JUSTICE DEPT.: SEDITION CHARGE MAY APPLY TO PROTEST VIOLENCE
WASHINGTON — In a memo to U.S. attorneys Thursday obtained by The Associated Press, the Justice Department emphasized that federal prosecutors should aggressively go after demonstrators who cause violence — and even sedition charges could potentially apply.
The sedition statute doesn’t require proof of a plot to overthrow the government, the memo read. It instead could be used when a defendant tries to oppose the government’s authority by force.
Attorney General William Barr has been pushing his U.S. attorneys to bring federal charges in protest-related violence whenever they can, keeping a grip on cases even if a defendant could be tried instead in state court. Federal convictions often result in longer prison sentences; sedition alone could lead to up to 20 years behind bars.
The memo cited as a hypothetical example “a group has conspired to take a federal courthouse or other federal property by force,” but the real thing took place in Portland, Oregon, during clashes that erupted night after night between law enforcement and demonstrators.
Justice officials also explored whether it could pursue either criminal or civil rights charges against city officials there, spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. She would not say whether charges were still being considered.
The administration has seized on the demonstrations and an aggressive federal response to showcase what President Donald Trump says is his law-and-order prowess, claiming he is countering rising crime in cities run by Democrats. Trump has derided protesters and played up the violence around protests, though the majority of them are peaceful.
Barr under fire over comparison of virus lock-in to slavery
Barr drew sharp condemnation Thursday for comparing lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic to slavery.
In remarks Wednesday night at an event hosted by Hillsdale College, Barr had called the lockdown orders the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the No. 3 House Democratic leader, told CNN that Barr’s remarks were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” because they wrongly equated human bondage with a measure aimed at saving lives.