Bill Barr urges violent protesters to be charged with sedition

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Attorney General William Barr and top officials within the Justice Department have urged federal prosecutors to charge violent protesters who have burned buildings with sedition, an internal memo shows.

In the memo to US attorneys, Jeffrey Rosen, the department’s No. 2 official, wrote that he and Barr have told federal prosecutors should aggressively go after demonstrators who cause violence.

The memo said prosecutors do not need to prove that protesters were plotting to overthrow the US government in order to bring rarely used sedition charges against them.

Invoking the rarely used law could instead be used when a defendant tries to oppose the government’s authority by force, the memo reads. 

‘In appropriate cases – for instance, where a group has conspired to take a federal courthouse or other federal property by force – you should consider a charge,’ he wrote. 

Attorney General William Barr and top officials within the Justice Department have suggested charging violent protesters who have burned buildings with sedition

Attorney General William Barr and top officials within the Justice Department have suggested charging violent protesters who have burned buildings with sedition

The ‘seditious conspiracy’ statute: 

The ‘seditious conspiracy’ statute makes it a crime to plot to overthrow the US government or wage war against it.

It also outlaws attempts to stop authorities from enforcing the law. 

Those found guilty face up to 20 years in prison. 

US authorities used the law to successfully prosecute people who traveled overseas to fight American forces after the September 11 attacks in 2001. 

Prosecutors also brought sedition charges against nine members of an anti-government militia in 2010 who were charged with plotting a violent uprising but the case was dismissed. 

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While the memo cited that as a hypothetical example, the real thing took place in Portland, Oregon, during clashes that erupted night after night between law enforcement and demonstrators. 

The ‘seditious conspiracy’ statute makes it a crime to plot to overthrow the US government or wage war against it, but it also outlaws attempts to stop authorities from enforcing the law. 

Those found guilty face up to 20 years in prison. 

US authorities used the law to successfully prosecute people who traveled overseas to fight American forces after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Prosecutors also brought sedition charges against nine members of an anti-government militia in 2010 who were charged with plotting a violent uprising but the case was dismissed.

Barr has mounted an aggressive response to racial-justice protests that have sometimes escalated into violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. 

He has deployed federal agents to disperse protests in Washington DC and Portland, Oregon, and urged federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges whenever possible. 

He has been pushing his US attorneys to bring federal charges, which is allowing him to to keep a grip on cases even if a defendant could be tried instead in state court.  

Federal convictions often result in longer prison sentences and sedition alone could lead to up to 20 years behind bars. 

It follows reports that Barr has asked whether Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan could also be charged with sedition for allowing people to create a police-free zone. 

A Department of Homeland Security officer emerges from the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse after demonstrators lit a fire in Portland back on August 2

A Department of Homeland Security officer emerges from the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse after demonstrators lit a fire in Portland back on August 2

People gather to protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland last month

People gather to protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland last month

Durkan hit back saying it was ‘chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration.’

‘The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the President to target those who have spoken out against this administration’s actions,’ Durkan, a former US attorney, said in a statement. 

‘That is an act of tyranny, not of democracy.’ 

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

Barr has reportedly asked whether Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan could also be charged with sedition for allowing people to create a police-free zone in the city

Barr has blamed the violence on left-wing ‘antifa’ activists, although prosecutors have also brought charges against members of right-wing militia groups. 

He has said there is no ‘systemic racism’ in law enforcement. 

The Trump administration’s crackdown on protest violence has already led to more than 300 arrests on federal crimes. 

An AP analysis of the data shows that while many people are accused of violent crimes such as arson for hurling Molotov cocktails and burning police cars and assault for injuring law enforcement, others are not. 

That’s led to criticism that at least some arrests are a politically motivated effort to stymie demonstrations. 

‘The speed at which this whole thing was moved from state court to federal court is stunning and unbelievable,’ said Charles Sunwabe, who represents an Erie, Pennsylvania, man accused of lighting a fire at a coffee shop after a May 30 protest.

‘It’s an attempt to intimidate these demonstrators and to silence them.’

The 'Capitol Hill Organized Protest was a three-week long 'occupation' by anti-racism protesters in Seattle who set up a several-block perimeter where there were no police presence within the boundaries. Two people were killed and several were wounded in shootings in the CHOP

The ‘Capitol Hill Organized Protest was a three-week long ‘occupation’ by anti-racism protesters in Seattle who set up a several-block perimeter where there were no police presence within the boundaries. Two people were killed and several were wounded in shootings in the CHOP

Some cases are viewed as trumped-up and should not be in federal court, lawyers have argued, including a teenager accused of civil disorder for claiming online ‘we are not each other’s enemy, only enemy is 12,’ a reference to law enforcement. 

Pockets of violence have indeed popped up in Rochester, New York; Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and Chicago. 

Federal officials were called to Kenosha, Wisconsin, after large protests and unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake and the gunning down of two protesters and later arrest of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse in their deaths. Notably, Rittenhouse has not been charged with any federal crimes. 

Neither was a man accused of shooting and killing a demonstrator in Louisville, Kentucky following the death of Breonna Taylor. 

While many local prosecutors have dismissed dozens of low-level protest arrests, some are still coming down hard. A Pennsylvania judge set bail at $1 million for about a dozen people in a protest that followed the death of a knife-wielding man by police.

Even some Democrats, including District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, have called for the Justice Department to pursue federal charges against violent demonstrators, going as far as accusing the administration of declining to prosecute rioters.

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