Attorney General William Barr wants prosecutors to amp up federal charges against anti-Trump and Black Lives Matter protesters.
He’s even encouraging them to charge protesters with sedition, which — if convicted — could send them to prison for years, reports the Wall Street Journal.
“In a conference call with U.S. attorneys across the country last week, Mr. Barr warned that sometimes violent demonstrations across the U.S. could worsen as the November presidential election approaches,” the Journal says, citing unnamed people “familiar with the conversation.”
Barr “encouraged the prosecutors to seek a number of federal charges, including under a rarely used sedition law, even when state charges could apply,” the newspaper says.
Sedition is defined by Wikipedia as “overt conduct, such as speech and organization” that promotes rebellion against the “established order.”
“Legal experts say the rarely used [sedition] statute could be difficult to prove in court and potentially run up against First Amendment protections” of freedom of speech, the Journal says.
“To bring a sedition case, prosecutors would have to prove there was a conspiracy to attack government agents or officials that posed an imminent danger, legal experts said. Rhetoric alone wouldn’t suffice.”
The key word there, for prosecutors, is “conspiracy.” It’s not at all clear that one exists.
More than 200 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the racial-justice protests; most are accused of arson, assaulting federal officers or gun crimes.
“FBI officials earlier this year described the perpetrators as largely opportunistic individuals taking advantage of the protests,” the Journal says. “In more recent months, police officials say they are alarmed by the presence of armed fringe groups from both sides of the political spectrum.”
But Barr has focused almost exclusively on left-leaning protesters, claiming that the loosely defined antifa (anti-fascist) movement, for example, is in fact a well-organized plot to overthrow the government.
The Journal cites experts as saying that antifa “has no central leadership structure or formal membership and is instead a dispersed network that coordinates anti-racist activism on an ad hoc basis.”