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Extremist military veterans and the insurrection at the Capitol

Hiding in plain sight
Creative Credit: Alicia Tatone / for NBC News
Photo of Christopher Paul Hasson and a photo of firearms and ammunition that was in the motion for detention pending trial in the case against Hasson.
(Hasson photo courtesy of ABC News and the firearms image is provided by the U.S. District Court in Maryland)

Former Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson was sentenced to 13 years in prison following a guilty plea in 2020 to federal gun and drug charges, according to the New York Times.

Hasson, who served two years in the Army National Guard before entering the Coast Guard as a commissioned officer, swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” According to court filings reported by Navy Times, it was during his arrest on  Feb. 15, 2019, on drug and firearms charges that the military learned Hasson was a white nationalist, and that he drafted a hit list of Democratic leadership, two Supreme Court justices, network TV journalists and social media company executives while serving at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutors argued that Hasson espoused extremist views for years with the intent to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom stated “prosecutors had presented clear and convincing evidence that Hasson poses [what Windom classified] as ‘a danger to the public,'” the Navy Times reports.

NPR reports that one in five people charged by the federal government for alleged involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol are military veterans, including a small group of veterans who are still actively serving in some capacity, shedding light on the issue the military is experiencing with extremism amongst its ranks. In a 2019 survey conducted by the Military Times, in collaboration with Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, roughly one-third of active duty service members said they personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism within the ranks. The survey participants acknowledged that they have seen swastikas drawn on service members’ cars, service members brandishing tattoos affiliated with white supremacist groups, stickers supporting the Ku Klux Klan stuck on government property and Nazi-style salutes being exchanged between service members while on military installations.

According to Military Times, domestic extremists have proudly announced ties to the U.S. military for decades, seeking to claim both credibility and effective tactical training. In the past, top military officials have promised to go after domestic extremists, white supremacists and hate groups who advocate violence against the government when discovered in the ranks.

Military Times reports that tougher enforcement is now under consideration at the highest levels of government and the military ranking system. Some of the proposed measures under consideration include:

  • Better vetting of incoming recruits
  • Monitoring social media posts of those in sensitive positions
  • Adding questions about extremism to command climate surveys
  • A tattoo database that allows commanders to know exactly what to look for in regards to extremist and supremacist ties
  • Increased training and an accountability mindset
  • Encouraging reporting of potential extremist activity
John Daniel Andries, 35, was detained last month and charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds

Marine Corp veteran John Daniel Andries, 35, of Piney Point, MD, was detained last month and charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in connection with the Capitol riot on January 6, according to The Hill.

Military service records released by the Marine Corps state that Andries served active duty from 2004 to 2009, reaching the enlisted rank of lance corporal and crew chief of Marine Helicopter Squadron 1, or the HMX-1, where he was responsible for maintaining and operating the presidential helicopter.

According to DuoTech, Marine One is the call sign used when the president is on board any Marine Corps helicopter, but is often referencing the VH-60N Whitehawk or VH-3D Sea King used by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) for Presidential and VIP transport.

© Provided by Daily Mail HMX-1, as the squadron is also known, overlooks presidential travel aircraft known as Marine 1 when the president is aboard

In order to assume this duty, Andries held a top secret clearance with a “Yankee White” designator, which is reserved for personnel who work closely with the president.

According to Security Clearance Jobs Blog, all personnel being considered for a position that requires a Yankee White level clearance will have their friends, acquaintances and family members undergo the vetting process as well. This process includes the possibility of being interviewed in-person and undergoing a background check prior to receiving official clearance.

The basic eligibility requirements for a Yankee White clearance are:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen that has demonstrated unquestionable loyalty to the United States.
  • A proven record of trustworthiness.
  • No criminal convictions, or a history of drug usage.
  • All immediate family must be U.S. citizens

© Provided by Daily Mail Several clips of video footage show Andries – wearing a tan jacket – walking throughout the building, a criminal complaint states

According to the Washington Post, prosecutors allege that Andries entered the Capitol building through a shattered window during the capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021. He was identified in footage that shows him actively participating in the mob that overpowered police in efforts to interrupt the certification of the 2021 presidential election.  

Daily Mail reports that multiple surveillance clips of video footage show Andries wearing a tan jacket and walking throughout the capitol building, motioning to other insurrectionists to advance forward into the building. Andries was arrested last month and charged with felony violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds; he entered a plea of not guilty.  

CNN reports that active military personnel and veterans are among the 150 people arrested following the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. A calculation from the Census Bureau and Department of Defense statistics states that 21 of the 150 (14%) of those arrested and charged in relation to the insurrection equates to more than double the proportion of servicemen and women and veterans in the adult US population.

As of March 11, 2021, more than 30 military veterans have been charged with crimes in connection to the Capitol riot. Their service records, obtained by various media outlets, show that many of them served in infantry and were vehicle drivers and mechanics. 

Thomas Caldwell, who authorities believes holds a leadership role in the extremist group, worked as a section chief for the FBI from 2009 to 2010 after retiring from the Navy, his lawyers wrote in a motion. The FBI didn’t comment and his lawyer didn’t answer questions as to the statement that Caldwell worked for the FBI. Caldwell (pictured in 2019 at a conference of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC,) was arrested on Jan. 19 for his role in the insurrection. Courtesy of Reuters.

The Washington Post reports that Thomas Caldwell, 66, is a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer and FBI official from Virginia. U.S. prosecutors alleged on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 that Caldwell organized a group of trained fighters and was in contact with militia groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. Prosecutors allege that Caldwell was a key figure in the planning and implementation of the insurrection, using his military and law enforcement background to plan the deadly violence, including the possible enlistment of trained snipers and the coordination of a weapons cache on boats along the Potomac River.

Court documents obtained by the Washington Post show that Caldwell engaged in collaborative efforts with Oath Keepers founder Steward Rhodes in the weeks following the presidential election, hosting members at his Virginia home. The Oath Keepers were engaged in a pro-Trump protest that turned violent, where Caldwell messaged others via the encrypted messaging app Signal in a group chat.

“Next time (and there WILL be a next time) we will have learned and we will be stronger. I think there will be real violence for all of us next time. I am already working on the next D.C. op.” Caldwell said.

Caldwell holds a top-secret security clearance, working as both a government official and independent contractor providing IT services for the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Washington Post reports that he is now being charged on counts of conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, trespassing and destruction of government property.

Despite finding recent evidence of troops with known ties to extremist groups like the Atomwaffen Division or Identity Evropa, military leadership has not responded aggressively to the issue. In the past, defense officials have downplayed the problem, claiming the numbers were low and that mere membership in such organizations is not a crime, thus making it difficult to track. Such leadership has also noted that any efforts made to aggressively tackle the problem will be met with hesitation and resistance because the Constitution protects freedom of speech, and the law prohibits criminalizing affiliations that may be deemed fundamentally political in nature rather than a threat to harm the public. As a result, the Defense Department has no central tracking of allegations or disciplinary actions carried out against service members linked to extremism. Regulations allow for extremist affiliations and rhetoric as long as a service member does not act upon their convictions.

The new secretary of defense, retired Army four-star Gen. Lloyd Austin, vowed at his confirmation hearing in January 2021 to “rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity.”