A test case for domestic terrorism

Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson is set to be sentenced. Does the U.S. need a criminal domestic terrorism law for cases like his?

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A test case for domestic terrorism

FRIDAY: Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson is set to be sentenced in federal court in Maryland. Prosecutors say Hasson is a white supremacist who was planning a series of violent attacks against politicians and media figures. But they have also acknowledged in court filings that there is no statute criminalizing domestic terrorism and that they were only able to bring a case against him on drug and weapons charges.

What prosecutors are asking for: A 25-year prison sentence.

What Hasson is asking for: Release from custody with time served.

Federal prosecutor Thomas Windom, in a document filed Wednesday: “The eyes of many await this court’s sentence. The law-abiders await. The potential victims await. And white supremacists intending to perpetrate violent acts await, to see exactly how much federal time they may be looking at in assessing whether and how to act on their violent beliefs.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Does the U.S. need a criminal domestic terrorism law for cases like this? Former federal officials have called for new laws that would criminalize domestic terrorism and give prosecutors another tool to use in cases like Hasson’s. Others have argued that the U.S. already has laws on the books that can be used in domestic terrorism cases but that the Justice Department has failed to prioritize such prosecutions.

Writing for the website Lawfare, former Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord and former Director of the Office of Counterterrorism Finance and Designations at the U.S. Department of State Jason M. Blazakis mentioned the Hasson case in February while advocating for new domestic terrorism statutes:

Enacting a federal crime of domestic terrorism would place it on the same moral plane as international terrorism, as one of us has written before. It would also bring with it more resources (the FBI would, after all, be responsible for investigating domestic terrorism and enforcing the statute) and better data (especially if paired with mandatory reporting requirements).

But it could do more than that, as the case of Hasson demonstrates. If domestic terrorism were made a federal crime, it could be one of the predicate crimes listed in 18 U.S.C. § 2339A: “Providing material support to terrorists.” That statute criminalizes providing material support or resources “or conceal[ing] or disguis[ing] the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for or in carrying out” any one of a list of terrorism offenses. With domestic terrorism added to this list, Hasson’s stockpiling of weapons and other equipment with intent to use them to commit the crime of domestic terrorism would fall within the scope of this statute, and would itself constitute providing material support to terrorists.

Former FBI special agent Mike German has argued, however, that the problem is not the laws but the priorities of federal law enforcement. Here he is writing for The Guardian in August:

Federal law enforcement officials have all the tools necessary to address far-right violence proactively – as my own successful investigations as an FBI undercover agent in the 1990s indicate. They have simply chosen as a matter of policy not to prioritize these cases. What role racism, latent or overt, plays in these decisions has yet to be explored.

There are currently 52 federal terrorism laws available to address entirely domestic acts of political violence. Congress has also passed five federal hate crimes statutes specifically designed to punish the types of violence white supremacists and other far-right militants often commit against vulnerable communities. Organized crime and conspiracy statutes can also be used to dismantle white supremacist gangs.

Also on my radar…

HATE CRIME CONVICTION… “White Supremacist Brandon Higgs Found Guilty In Hate Crime Shooting Of Black Man,” by Christopher Mathias at HuffPost: “A jury found white supremacist Brandon Higgs guilty Wednesday of first-degree assault, attempted voluntary manslaughter, hate crimes, and related firearms charges.

“Higgs, a 25-year-old former Navy cryptologist with ties to neo-Nazi groups, was convicted of assaulting two black men, Elvis Smith and Robert Peete, during a 2018 altercation in Reisterstown, a suburb of Baltimore. Smith was shot in the leg.”

LATEST ON WASHINGTON STATE REP. MATT SHEA… “Documents from Shea investigation show detailed plans for action,” by Jim Camden at the Spokesman-Review: “Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea laid out detailed plans to prepare for dramatic ‘government escalation’ at an Oregon standoff and to protect the ability of a Priest River, Idaho, veteran to keep his guns, documents released Tuesday by the House leaders indicate.

“The documents – some 500 pages of emails, plans, online chats, law enforcement charts and social media posts – provided the background for an independent investigator’s report that alleges Shea may have been involved in domestic terrorism.” READ the documents here.

PLEA AGREEMENT… Las Vegas neo-Nazi CONOR CLIMO has agreed to plead guilty to one count of possessing the makings for a bomb. Climo allegedly had ties to the neo-Nazi group Feuerkrieg Division, which is an international offshoot of Atomwaffen Division. Federal authorities said Climo had been scouting targets to attack, including a gay bar and a synagogue. READ the plea agreement. (h/t Emily Gorcenski)

Climo’s change of plea hearing is scheduled for February 10.

ARSON ATTACK… “'Eco-fascist' Arm of Neo-Nazi Terror Group, The Base, Linked to Swedish Arson”

ACID ATTACK CASE… “Judge: Milwaukee man to face trial in racist acid attack.”

CHARGED WITH A HATE CRIME… “Hudson woman charged with throwing pork at synagogue.”

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MIKE BLOOMBERG ON THE TRAIL: “When the president calls his supporters 'real Americans' – an echo of the language that nativists, anti-Semites, and the KKK used for many decades, he undermines our fundamental national values. … When he is silent — and even supportive, through his words and tweets — as racist groups spread hate, he puts the public safety of our communities at risk.”

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Climo has a change of plea hearing, not a sentencing hearing, on February 10.

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