Judge blocks release of Coast Guard officer called terrorist
GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A federal judge in Maryland on Monday blocked the release of a Coast Guard lieutenant accused of stockpiling combat gear and compiling a hit list of prominent Democrats and TV journalists.
U.S. District Judge George Hazel agreed to revoke a magistrate’s order to free 50-year-old Christopher Hasson from custody while he awaits trial on firearms and drug charges. Prosecutors had appealed and asked Hazel to review the magistrate’s order.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Day decided last Tuesday that Hasson could be released from custody and supervised by relatives in Virginia. But Day didn’t order Hasson’s immediate release. Instead, he gave prosecutors time to appeal.
Hazel said “reasonable judges can disagree” in a case like this. And in this instance, Hazel said he can’t leave it to Hasson’s relatives to serve as his custodians and ensure the public’s safety.
“So I will put that job in the hands of the U.S. Marshals (Service),” the judge added.
Prosecutors have called Hasson a domestic terrorist intent on carrying out a killing spree, but they haven’t filed any terrorism-related charges against him since his Feb. 15 arrest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said the government has no doubt that Hasson’s arrest prevented bloodshed.
“Nothing is more serious than murder. And, plain and simple, that’s what the defendant was going to do,” Windom told Hazel.
Hasson can appeal Hazel’s decision. His attorney, assistant public defender Liz Oyer, declined to comment after the hearing.
Day’s order called for releasing Hasson to the custody of in-laws at a home in Virginia, with 24-hour monitoring by global positioning system equipment. His wife moved out of their Silver Spring, Maryland, apartment after his arrest and has been staying with her mother in Virginia.
Hasson has pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful possession of firearm silencers, possession of firearm by unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance, and illegal possession of tramadol, an opioid painkiller.
Oyer has said prosecutors haven’t filed terrorism-related charges against Hasson because they haven’t found any evidence to back up those allegations. She accused prosecutors of seeking to punish Hasson for “private thoughts” that he never shared.
“They’re asking the court to go with a gut feeling,” she told Hazel.
But prosecutors believe Hasson planned to act on his thoughts, just as other far-right extremists wrote manifestos before killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage in Norway and launching a deadly attack on New Zealand mosques in March.
“This is a case study in the adage, ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ Through years of research and purchases, the defendant made plain his intentions, though he kept them quiet so as not to attract attention,” Windom wrote in a court filing Friday.
Hazel said prosecutors presented credible evidence that Hasson took “concrete steps” to fulfill a desire to commit violent acts. The judge also noted that prosecutors said they couldn’t account for two weapons that Hasson owned.
“That’s something that concerns the court,” Hazel said.
Hasson is a self-described white nationalist who espoused extremist views for years and “intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” Windom wrote in a previous court filing. Hasson also drafted an email in which he said he was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth,” Windom said.
Prosecutors have said Hasson created what appeared to be a computer-spreadsheet hit list that included Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Also mentioned were MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.
Hasson also targeted two Supreme Court justices and two social media company executives and searched online for their home addresses in March 2018, within minutes of searching firearm sales websites, according to prosecutors.
Investigators found 15 guns, including seven rifles, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition at Hasson’s basement apartment. He researched how to make homemade bombs and mortars, studied sniper training and used his government computer to search for information about Nazis and Adolf Hitler, prosecutors said.
Hasson, a former Marine, worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency. He has 30 years of military service and no criminal record, according to Oyer.
“He has not a blemish on his record prior to this,” she said.