GREENBELT, Maryland — Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, a Coast Guard officer accused of planning a vast white supremacist attack, will be held pending trial, a federal judge in Maryland ruled Monday, reversing another judge who said he could be released.
US District Judge George Hazel said he found it “relevant and troubling” that two weeks after Hasson reviewed sections of a manifesto written by far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik about targeting “category A traitors,” Hasson allegedly made a hit list of Democratic politicians and media figures and did internet searches about where to find members of Congress. The government has quoted Hasson’s writings describing white supremacist sympathies and his desire to commit violence.
Hasson wasn’t charged with offenses directly related to the government’s allegations that he was planning a mass attack, but Hazel said the evidence and circumstances around Hasson’s possession of more than a dozen firearms weighed “heavily” in favor of detention. Hasson is charged with illegally possessing firearms silencers, possessing firearms while using or addicted to a controlled substance, and possessing a controlled substance.
The government appealed to Hazel after US Magistrate Judge Charles Day ruled on May 7 that Hasson could be released pending trial, citing arguments by the defense that the government hadn’t charged Hasson with some of the more serious crimes it was accusing him of planning. Decisions by magistrate judges, who aren’t Senate-confirmed and are typically the first line of review on pretrial detention decisions, can be reviewed by US district judges.
Hazel ruled from the bench after hearing arguments on Monday. He agreed that there were no release conditions that could ensure the safety of the community, saying it couldn’t be left to his family members to ensure he didn’t carry out the type of alleged attack that prosecutors say he was planning. The judge also expressed concern that the government couldn’t account for two guns that it believed Hasson owned within the past two years.
Hasson was in court for the hearing, wearing a maroon, short-sleeved jail uniform and white sneakers. His wife was in the gallery, and she did not speak with reporters as she left the courtroom. Hasson can appeal Hazel’s detention order; his lawyer Elizabeth Oyer declined to comment after the hearing.
Assistant US Attorney Thomas Windom brought 4 of the 15 firearms recovered from Hasson’s home to show Hazel. They were stacked in white boxes that appeared to be about 3 feet long. Windom showed them to the judge in a way that wasn’t visible to the rest of the courtroom, but at one point he partially lifted one of the weapons out of its box, revealing a black scope. It was the first time the government showed some of the guns recovered in the case to a judge.
Windom also showed the judge two firearm silencers — one assembled and one not — and two sets of body armor found in Hasson’s home. Windom said the body armor wasn’t used for hunting, unless the person wearing it was “hunting people” and expected to be shot at.
Oyer argued Monday that prosecutors were asking to hold Hasson based on a “gut feeling.” She said the government had been surveilling Hasson for months at home and at work before his arrest, and didn’t observe him acting on what he was looking at online. Referring to the Breivik manifesto, she said it wasn’t unlawful to read that type of material or to do Google searches and that it was common for people “in this day and age” to list political enemies.
Oyer said that even if some of the evidence was “concerning,” the government hadn’t taken steps to do a more formal threat assessment. She argued it was common for gun enthusiasts such as Hasson to have weapons that might look “scary” to people unfamiliar with that culture and that in doomsday “prepper” circles, it was common to have heavy-duty body armor.
Windom argued that although Hasson had a history of owning guns, his purchases escalated around the time that he was reading the Breivik manifesto in early 2017. He said the government had evidence that when Hasson was buying guns around the time he was reading the manifesto, he lied on required government forms about his drug use and, in some instances, where he was living. As for Hasson’s long military career and lack of criminal history, his behavior “betrayed” that, Windom argued.
The fact that there were two firearms unaccounted for that the government believed Hasson owned at one point was “scary” and only heightened the government’s concern about allowing him to go free pending trial, Windom said.