Just as a new report was released showing the continued rise of hate groups in the United States, federal authorities say they have thwarted a plan by a white nationalist "domestic terrorist" to begin widespread, violent attacks on President Donald Trump's perceived political opponents with the aim of establishing "a white homeland."
U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Paul Hasson was arrested late last week, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, after investigators accused him of stockpiling weapons to carry out his plans. Hasson had compiled a long list of targets including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as well as other politicians and journalists.
In court documents, the U.S. government wrote, "The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country."
According to court documents, his targets included a list of visible Democrats and media figures that Trump has clashed with. The guy was a white nationalist, but also seems to view Trump as on his team.https://t.co/EIA1I0sQ8C pic.twitter.com/fYtPns6DRr
— Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) February 21, 2019
Hasson's arrest was reported a day after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) unveiled research showing that for the fourth year in a row, the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. has grown. The group pointed to Trump's racist rhetoric and policies as well as his history of openly applauding violence against the press and his critics, as a key reason behind the growing prevalence of organized hate.
"The number of hate groups operating across America rose to a record high—1,020—in 2018 as President Trump continued to fan the flames of white resentment over immigration and the country's changing demographics," the SPLC reported.
Based on recent internet searches federal investigators uncovered, Hasson appeared to be planning an attack against Trump's detractors. In January he searched for the phrase, "civil war if trump impeached" and "what if trump illegally impeached."
"This president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one," Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, said of the group's findings. "Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it—with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he's given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts."
In January investigators found Hasson had also conducted internet searches for a number of phrases indicating he planned to get access to his targets, including "best place in dc to see congress people” and “where in dc to congress live." [sic]
Around the time of Hasson's arrest, the Washington Free Beacon published an article detailing Ocasio-Cortez's home in Washington, D.C. The congresswoman responded to reports of Hasson's apparent plans to target her and others by calling on media outlets to end their "reckless" reporting of personal details as well as amplifying of "unvetted conspiracy theories" that run rampant among right-wing hate groups.
"This isn't a game," declared Ocasio-Cortez.
Journalists are sharing stories about where I live the same day it’s shared that myself + others were targeted by a mass shooter.
All this paired w/ amplifying unvetted conspiracy theories. It’s reckless, irresponsible & puts people directly in danger.
This isn’t a game. https://t.co/gcJWcKinxI
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 21, 2019
"Trump has given voice to the rage and paranoia of white supremacists, and now there is a very real danger that as extremists lose the hope they saw in his presidency, some will lash out against the people he has demonized and blamed for America’s problems," Beirich said.
"Hate has frayed the social fabric of our country," said SPLC president Richard Cohen in a statement.
Ending the growth of hate organizations "will take leadership—political leadership—that inspires our country to live up to its highest values," he added.