Lawyers for alleged white nationalist and U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson got their way Wednesday when a federal judge granted his release ahead of a criminal trial.
Hasson, 50, was arrested and charged with firearms and weapons offenses earlier this year after prosecutors said he stockpiled dozes of weapons and created a hit list targeting several prominent Democrats and media figures, including Sens. Cory Booker, Chuck Schumer, presidential hopeful Kamala Harris and CNN’s Van Jones.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Day noted this week that Hasson hasn’t been charged with murder or any terrorism-related offenses despite prosecutor’s claims that the defendant had intentions “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.”
In court papers, prosecutors also alleged that Hasson had drafted an email that said he was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.”
“The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct,” they wrote.
Day had not ordered for Hasson’s immediate release but instead gave his defense lawyer, Liz Oyer, a couple of days to arrange conditions of release that’d be acceptable to the court, the Associated Press reported. The judge admitted he still had “grave concerns” about Hasson based on the claims made by prosecutors, but wound up granting his release anyway.
“I do not find that detention is appropriate,” Day said of the defendant, before adding that, “He’s got to have a whole lot of supervision. Somebody who’s got eyes and ears on him like nobody’s business.”
Federal prosecutors have pushed back on the decision and said they have plans to appeal.
Hasson was arrested on Feb. 21 and was ordered to be held without bond. Prosecutors allege he is a self-avowed white nationalist who often spewed extremist views and complained that white people needed a new “homeland.”
The defendant allegedly also studied portions of a manifesto authored by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who was sentenced to 21 years after killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage. He collected an arsenal of guns, ammunition and tactical gear, and began “the process of targeting specific victims,” which included two Supreme Court justices.
The dots were connected directly by the defendant with his own writings,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom argued.
In court, Hasson’s defense lawyer argued that while her client’s use of racial slurs in his “private writings” were deplorable, such language was now a part of the national conversation, thanks to President Donald Trump. As reported by CNN, Oyer also claimed that the list of names Hasson had assembled didn’t amount to a hit list but “looks like the sort of list that our commander-in-chief might have compiled while watching Fox News in the morning.”
Hasson entered a not guilty plea on the illegal possession of firearm silencers, possession of firearms by a drug addict and unlawful user, and possession of a controlled substance charges last month. His February indictment also accuses him of illegal possession of an opioid painkiller, AP reported.
If convicted, he faces a maximum of 31 years behind bars. A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said Hasson will remain on active duty until the case is resolved.