Coast Guard officer charged in terror plot asks for leniency

Posted at 5:54 AM, Jan 22, 2020

Federal prosecutors are recommending a 25-year prison sentence for a Coast Guard lieutenant accused of stockpiling guns and targeting Supreme Court justices, prominent Democrats and TV journalists for attacks inspired by racist killers.

But defense attorneys are seeking leniency for Christopher Hasson, disputing the government's claim that he is a domestic terrorist. Hasson's lawyers are urging a federal judge in Maryland to spare him a prison term and sentence him to jail time served since his arrest and three years of supervised release.

"Chris is eager to put this chapter behind him and try to rebuild his life," his lawyers wrote last week in court filing ahead of his sentencing hearing.

Hasson, 50, has pleaded guilty to gun and drug charges and is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 31. Ahead of the hearing, the prosecutors and defense lawyers explained their sentencing recommendations in separate memos filed last week.

Prosecutors say Hasson is a white nationalist intent on carrying out mass killings, but they filed no terrorism-related charges against him after his February 2019 arrest.

"The defendant -- inspired by racist murderers -- stockpiled assault weapons, studied violence, and intended to exact retribution on minorities and those he considered traitors. But for the diligent actions of multiple federal law enforcement agencies, we now would be counting bodies of the defendant's victims instead of years of the defendant's prison time," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom wrote.

Hasson's lawyers provided the court with a report prepared by Stephen Hart, an expert in violence risk assessment. Hart examined the evidence cited by prosecutors and rejected their theory that Hasson intended to carry out an attack.

"There is no plausible scenario whereby Mr. Hasson engages in violence that might threaten public safety or public order, including but not limited to mass casualty attacks or domestic terrorism," Hart wrote.

Investigators found 15 guns, including seven rifles, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition at Hasson's basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. He researched how to make homemade bombs, studied sniper training and used his government computer to search for information about Nazis and Adolf Hitler, prosecutors said.

In a 2017 letter he sent to himself as a draft and apparently wrote to a neo-Nazi leader, Hasson identified himself as a white nationalist for over 30 years and "advocated for 'focused violence' in order to establish a white homeland," according to prosecutors. Hasson appeared to be planning attacks inspired by the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage, prosecutors said.

Hasson's online history shows searches that included the phrases "how to bring down the us government," "most liberal fed judges usa" and "how to rid the us of jews," prosecutors say. In February 2018, Hasson searched whether Supreme Court justices are "protected," two weeks before he searched for the home addresses of two Supreme Court justices, according to Windom.

"There is no question the defendant intended and planned to turn his thoughts into action," the prosecutor wrote.

Hasson pleaded guilty in October to possessing unregistered and unserialized silencers, being a drug addict in possession of firearms and illegal possession of tramadol, an opioid painkiller.

In September, U.S. District Judge George Hazel refused to dismiss the gun charges against Hasson. The judge rejected a defense argument that charging Hasson with unlawful possession of firearm silencers violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Hasson, a married father of two grown children, faces a maximum of 31 years in prison. Assistant federal public defender Liz Oyer estimated in October that sentencing guidelines call for a prison term ranging from 41 to 51 months. Hazel isn't bound by the guidelines.

Prosecutors claimed Hasson drew up what appeared to be a computer spreadsheet hit list naming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Elizabeth Warren. He also mentioned several network TV journalists, including MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN's Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.

Prosecutors say Hasson spent roughly $12,000 in a three-year period to buy dozens of items "to outfit himself for his ultimate mission," including smoke grenades, camping supplies, body armor, tactical vests and a $1,300 rifle scope.

Windom said Hasson has been a "closet skinhead" his entire adult life. Defense lawyers dispute that their client has any "sincerely held" extremist, racist or white nationalist views. Hasson's attorneys describe him as a disaster "prepper" who stockpiles survivalist gear for "doomsday-type scenarios."

Hasson's lawyers say he missed the camaraderie of military service after leaving the Marine Corps in 1994 and started hanging out with "people in the punk rock world," many of whom identified as white supremacists. But his lawyers say Hasson cut ties with most of those people and joined the Army National Guard in Virginia less than six months after he left the Marine Corps.

Hasson ordered at least 4,650 tramadol pills from internet distributors and had them shipped to his homes in Maryland and Currituck, North Carolina, according to Windom. The prosecutor said Hasson consumed most of the pills, including at times when he was working at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington.

Hasson's lawyers say his drug use impaired his judgment and led to behavior that was "inconsistent with his true character."

"He is an asset, not a danger, to our society," they wrote.

Hasson worked at Coast Guard headquarters on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency. He has remained on active duty pending the outcome of the criminal case.

"His career, reputation, and life as he knew it are destroyed. And after all of this, the criminal case against Mr. Hasson has turned out to be little more than a run-of-the mill firearms-possession case," his lawyers wrote.