Judge refuses to toss Coast Guard officer’s gun charges
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — A federal judge on Friday refused to dismiss gun charges against a Coast Guard lieutenant accused of being a domestic terrorist who stockpiled weapons and drafted a hit list of prominent Democrats and TV journalists.
U.S. District Judge George Hazel rejected defense attorneys’ argument that charging Christopher Hasson with unlawful possession of firearm silencers violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms. Hazel said a silencer is a firearm accessory, not a weapon in and of itself, and therefore isn’t a “bearable arm” protected by the Second Amendment.
“Although ammunition is the means by which firearms are effective at serving their purpose as weapons and restrictions on type and usage may run afoul of the Second Amendment, the same cannot be said for silencers because a firearm remains an effective weapon without a silencer of any type attached,” the judge wrote.
Hazel’s ruling paves the way for Hasson, 50, to be tried on all four counts in his indictment. Two of the counts charged him with illegally possessing unregistered and unserialized silencers.
Prosecutors have called Hasson a domestic terrorist intent on carrying out a mass killing but they haven’t filed any terrorism-related charges against him since his February arrest. His trial is scheduled to start Oct. 21 in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Hasson also is charged with possession of firearm by unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance, and illegal possession of tramadol, an opioid painkiller.
Defense attorneys asked Hazel to dismiss the other gun charge on different grounds, arguing the underlying statute is unconstitutionally vague on its face and therefore void. The judge disagreed and ruled that the law isn’t vague when applied to somebody whose drug use is “consistent, prolonged, and close in time to his firearm possession.”
Defense lawyer haven’t sought the pretrial dismissal of the drug charge, a misdemeanor.
During a hearing earlier this year, Windom said the government had no doubt that Hasson’s arrest prevented bloodshed. Prosecutors have said 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.
Hasson is a self-described white nationalist who has espoused extremist views for years and “intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” Windom wrote. 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.
Assistant federal public defender Liz 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.
Prosecutors claim Hasson drew up what appeared to be a computer spreadsheet hit list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Several network TV journalists — MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Van Jones — also were mentioned.
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 in Silver Spring, Maryland. 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’s lawyers asked the judge to suppress evidence that investigators seized during searches of his home, email accounts and cellphone. The judge rejected that request.
Hasson, a former Marine, worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency. He has remained held in federal custody since his arrest and remains on active duty pending the outcome of the criminal case.