By Barrington M. Salmon
The persistent problem of White supremacists inside U.S. armed forces and their desire to recruit soldiers and ignite an American race war
Christopher Hasson, a Coast Guard lieu- tenant, was arrested on federal charges and has been called a domestic terrorist by prosecutors.
WASHINGTON—The FBI’s arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant who they say is an avowed White supremacist, has once again put a spotlight on the troubling infiltration of White nationalists and racists into the ranks of the military and law enforcement.
A number of media stories, particularly in recent years, have detailed the penetration of Neo-Nazis, White nationalists and those with ties to militias into the military and law enforcement. As this has happened, federal law enforcement officials have failed to see or respond to the threat of White nationalism.
D.C. activist and radio show host Eugene Puryear said the case of Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson is illustrative of the pervasive reach of White supremacy in every nook and cranny of this country.
Eric Robert Rudolph, a former Army soldier, was convicted of domestic terrorism in 1996. He pleaded guilty to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta that killed one and wounded 111 others.
“It really proves once again that the principle issue is the presence of individual and organized White supremacist groups but with no reaction from government,” he said. “Justice Department officials called him a domestic terrorist. This is the first time they’ve done that. We’re finally seeing some response. This case, by and large, gives us an understanding about how deep this goes. People think all White supremacists are in Mississippi.”
Mr. Puryear, journalist, author and community organizer, said the infiltration of far-right individuals and elements into law enforcement and the military is a larger institutional problem.
“Police are totally nonchalant about the right wing. They have ties to the Proud Boys; we saw a wink and a nod to the White supremacists in Charlottesville, as well as outright ties between both in other instances,” the Charlottesville, Va., native and co-host of Sputnik International Radio’s “By Any Means Necessary” said. “Law enforcement and the military are recruiting grounds for these forces. Some cops have an outright affinity to Nazi types and their affiliates, have an affinity for far-right ideas and are giving aid and comfort to these people.”
America’s military is troubled by White supremacists in its ranks. Some say the military has often ignored the threat.
“In Charlottesville, it still has not been explained why the police did nothing and letting people brawl on the streets. There was no full deep-dive investigation and no satisfactory answers.”
Mr. Puryear said in the face of corrosive, noxious, racist speeches, comments and policies by President Donald Trump and his political allies, his attacks on Black people and his derogatory remarks and negative labeling of liberals, progressives and the media has inflamed the political environment and emboldened those supportive and sympathetic to the president.
“This is a challenging time. The ground has been laid by the discourse,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re headed towards a race war but groups want to foment that. America is a violent society but political violence is new.”
Federal officials said Lt. Hasson, 49, of Silver Spring, Md., had a hit list targeting Democrats and journalists. A search of his home also turned up a stockpile of weapons—15 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition—and drugs. Lt. Hasson, who works at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, is a former Marine. He appeared in court on Feb. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. He is charged with illegal drugs and weapons possession. Federal prosecutors have told media sources that the charges are just “the tip of the iceberg.”
Court documents describe Lt. Hasson as someone with espoused extremist and White supremacist views, who plotted to kill prominent Democratic politicians and journalists as well as “professors, judges, and leftists in general,” and planned large-scale attacks in an effort to start a race war. He admitted “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth,” according to federal authorities.
Lt. Hasson’s hit list includes Democratic politicians—such as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Chuck Shumer of New York, Sens. Kamala Harris, the Black presidential hopeful from California, and Cory Booker, the Black presidential hopeful from New Jersey; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and CNN’s Van Jones, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Joe Scarborough and Ari Melber.
He is said to have leaned heavily on the manifesto of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who was convicted of killing 77 people in two terror attacks in 2011. Federal officials said Mr. Hasson had a cache of human growth hormone and steroids “to increase his ability to conduct attacks,” as detailed in Mr. 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.
This image provided by the U.S. District Court in Maryland shows a photo of firearms and ammunition that was in the motion for detention pending trial in the case against Christopher Paul Hasson. Prosecutors say that Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant is a “domestic terrorist” who wrote about biological attacks and had a hit list that included prominent Democrats and media figures. He was due in court on Feb. 21 in Maryland. Prosecutors say Hasson espoused extremist views for years. Court papers say Hasson described an “interesting idea” in a 2017 draft email that included “biological attacks followed by attacks on food supply.” Photo: AP/Wide World Photos
The public was only made aware of the Feb. 15 arrest because Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, found the court filings on Feb. 20 during one of his regular searches, and released and reported on the details on Twitter.
Law enforcement sources told NBC News that feds caught on to Mr. Hasson because of multiple searches he made on his work computer.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston said he was quite surprised the Department of Justice didn’t issue a press release about the arrest.
“They did catch this guy because they searched his computer. The amazing thing is that there was no press release. Excuse me? No announcement by the government?” he asked. “(Jeff) Sessions downgraded the focus on the KKK (so) we shouldn’t be surprised. We only know about this because the George Washington University professor looks into these filings. Why did the DOJ not publicly notify the country about this case?”
Mr. Johnston, an author and specialist in economics and tax issues, said there are a number of unanswered questions, including if Lt. Hasson acted as a lone wolf, the broader issue of what’s going on in the Coast Guard ranks and if the Coast Guard is equipped with computer software, for example, to flag people with Lt. Hasson’s bent to their superiors.
