When Christopher Hasson, a self-avowed white supremacist and Coast Guard lieutenant, appears in court on Thursday, federal prosecutors will explain how he allegedly stockpiled weapons and compiled a kill list, all to start a "race war." They’ve also repeatedly referred to him as a “domestic terrorist” who poses a “substantial risk of danger to the community.”
But Hasson’s lawyers are getting impatient and argue their client should be released on bond — given that prosecutors still haven’t filed any serious charges beyond the gun and drug offenses he was arrested for in February. The 50-year-old also remains on active duty at the Coast Guard, pending the outcome of the trial.
Federal laws lack the legal tools the government needs to bring a domestic terrorism case against Hasson, because they generally center around the threat posed by foreign groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Experts say they’re inadequate to prevent a far-right domestic terrorist attack before it happens.
“Any kind of idea of prosecuting Hasson for domestic terrorism or charges is just not feasible under current federal criminal statute,” said Jason Blazakis, a professor at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and former director of Counterterrorism Finance and Designations office at the U.S State Department.
Hasson, who spent 30 years working in the military, was arrested Feb. 15 for ordering synthetic opioids from Mexico. He’s currently facing charges for illegal drug possession, being an addict in possession of a gun, and owning two unregistered gun silencers.
On Tuesday, prosecutors filed additional documents that divulged more details about Hasson’s violent fantasies; his hit list of Democrat politicians, Supreme Court justices, tech executives and journalists; and his contacts with neo-Nazis. They also found more evidence of his ideological leanings. For example, on March 16, 2018, Hasson allegedly searched the phrase “best n----- killing gun” online and then looked at websites selling guns.
“Our laws are not agile enough to deal with individuals like Hasson,” Blazakis said. “It really shines a light on the inflexibility that we have as it relates to prosecuting U.S.-born unassociated individuals that are not related at all to foreign terrorist organizations.”
Prosecutors also sought to draw a comparison between Hasson, and the white supremacist who killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.
“It cannot go unnoticed that the terrorists who perpetrated the New Zealand attacks was a devotee of far-right Norweigian domestic terrorist Anders Breivik,” prosecutors wrote in a motion filed Tuesday, reminding the judge that Hasson, too, appeared to idolize Breivik, who murdered 77 people in 2011.
“With regard to Christopher Paul Hasson, we need a terrorism statute that would apply here,” said Mary B. McCord, professor at Georgetown University and former acting assistant attorney general of the United States. “This case really did reveal a gap.”
Ties to neo-Nazis
According to the new documents, investigators looked deeper into Hasson’s Internet search history and found more evidence that he harbored racist sympathies. On August 16, 2017, just four days after the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Hasson searched the phrases “white homeland” and “when are whites going to wake up.” On Nov. 30 that same year, he searched “please god let there be a race war.”
He also searched “are supreme court justices protected.” Two weeks later, he searched for their home addresses online — and then visited a firearm sales website again.
Investigators also found evidence suggesting that his ties to far-right extremists ran deeper than previously thought. Documents filed in February contained excerpts from a letter Hasson had written to a known neo-Nazi leader. In that letter, Hasson said that he was a “skinhead” prior to joining the Marine Corps in 1988.
In the same letter, Hasson also alluded to another friend who he said “served a 12-year prison sentence and never ratted me out.” The FBI tracked down and interviewed that friend, who goes by “Missouri.”
The FBI also located police records from Hampton, Virginia, about an incident that took place one night in February 1995 — seven years after Hasson joined the Marine Corps and one year before he got a job at the Coast Guard.
According to prosecutors, Hasson, “Missouri,” and a skinhead drove to a residence in Hampton that night, and idled, waiting for the owner of the house to return. When they came back and asked what the men were doing there, Missouri pulled out a gun, aimed at his face, and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed, so Missouri beat him with his gun instead. Hasson was apparently standing there the whole time.
The victim, who survived, told police that all three men were “skinheads” and that “Missouri” was wearing a black jacket adorned with Swastika patches. “Missouri” was convicted on charges for attempted murder and maiming. According to federal prosecutors, the third unidentified man was a leader in a prominent neo-Nazi group until 2014, and at that time was facing sentencing for vandalizing a black church in the area with white power symbols.
FBI investigators interviewed “Missouri” about the incident in March 2019. Hasson, upon learning from relatives that the FBI had talked to “Missouri,” responded “Oh, shit,” according to the documents. Investigators said “Missouri” said he didn’t say much about his relationship with Hasson.
“The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” prosecutors argued in February. “He must be detained pending trial.”
Cover image: This file image provided by the U.S. District Court in Maryland shows a photo of firearms and ammunition that was in the motion for detention pending trial in the case against Christopher Paul Hasson. (U.S. District Court via AP, File)