The plot involved Christopher Hasson, 49, a self-described white nationalist. Hasson is a lieutenant in the United States Coast Guard and had amassed a terrifying arsenal of weaponry, along with a hit list of prominent liberal politicians and media figures in the country that he had allegedly been planning to kill. Hasson had been arrested on gun and drug charges but was described in court documents as a “domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.” Among those he was planning to target included Democratic politicians Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., as well as Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He also, according to court documents, planned to target CNN host Don Lemon and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, among others.
Normally, the Justice Department issues a press release to let the public know about their successful investigation — even in cases that at first glance appear to be much less serious.
Normally, when an alleged terrorist plot is uncovered in the U.S., the Justice Department issues a press release to let the public know about their successful investigation — even in cases that at first glance appear to be much less serious than an extremist who had already put together their own hit list and weapons cache. In this case, however, there was no such release.
Instead, the news broke to the public through the Twitter feed of Seamus Hughes, a deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, a D.C.-based counterterrorism think tank. Hughes shared the documents with the allegations against Hasson, which had apparently been posted to the court’s online docket. Without the sort of press release that tends to accompany major terrorism arrests, Hughes found Hasson’s case because he habitually checks court filings.
The administration’s silence fits a pattern. A study published last year by the Washington-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding showed that the Justice Department was six times more likely to issue press releases in alleged plots that involved Muslims than non-Muslims. The press releases are particularly important since they tend to trigger news coverage and public awareness of cases.
The information about Hasson gleaned from the documents paints the picture of a man obsessed with far-right conspiracy theories and visions of destroying the existing social order. According to the allegations against him, Hasson was obsessed with the need for a “white homeland” and had made preparations for acts of violence intended to plunge the U.S. into political turmoil. His alleged plot appears to have drawn heavily from the manifesto of Anders Breivik, an anti-Muslim radical who killed 77 people in a deadly rampage in Norway in 2011. Breivik’s actions remain an inspiration to many on the extremist fringe today, including Hasson, whose plot allegedly corresponded with many of the instructions contained in Breivik’s manifesto.
In a draft email contained in filings against Hasson, he spoke in terms also distinctly similar to those associated with the “alt-right” movement and the network of extremist supporters of President Donald Trump. “Liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white. No way to counteract without violence,” Hasson wrote. “It should push for more crack down bringing more people to our side. Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch.”
Last year, an Institute for Social Policy and Understanding study found that cases of attempted violence involving Muslim suspects received 7 1/2 times more coverage from major media outlets than those involving non-Muslims. While Hasson’s case was picked up after court filings were posted on social media, it seems that in this case, the government was uninterested in publicizing information about a white nationalist terrorism plot that its own filings claim would have resulted in catastrophic violence.
While the allegations against him have yet to be tested in court, at first glance Hasson’s case seems to add to concerns about the growth of far-right violence in the United States. Gauging the true scale and scope of this phenomenon is a difficult task. In future, though — and to dispel accusations of bias — it’d be helpful if the Justice Department would at least let the public know about it.