Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Coast Guard Officer Accused of Terror Plot Kept in Jail

The Coast Guard lieutenant who prosecutors say was plotting a mass killing of lawmakers and media members must remain in detention while he awaits trial on drug and gun charges, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

GREENBELT, Md. (CN) - The Coast Guard lieutenant who prosecutors say was plotting a mass killing of lawmakers and media members must remain in detention while he awaits trial on drug and gun charges, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Federal investigators say they confiscated 15 guns from Christopher Hasson's Maryland home on Feb. 15, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Justice)

Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, faces charges of drug possession and possessing a gun while unlawfully using a controlled substance, but prosecutors also say he was a self-described white nationalist who was plotting a wide-scale attack against lawmakers and members of the news media.

Hasson appeared in a Maryland federal courtroom Thursday afternoon for a detention hearing wearing a maroon set of prison scrubs. His head was shaved and he stared ahead for most of the hearing, leaning his head on his hand and occasionally dipping down to better hear his attorney, who whispered to him throughout the proceeding.    

The initial criminal complaint against Hasson is tame, accusing him of illegally buying the pain killer Tramadol and of owning a cache of guns. But in a motion asking a judge to keep him behind bars ahead of trial, prosecutors say the drug and weapons charges "are the proverbial tip of the iceberg."

"The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," the motion states. "He must be detained pending trial."

According to prosecutors, Hasson compiled a list of prominent lawmakers and media figures as potential targets for his attack, following the model Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik outlined in his manifesto. Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in coordinated terrorist attacks in 2011.

Prosecutors say Hasson read Breivik's manifesto regularly and searched for where senators live in Washington and whether they had protection from the Secret Service.

The 15-page motion reproduces drafts of emails Hasson allegedly wrote discussing his plans to conduct mass killings. In one email, which he allegedly planned to send to "a known American neo-Nazi leader," Hasson said he was a "long time white nationalist" and advocated for a "white homeland as Europe seems lost."

When searching his Silver Spring, Maryland, basement apartment, authorities found 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, according to the motion. They also found more than 30 bottles labeled as human growth hormone, tracking with another recommendation in Breivik's manifesto.

At the hearing Thursday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Sykes said even though Hasson has not been charged with domestic terrorism, he was "preparing and planning attacks in line" with Breivik's manifesto and therefore could not be safely released into the community.

But Julie Stelzig, a public defender who represents Hasson, called the government's filing "extraordinary," saying it advanced a "histrionic" description of her client's alleged activities. She accused the government of trying to drum up media attention for the case in an effort to pressure the judge to keep Hasson behind bars.

She emphasized that the government has not charged Hasson with domestic terrorism and said based solely on the charges that have actually been filed against him, he should be a clear candidate for release. Stelzig also argued the government's evidence of Hasson's alleged plans fall far short of proving he was a criminal mastermind.

"These are not the type of plans that you would expect to see from someone the government is accusing of planning a terrorist attack," Stelzig said.  

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Day ruled, however, that there is "rather strong weight" to the prosecution's argument that no condition of release could protect the community.  

Day, who is black, said Hasson's plans appeared "to be going according to script," referring to Breivik's manifesto, and that the list Hasson allegedly maintained represents "exactly the kind of concern" he would have about releasing him.

Though Day ultimately decided Hasson should remain in detention, he gave considerable weight to Stelzig's arguments. He said if the government does not bring charges against Hasson related to his alleged plot within two weeks, he would again listen to arguments about whether Hasson should remain locked up.

While prosecutors haven’t brought terrorism charges against Hasson, their motion says he is “a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.”

Categories / Criminal, National, Politics

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.