A Coast Guard lieutenant with white supremacist views pleaded guilty to Thursday to four gun and drug charges in a case that tested the federal government’s ability to charge heavily armed domestic extremists plotting terrorist attacks.
Christopher Hasson, a 50-year-old who resided in a Maryland suburb of D.C., was arrested back in February on gun and drug charges. But federal prosecutors said those charges were just the “tip of the iceberg,” and that Hasson had been planning to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” Hasson, federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing, “is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.”
Hasson pleaded guilty to four counts, according to federal court records: unlawful possession of unregistered firearm silencers, unlawful possession of firearm silencers unidentified by serial number, possession of firearms by unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance, and possession of a controlled substance. The addict-in-possession charge was also used against a neo-Nazi in D.C., who was released last month after spending about 10 months in jail.
The United States does not have a federal law that broadly outlaws acts of domestic terrorism, and federal prosecutors have generally been hesitant to call domestic terrorists what they are.
Federal prosecutors said that Hasson had planned to kill Democrats and prominent journalists, and had done extensive research on a number of potential targets.
In a statement issued to reporters after his plea, Hasson’s federal public defender said that Hasson had “struggled with addiction to a prescription opioid painkiller,” but that the case against him had been “mischaracterized and sensationalized from the start.”
“This is not a domestic terrorism case,” Liz Oyer said in the statement. “Mr. Hasson was never plotting a terrorist attack or any of the abhorrent acts that this prosecution has repeatedly speculated about but never actually charged. Mr. Hasson is a peaceful, loving family man. He devoted his life to serving his country. He and his wife have two grown children who have gone on to do the same.”
“Mr. Hasson never meant any harm to anyone. He deeply regrets the pain and embarrassment that he has caused his family and the U.S. Coast Guard, which he has proudly and honorably served for more than 20 years,” she wrote. “We hope that, with Mr. Hasson’s guilty plea, we can move past the rhetoric that has clouded the actual facts of this case.”
Hasson’s wife called him a “loving” and “honorable man,” and said that she hopes he comes home soon.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Wisdom, according to The Washington Post, told the court that the government planned to seek a possible life sentence when Hasson appears for his sentencing hearing on Jan. 31.
But U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel said that Hasson’s statutory maximum would be 31 years in prison, the Post reported.
Maryland’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, said in a statement that he looked “forward to the opportunity for the government to present additional evidence to the Court at sentencing.”
This story has been updated throughout with additional details and statements.