since June 2016. Though he has not received any tactical weapons or explosives-related training in this position, the prosecutors note that Hasson served in the Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993, followed by approximately two years of active duty with the Army National Guard. When authorities raided his residence in Silver Spring, Md., they found 15 firearms and over 1,000 rounds of mixed ammunition, according to the charges filed against him.
Charges related to domestic terrorism in the United States have risen in recent years and, according to a February report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups operating in the country has reached an all-time high. Last fall, a Florida man was arrested for mailing 16 pipe bombs to critics of President Trump and prominent Democratic figures, and a gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue that had supported refugees.
Caitlin Dickson contributed to the reporting of this story.
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