Coast Guard officer’s lawyer argues it is not a crime to think negative thoughts about people

Posted at 5:09 PM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 20:02:15-05

The assistant federal public defender representing a Maryland man who has been called a “domestic terrorist” by the government argued in court Thursday that the Coast Guard officer should not be detained, saying it’s “not a crime to think negative thoughts about people.”

Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson was ordered to be detained pending trial, despite his attorney’s arguments. But US Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day ruled that Hasson’s legal team could come back to court to fight the detention after 14 days if the government doesn’t charge him by then with additional criminal activity related to domestic terrorism.

Hasson, 49, was charged last Friday with illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition, as well as possession of the controlled substance Tramadol. But in a memo requesting his detention and again in court on Thursday, the government said those charges “are the proverbial tip of the iceberg.”

At the hearing, Hasson, wearing a maroon jumpsuit, sat calmly and silently as his attorney argued that he shouldn’t be detained.

The government alleges that Hasson is a self-described white supremacist and maintained a hit list of prominent Democrats and journalists, including individuals at CNN and MSNBC.

Court documents allege that Hasson espoused extremist and white supremacist views and that he relied on the manifesto of Anders Breivik, a Norwegian who was convicted in 2011 of two terror attacks that killed 77 people.

The government also said Hasson stockpiled steroids and human growth hormone “to increase his ability to conduct attacks,” consistent with the directions in Breivik’s manifesto.

“The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct,” prosecutors wrote in the court documents.

Hasson’s attorney, Julie Stelzig, argued on Thursday that he has a wife and children and has served his community by volunteering. She stressed that Hasson has “dedicated his entire life to his country” and has been in the Coast Guard for more than 20 years.

Stelzig said it is “not a crime to think negative thoughts about people … or doomsday scenarios,” adding, “We are not yet a society that criminalizes people for their thoughts … or detains people for their internet searches.”

Following the hearing, US Attorney Rob Hur spoke about the case outside the courtroom.

“The sheer number and force of the weapons that were recovered from Mr. Hasson’s residence in this case, coupled with the disturbing nature of his writings, appear to reflect the very significant threat to the safety of our community, particularly given the position of trust that Mr. Hasson held with the United States government,” Hur said.

A statement Thursday from spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride said the Coast Guard had begun investigating Hasson in 2018, “after the Coast Guard Insider Threat Program first identified concerns about him.” Hasson was arrested once the FBI and Coast Guard Investigative Service “were confident in the strength of the evidence,” said McBride, who also said Hasson had had a secret level clearance with the Coast Guard since 2005, which was suspended on Tuesday.