Coast Guard Officer Accused of Terrorism Mounts Second Amendment Defense
Facing trial on charges of possession of weapons and a controlled pain medication, Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson, who once wrote he was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on Earth,” filed paperwork Tuesday pleading not guilty to all charges, a day after he sought to have some of those charges dropped.
In a hearing Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, defense attorneys sought dismissal of at least two of four charges facing Hasson — unlawful possession of unregistered silencers and unregistered unidentified silencers — arguing that the items are covered by the Second Amendment and their client has a right to bear arms because he has not been convicted of a crime.
Hasson, 50, who is assigned to Coast Guard Headquarters as an acquisitions officer in the National Security Cutter program, was arrested Feb. 15 on weapons charges and possession of Tramadol, a tightly controlled narcotic painkiller to which he has admitted an addiction, according to court documents.
He later was charged with possessing silencers, also knowns as suppressors, and silencer parts, which are required to be registered and approved by the federal government under the National Firearms Act.
His attorneys argued in favor of dropping all the weapons charges, saying that the silencer charges are invalid since suppressors are protected alongside firearms and ammunition under the Constitution.
“The Second Amendment is entitled to the same generosity of spirit as any other right,” argued Cullen Macbeth, an assistant public defender assigned to the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom argued, however, that if silencers are covered by the Second Amendment, then anything that could be used to make a silencer — PVC pipe, a Maglite flashlight, even automobile oil filters — would have to be protected.
Regardless, he said, even if U.S. District Judge George Hazel ruled that silencers belong in the same protected class as firearms, Hasson was breaking the law when he was arrested and therefore was forbidden to have guns.
Hazel did not issue a decision at the end of the daylong hearing, adding that he would rule on whether to dismiss the gun charges by the end of the week.
Within hours, Hasson’s attorneys filed paperwork announcing their client would plead not guilty on all charges, including the drug possession charge, a misdemeanor.
After Hasson was arrested, searches of his property and computer found a collection of weapons and emails that led prosecutors to say that the initial charges were just the “proverbial tip of the iceberg,” calling him a “domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.”
A search of his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, found 15 weapons, including several AR-15 or X-15 rifles, six handguns, several shotguns and other rifles, unmarked silencers and silencer parts, smoke grenades and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
He also maintained a spreadsheet of prominent figures, including lawmakers, journalists and judges, and read far-right manifestos about targeting people. In an email found in his deleted files, he penned a “to-do” list for himself saying that “liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white [sic]. No way to counteract without violence.”
Among his goals, he wrote, “During unrest, target both sides to increase tension. In other words provoke gov/police to overreact which should help to escalate violence.”
Throughout the legal process, however, Hasson’s public defender, Elizabeth Oyer, has said that her client is not guilty and that the prosecution has not filed any domestic terrorism charges because there is no evidence to support the claims. She has said Hasson is entitled to his private opinions.
Oyer has asked that some of the statements by federal law enforcement agents working in the investigation be suppressed, as they “misleadingly suggest innocent conduct is in fact indicative of criminal intent.”
“The allegations … are insufficient even to establish that Mr. Hasson engaged in ‘preparation’ to commit a crime: He read several manifestos, ran a number of Google searches, and prepared an Excel spreadsheet. There is no allegation that he did anything other than sit behind his computer and use the internet,” she wrote.
She and Macbeth argued Monday that the prosecution has not “put anything forth that he is dangerous.”
“The only illegal thing he has done is possess Tramadol, and he hasn’t been convicted of that,” Macbeth said.
The trial is set for Oct. 21 in Maryland’s U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. It is scheduled to last for six days.
Hasson was in the courtroom Monday, wearing a maroon prison uniform and sporting a robust beard. While he remains on active duty and is subject to Coast Guard appearance standards, which require members to be clean-shaven or have a waiver allowing them to wear a quarter-inch beard if they have a medical condition, grooming standards “could be very difficult to enforce” while Hasson is in prison, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride said.
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