In a phone call with federal prosecutors last week, Attorney General William Barr suggested that individuals arrested during “violent protests” like those in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, could be charged with “sedition.”
“Attorney General William Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call,” the Chicago Tribune reports.
The suggestion “alarmed” some attorneys, CNN adds, noting that the charges would suggest that violent protesters are conspiring together to overthrow or undermine the authority of the federal government.
Individuals are rarely charged with sedition. When it happens, those same individuals are rarely convicted. In 2010, CNN notes, the federal government charged “a right-wing militia called the Hutarees with seditious conspiracy. They were acquitted for lack of evidence. Federal prosecutors were successful in using the law against Puerto Rican separatists in the 1930s.”
As The Daily Wire previously reported, Barr and other Department of Justice officials are concerned that district attorneys in places like Portland are simply charging and releasing protesters who go on to engage in further destruction and violence.
When the Department of Homeland Security agreed, back in August, to pull elite Customs and Border Protection agents from their posts protecting a downtown Portland courthouse from nightly unrest, DHS “federal deputized” members of the Oregon State Police so that Oregon’s United States Attorney’s office could prosecute rioters if the Portland district attorney refused.
Federal officials have charged at least 74 people in Portland with federal crimes, the Los Angeles Times reported in late August. “The misdemeanor and felony charges include assaults on federal officers, arson and damaging federal property,” the outlet notes.
Oregon Live adds that several Portland protesters were also charged with “rare” federal “civil disorder” for their roles in “alleged violence during this summer’s turbulent protests.” In Rochester, New York, the federal government intervened to charge two individuals accused of “civil disorder,” per The New York Times.
“The men who were charged on Wednesday, Dallas Williams-Smothers and Adam Green, were part of a crowd of protesters that grew to around 1,500 people on Saturday night, the authorities said,” per the NY Times. “Williams-Smothers, 20, threw a mortar-style firework at a line of officers and then ran off,” the outlet adds. Green swung a “wooden shield” at a cop trying to clear the streets after the Rochester police department declared the incident a riot.
“Civil disorder,” Oregon Live says, “is defined as ‘public disturbance involving acts of violence’ by three or more people ‘which causes an immediate danger of or results in’ injury to people or their property.”
The Associated Press reports that at least 300 people have been arrested on federal charges for their respective roles in ongoing unrest. Most of those individuals were charged with arson to federal property (which includes arson to police vehicles) or the illegal possession of a firearm. None of those 300 were charged with conspiracy to undermine the federal government.