“The real big problem here is that we have a president who encourages violence against his fellow citizens and he’s given aid and comfort to (White nationalists),” said Mr. Johnston, author of “The Making of Donald Trump,” founder of DCReport and longtime Trump watcher. “I’m not worried about most people. I’m worried about troubled people.”
Mr. Johnston said his greater worry is that if White nationalists get their way, the resulting carnage and bloodshed would be unprecedented.
“If we ever slip into a civil war, with so many guns, we would push Pol Pot to an asterisk in history. There will always be people like him (Hasson) but what steps are taken to check on this and look for people like that?” he asked.
While it might be alarming and easy for the public to assume that the military and law enforcement are overrun with White nationalists, Mike German, an expert in right-wing terrorism, counter-terrorism operations and terrorist group behavior, said the answer is more nuanced.
“It’s not fair to categorize it as a big problem. It’s a persistent problem in the military and the Coast Guard,” said Mr. German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program in New York City. “It’s also a persistent problem in the courts, the school system, the media and elsewhere. The military and law enforcement usually attracts people with authoritarian personalities and it offers lethal training and national security access.”
Mr. German said that the level of violence in the country has dropped sharply and the number of people involved in spree shootings or murders for ideological reasons is relatively small compared to the number of homicides overall.
“Of the 15,000-17,000 homicides maybe 100 will be the result of ideological reasons and 200-300 are from mass violence,” said Mr. German, a decorated former FBI agent who quit after 16 years because of retaliation against him after he blew the whistle on continuing mishandling and deficiencies in counter-terrorism investigations.
Race and the issues of race are uncomfortable topics for a lot of people, are avoided and sidestepped, he said. Meanwhile, there are more than a few politicians willing to exploit racial conflicts.
“(Yet), it remains up to the people to realize that unless they stand up and fight against the racism and discrimination that’s affecting other people, eventually it will affect them too,” he said.
The military publication “Stars and Stripes” says there have been longstanding concerns about right-wing extremists in the military, about such groups seeking to infiltrate the services to gain tactical knowledge and about troops’ radicalization after they’ve joined.
The publication has tackled the issue in a range of stories. Military analysts and officials describe the phenomenon as “supremacist, extremist or criminal gang ideology or causes.” They also say anyone who advocates “illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity or national origin” are forbidden to military troops. So are groups that advocate “the use of force, violence or criminal activity or otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.”
Active participation is described as including fundraising, demonstrating, rallying, recruiting, training, organizing or leading members; distributing material, including posting online; and having tattoos associated with such gangs or organizations.
The writers cite a 2008 FBI assessment titled “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11” which found a little over 200 identifiable neo-Nazis with military training. The report found military experience “ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces” was evident throughout the White supremacist movement.
The report also notes, “FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.”
The writers tell the story of Daryl Johnson, a security analyst with the Department of Homeland Security, who in 2009 alerted local police departments to a rising risk of terrorist attacks by the extremist right. The department “is concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities,” the report said.
Mr. Johnson’s report, issued just after the election of Barack Obama, set off a conservative media firestorm that claimed it disparaged troops and law-abiding conservatives. The report was pulled and Mr. Johnson’s office was shut down.
There is also a reluctance to present these types of figures and arrests as serious threats. While the Hasson case got some media attention, stories about an alleged hoax racial attack by actor Jussie Smollett dominated news coverage
Dr. Wilmer Leon, III said the Hasson case illustrates that the U.S. government is a microcosm of America.
“A lot of folks want to blame Donald Trump but we saw the increase on racist and hate-filled rhetoric before him. He has made it fashionable, made people feel freer to do and say what they want,” he said. “After the election of Barack Obama and Donald Trump articulating racism and hate speech, what you’re coming to see it is the fear of a Black planet. They’re afraid of genetic annihilation, afraid of the ‘browning of America.’ ”
Dr. Leon said there has been a reported 17 percent rise in hate crimes.
“We see it in general society and see it in the military as well,” he said. “Who else is he talking to in the Coast Guard? They can find out by looking through his emails and texts. Are they looking for his connections outside of government? Will they find a sleeper cell of like-minded people?”
Dr. Leon is an author, educator and host of Sputnik International Radio’s “Critical Hour.”
He doesn’t expect to see self-defense mobilization in Black neighborhoods.
“We’re not conscious enough to protect the community from the dominant culture,” Dr. Leon said. “You don’t see the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago circling the wagons because of what happened in Silver Spring. Too many of us are afraid of being labeled, ‘radical;’ we’re more concerned about being liked and don’t care about being respected much less feared.”
“We have become Christianized, Americanized to the point of making us passive. We have been taught to be passive. The whole idea of passive resistance I understand but that’s different than defending ourselves.”
“Unfortunately, too many of us agree with and support Dr. King’s myth of non-violence but I’ve never heard him say that we should not be allowed to defend ourselves.”
There have also been significant attacks on U.S. citizens by former members of the American military. The most infamous act was probably the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, former U.S. servicemen. The White supremacist duo killed 168 people, including 19 children, with more than 500 people injured. At the time, it was the most deadly domestic terror attack in U.S. history. Others have been involved in mass shootings, bombings and attacks on banks and federal law enforcement officers.