Is the United States Congress breach horrifically witnessed globally by millions an act of sedition that leads to President Donald J. Trump’s front door?
Sedition is a serious felony punishable by fines and up to 20 years in prison, and it refers to the act of inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the objective of destroying or overthrowing it. The following provides an overview of this particular crime against the government, with historical references.
Seditious Conspiracy and Federal Law: The Basics
The federal law against seditious conspiracy can be found in Title 18 of the U.S. Code (which includes treason, rebellion, and similar offenses), specifically 18 U.S.C. § 2384. According to the statutory definition of sedition, it is a crime for two or more people within the jurisdiction of the United States:
- To conspire to overthrow or destroy by force the government of the United States or to level war against them;
- To oppose by force the authority of the United States government; to prevent, hinder, or delay by force the execution of any law of the United States; or
- To take, seize, or possess by force any property of the United States contrary to its authority.
Free Speech, Sedition, and Treason
To get a conviction for seditious conspiracy, the government must prove that the defendant conspired to use force. Merely advocating for the use of force is not the same thing and, in most cases, is protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics of an attack, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered a seditious conspiracy. --FindLaw
The President of the United States for the past 8-weeks spewed caustic rhetoric of how his reelection bid has been stolen away from him and his loyal supporters. Mincing no words and filing an avalanche of lawsuits that were rejected all the way to state supreme courts and the United States Supreme Court by several states, the president held a planned January 6 rally yesterday. This rally tactfully planned to coincide as the House of Representatives and Senate debated state-certified Electoral College results.
Feeling the final death throes of the election slip away from him and having his army of angry supporters primed by his “Save America Rally,” President Trump sent thousands of his right-wing president conspiracy believers to the steps of Congress and beyond. “Our country has had enough,” Trump said. “We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.” President Trump’s newly defined enemy of the people. The United States Congress was now targeted by an angry, hateful mob intended to save Trump’s presidency.
Several Republicans were arguing in the Congress to reject the Electoral College votes and join President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the November election results.
President Donald Trump supporters who breached the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday could face charges of sedition, legal experts say.
The nation’s center of power became a scene of chaos Wednesday as rioters made their way past barricades, broke in through windows and sent representatives into hiding during a session of debate over election certification.
President-elect Joe Biden said in a televised address Wednesday that the lawlessness “is not dissent, it’s disorder, it’s chaos. It borders on sedition. And it must end, now.”
The crowd’s actions were “inexcusable,” and they were crimes, Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“There’s a difference, a big difference, between peaceful protests and expressing your freedoms,” said Schneider, who was appointed to his post by Trump.
“This is not it. The violent protesters are committing crimes, and they have to stop right now, and this is not what our Constitution protects.”
Depending on what investigators find and individual circumstances, charges could range from everything from low-level curfew charges to trespassing to the misdemeanor of the destruction of government property less than $1,000, depending on the windows cost and anything else, he said.
- There could be a felony charge of destruction of government property over $1,000, depending on what was damaged, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison
- Charges of civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement, or inciting a riot could all be possible, up to seditious conspiracy – a federal charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison, he said.
That latter charge seemed most relevant to two professors of Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School.
“If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”
- “For at least some of these protesters, particularly the ones that broke into the Capitol, I think there’s an extremely strong case that they used force to delay, to hinder, the execution of our laws governing the election and how electoral votes are counted,” he said. “It seems fairly clear to me, based on what we’re seeing, that folks are almost textbook violating this seditious conspiracy statute by using force to interfere with lawful government activity.”
The idea of “sedition” has changed, he said, pointing to President John Adams’s version against his political opponents. The courts have narrowed it in the present day.
He also raised concern for a different federal charge of rebellion or insurrection, which could carry a sentence of 10 years in prison, and Trump’s words at the rally earlier in the day.
“Remember it’s got to be ‘against the authority of the United States,’” he said, using the language of the law. “So a really interesting question to pose to my law students later on this week is whether or not the president’s speech … was inciting them to violence against the authority of the government of the United States.”
Depending on that answer, given the president’s role, another impeachment would perhaps be more appropriate than a charge, he said.
US Capitol lockdown: Pro-Trump rioters storm Congress, clash with police