POLITICS

White Nationalist Coast Guard Lieutenant Likely To Plead Guilty In Domestic Terror Case

The prosecution of Christopher Paul Hasson shows some of the challenges the FBI faces in prosecuting armed extremists allegedly plotting violence.
Weapons allegedly stockpiled by Christopher Hasson.
Weapons allegedly stockpiled by Christopher Hasson.

Christopher Paul Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant who federal prosecutors called a “domestic terrorist” and accused of stockpiling weapons as part of a plot to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” will likely plead guilty in federal court in Maryland on Thursday. 

The court docket in Hasson’s case indicated that a rearraignment was scheduled for noon on Thursday. The news was first reported by The Washington Post, which quoted a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland stating that rearraignment “in general” indicates that a defendant is changing their plea. Hasson had pleaded not guilty when he was first arraigned on the counts he is facing, so it now appears he plans to plead guilty when he appears in court. 

Hasson’s federal public defender did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The prosecution of Hasson ― who allegedly amassed an arsenal as he plotted to murder prominent Democrats and reporters ― demonstrated some of the issues federal officials run into in “challenging” domestic terrorism cases. Domestic terrorists have killed more Americans than terrorists associated with designated foreign terrorist organizations in recent years, but federal officials have much broader capabilities to target individuals who support foreign terrorist organizations.

Sometimes federal authorities send domestic terrorism cases to state authorities, who might have an applicable charge to deploy against an armed extremist threatening violence. Other times, federal prosecutors get creative with federal law. In Hasson’s case, as well as a couple of other cases against potential violent extremists, federal prosecutors invoked a law that makes it illegal for addicts of controlled substances to possess weapons. A neo-Nazi based in D.C. who pleaded guilty to an addict in possession of a weapon charge was released on time served last month after spending about 10 months in jail. 

A group of FBI agents have called on Congress to pass domestic terrorism legislation, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) introduced such legislation in August, after a white supremacist committed a mass shooting in El Paso. But civil rights organizations have opposed such measures, and worry the federal government would use new domestic terrorism laws to improperly target fringe political groups. 

The details of any potential plea deal with Hasson are unclear, but the case had appeared to be moving toward trial as of just last week, when Hasson’s federal public defender asked the court to “prohibit the government from introducing evidence of Mr. Hasson’s purported beliefs and associations.”

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