The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Coast Guard lieutenant accused of plotting mass attack pleads guilty to gun, drug charges

Authorities said they found a cache of firearms and ammunition in Christopher Hasson’s home.
Authorities said they found a cache of firearms and ammunition in Christopher Hasson’s home. (AP)

The Coast Guard lieutenant who appeared to be planning a massive attack on politicians and journalists pleaded guilty Thursday to four federal drug and gun charges stemming from what agents found when they swarmed his Maryland apartment in February.

It wasn’t only the 15 guns, silencers, 1,000 rounds of ammunition and bottles of opioids that Christopher P. Hasson, 50, bought in recent months that attracted federal attention. It was also his writings and online research in support of his admitted white nationalism, some of it done from his computer at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, that sparked the search of his Silver Spring home.

Then on Hasson’s home computer, investigators told a court, they found emails with lines such as, “I am a long time White Nationalist,” “I fully support the idea of a white homeland” and “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth.”

‘I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth’: A self-proclaimed white nationalist planned a mass terrorist attack, the government says

Hasson’s lawyers argued that the emails were not sent and should not be considered as context for his cache of weapons. Prosecutors responded in case filings that similar manifestos from domestic terrorists in Pittsburgh, New Zealand and Norway “also were unshared, private thoughts until those plans turned to action. . . . [Hasson] was going to murder many, and only the diligent work of federal law enforcement personnel prevented that from happening.”

The Coast Guard said Thursday that Hasson, an acquisitions officer, remained on active duty pending an administrative investigation, which will begin when his criminal case is concluded. He previously served five years in the Marine Corps and two years on active duty with the Army National Guard, the government said in one of many briefs arguing for Hasson’s detention before trial.

The Coast Guard has said Hasson’s activity on a computer at work alerted them to suspicious behavior.

During Hasson’s plea hearing before U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel in Greenbelt, prosecutors made no mention of possible terrorist attacks or white supremacy. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Windom said that the government would seek a possible life sentence at a hearing set for Jan. 31 and that an entire day would be needed for witnesses and evidence then.

Hasson did not make a statement in court Thursday other than to answer the judge’s questions. After his plea, his wife, Shannon Hasson, said outside the courthouse that “he’s a loving man and an honorable man, and I just hope that he comes home soon.”

Assistant federal public defender Liz Oyer, who is representing Hasson, said in a statement after the hearing that “this case has been mischaracterized and sensationalized from the start.”

“Mr. Hasson was not plotting a terrorist attack or any of the abhorrent acts that the prosecution has repeatedly speculated about but never actually charged,” she said.

Oyer said that Hasson struggled with an addiction to opioid painkillers but that he “never meant any harm to anyone.”

“We hope that with Mr. Hasson’s guilty plea, we can move past the rhetoric that has clouded the actual facts of this case,” Oyer said. She declined to say how the case had been mischaracterized or sensationalized.

Under advisory federal sentencing guidelines, Hasson could face a term of 41 to 51 months on the four charges. Windom said that prosecutors would argue in January for the maximum sentence in the guidelines — life without parole — and that Hasson has the highest criminal history level, “Level 6.”

Oyer said Hasson had no criminal history and qualifies for the 41-to-51-month range. The judge noted that even if Hasson qualified for a life sentence under the guidelines, the statutory maximum term he could face for the four charges is 31 years.

Windom declined to explain after the hearing why the government thinks Hasson should face a maximum sentence.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a strategy report last month that domestic terrorism and mass attacks pose as great a threat to the United States as foreign terrorism. The report particularly singled out white supremacy as one of the most potent motives behind such terrorism and said the department’s goal was to intervene with potential extremists before they commit violent acts.

DHS: Domestic terrorism, particularly white-supremacist violence, as big a threat as ISIS, al-Qaeda

Hasson, however, was not charged with any terrorism-related counts. He was charged with two counts of possessing silencers that were not registered and did not have serial numbers, one count of possessing the controlled substance tramadol, a painkiller, and one count of being a drug addict in possession of a firearm. His lawyers had argued that he should be released pending trial, which had been set for later this month.

Prosecutors pushed back repeatedly against a release, at one point appealing a magistrate’s ruling that Hasson should be freed; Hazel agreed that Hasson’s apparent plans for violence made him a danger to the community.

Prosecutors said Hasson spent hours searching for information on Adolf Hitler, Nazis and Jews, and browsing the manifesto of devout white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

Hasson also did online searches for “how to rid the us of jews,” prosecutors said in one of their briefs opposing pretrial release, as well as “most liberal senators,” “do senators have ss [secret service] protection” and “are supreme court justices protected.” Investigators also found a spreadsheet of prominent politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and journalists such as CNN anchors Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo on Hasson’s computer, and research into homemade bombs and sniper training manuals.

Part of Breivik’s manifesto urged using steroids for six weeks before a mass shooting, and investigators theorize that is why Hasson had 30 bottles of human growth hormone. They also found records that indicated that Hasson “is a chronic user of Tramadol,” a Schedule IV controlled substance, and received regular shipments of hundreds of pills from Tijuana, Mexico.

Family of Bijan Ghaisar, killed by Park Police officers in 2017, refiles suit against U.S.

Judges rules video from Capital Gazette attack can be shown to jurors

Local newsletters: Local headlines (8 a.m.) | Afternoon Buzz (4 p.m.)

Like PostLocal on Facebook | Follow @postlocal on Twitter | Latest local news