Threat allegations keep Coast Guard officer jailed
GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A Coast Guard officer suspected of drawing up a hit list of top Democrats and network TV journalists spent hours on his work computer researching the words and deeds of infamous bombers and mass shooters while also stockpiling weapons, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, was ordered held without bail on drug and gun charges while prosecutors gather evidence to support more serious charges involving what they portrayed as a domestic terror plot by a man who espoused white-supremacist views.
Hasson, a former Marine who worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency, was arrested last week. Investigators gave no immediate details on how or when he came to their attention.
Federal agents found 15 guns, including several rifles, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In court papers this week, federal prosecutors said he compiled what appeared to be a computer-spreadsheet hit list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Also mentioned were such figures as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.
In arguing against bail Thursday, federal prosecutor Jennifer Sykes said Hasson would log onto his government computer during work and spend hours searching for information on such people as the Unabomber, the Virginia Tech gunman and anti-abortion bomber Eric Rudolph.
Sykes said the charges so far are just the “tip of the iceberg” and called Hasson a “domestic terrorist” who 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.
Public defender Julie Stelzig accused prosecutors of making inflammatory accusations against her client without providing the evidence to back them up. “It is not a crime to think negative thoughts about people,” she said.
She also questioned whether the government is trying to make an example out of Hasson, given criticism that authorities have overlooked domestic terrorists.
“Perhaps now they can say, ‘Look, we’re not targeting only Muslims,’” she said.
Stelzig said Hasson doesn’t have a criminal record and has served 28 years in the Coast Guard. She described him as a “committed public servant” and a loving husband and father.
Hasson spent about $14,000 on weapons, survival gear and other equipment, Sykes said. However, Hasson’s public defender argued that the number of firearms found in Hasson’s apartment is “modest, at best” for many gun collectors in other parts of the country.
“There is nothing I’m seeing in here that would show he was stockpiling weapons,” Stelzig said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Day agreed to keep Hasson behind bars but said he is willing to revisit his decision in 14 days if prosecutors haven’t brought more serious charges by then.
Hasson was previously an aircraft mechanic in the Marines, serving from 1988 to 1994.
Court papers detail a 2017 draft email in which he wrote that he was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.”
Also, Hasson sent himself a draft letter in 2017 that he had written to a neo-Nazi leader and “identified himself as a White Nationalist for over 30 years and advocated for ‘focused violence’ in order to establish a white homeland,” prosecutors said.
Stelzig identified that neo-Nazi leader as white separatist Harold Covington. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that Covington died last July.
Last February, Hasson searched the internet for the “most liberal senators” and also asked, “Do senators have ss (Secret Service) protection” and “Are supreme court justices protected,” according to the court filing.
Bob Davis, who rents a house from Hasson in coastal Currituck County, North Carolina, and met him a few times, said he was “absolutely shocked” by the allegations.
“He was a very stern military guy. That’s how I saw him. I truly nothing but respected him. There are people in life who are not 100 percenters. He was a 100 percenter,” Davis said, meaning Hasson worked hard and didn’t slack off. “He portrayed in a very professional manner. He was honorable. ... He was a good man.”
Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Ben Finley in Currituck County, North Carolina, contributed to this report.