Do you know the difference between sedition and seditious conspiracy?
Did any of us think there would come a time when we would get used to riots in our country? In the fall of 2020, the riots that broke out simultaneously with protests over the death of George Floyd in late May have continued for months with increasing levels of violence and destruction. Law and order have become a central topic of discussion for political campaigns.
When Attorney General Bill Barr told federal prosecutors in September 2020 in a conference call to be aggressive when filing charges against violent anti-American rioters, the media establishment responded with criticism claiming he was urging sedition charges.
Legal experts claimed these were rarely used charges that would infringe upon first-Amendment rights of those arrested.
However, there’s a difference between the charge of sedition and seditious conspiracy. Not only that, but violent anti-American extremists have been successfully convicted of one of these charges in the relatively recent past.
What is Sedition?
Sedition means inciting rebellion against established authority with words or actions.
Two primary federal laws target the crime of sedition. Although they haven’t been used much in the history of this country, they are fairly straightforward. One of these laws is in a group of laws passed in the very early days of our country called the Alien and Sedition Acts.
These laws have always been controversial because they tend to limit free speech and freedom of the press.
The other – the seditious conspiracy law – was enacted during the Civil War. This was because of violent Confederate sympathizers in free states sabotaging the Union war effort.
What is Seditious Conspiracy?
Seditious Conspiracy is outlined in Section 2384 of our penal code as two or more people conspiring…
“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.”
The crime of seditious conspiracy is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
World Trade Center Bombing
In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed and violent, anti-American jihadists. The perpetrators were found to be plotting to bomb other landmarks. These people were successfully charged under Section 2384 of plotting to use force and prosecute war against this country and striking against our government.
The key here is the phrase “by force.”
This law doesn’t infringe on freedom of speech or freedom of religion because it targets actions, not desires or words. It’s not a crime to desire the United States government’s overthrow or to oppose its authority in words.
However, it is a crime to oppose it violently or conspire to do the same. In 1993, it did not matter that jihadists were acting from sincerely held religious beliefs. This was because it wasn’t their beliefs on trial – only their actions.
Like it or not, the violent rioters who have crossed state lines to incite riots and do violence, committed arson, and used explosives have committed several federal crimes.
Rioting is itself a federal crime. Seditious conspiracy isn’t the only charge mentioned by AG Barr. However, it does fit with the crimes committed by these rioters. The question is whether any of them will face meaningful charges for their crimes.
If you or a loved one is facing federal criminal charges, contact my office today.