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Lawmakers to DoD, DHS: What's Being Done to Keep Out Service Members with 'Extremist, Supremacist, or Hate-Based Views'?

U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, center, of the District of Maryland, speaks as Art Walker, left, special agent from the Coast Guard investigative service, and Gordon Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore office, listen during a news conference about Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson on Feb. 21, 2019, outside the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Md. (AP Photo/Michael Kunzelman)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on the House Armed Services and Oversight committees want the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security to detail what they’re doing to block members with “extremist, supremacist, or hate-based views” in the wake of a Coast Guard lieutenant accused of plotting mass murder.

Christopher Hasson of Silver Spring, Md., was arrested on Feb. 15 for possession of a firearm while being an unlawful user or addict of the opioid Tramadol, but those charges “are the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” prosecutors said. “The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect governmental conduct.”

His plot included amassing an extensive weapons cache and detailing a list of targets including media figures and lawmakers — referring to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as “Blumenjew,” according to documents filed in court. Prosecutors said Hasson emulated Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and planned to “murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.”

In a September 2017 draft letter allegedly written “to a known American neo-Nazi leader,” Hasson states that he has “been a skinhead 30 plus years ago before my time in the military” and talks about the establishment of a “white homeland,” according to court documents.

Hasson began serving as an acquisitions officer for the National Security Cutter Acquisition Program at Coast Guard headquarters in D.C. on June 7, 2016. He served in the Marine Corps from 1988 to 1993, and spent two years on active duty in the Army National Guard.

Today a grand jury U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland returned a four-count indictment against Hasson for unlawful possession of unregistered firearm silencers, unlawful possession of unregistered firearm silencers unidentified by serial numbers, possession of firearms by an unlawful user and addict of a controlled substance, and possession of a controlled substance.

Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Subcommittee on Military Personnel Chairwoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and DHS  Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a letter this week that they are “concerned that an individual that espouses these views could repeatedly serve in the military across multiple services.”

They noted that at least half a dozen members of the military were identified as demonstrating with white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., during the deadly August 2017 Unite the Right rally. “Two other Marines were arrested the same month after attending a Confederate Memorial Day rally and brandishing white nationalist regalia. The involvement of service members in these activities is cause for significant concern, particularly given their combat and weapons training,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Our hope is that these incidents are isolated events and are not indicative of a larger, systemic issue within the United States Armed Services,” they added. “Beyond the extremes of domestic terrorism, we are additionally concerned with low level racism and other identity-based harassment that disrupts unit cohesion, impacts readiness, and degrades the ability of our servicemembers to protect our nation. Servicemembers who experience or witness racist or hateful behavior must be able to report such behavior without fear of repercussions.”

While “the vast majority of our servicemembers continue to serve honorably,” the letter continues, “it appears that some service members are still able to actively associate with extremist organizations.”

The lawmakers seek information on how DoD and DHS, which oversees the Coast Guard, are screening recruits for extremist ties and specifically want to know how Hasson was “able to circumvent these checks.”

“What avenues do members who experience or witness extremist, supremacist, or hate based harassment have for reporting these incidents?” they asked. “What reporting and tracking metrics do the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security maintain at the service level on extremist, supremacist, or hate based crimes?”

The letter also asks if the department have surveyed employees “to identify the prevalence of incidents of extremist, supremacist, or hate based harassment within the Armed Services.”