At what point does freedom of speech and expression cross the line and warrant response to direct threats of violence on individuals, general calls to violence against the community and nation or terroristic threats.
Attorney General Bill Barr recently held a conference call with several prosecutors in September and allegedly addressed potential federal charges that can be brought against the likes of violent protesters that have been wreaking havoc across large cities.
The specific federal charge that has sparked intrigue reportedly mentioned by AG Barr was sedition
Breaking News: Attorney General William Barr is said to have suggested sedition charges over violence at protests, as well as possible charges for the Seattle mayor. https://t.co/qLofTr9BQo
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 17, 2020
You often hear that not all forms of speech are free speech within the United States, and there are plenty of examples that can fall under said realms.
Things such as direct threats of violence, or general calls to violence against individuals and also terroristic threats.
Then, there’s sedition, which is usually partially verbalized intent to overthrow the state or government and is typically paired with certain actions in concurrence or following said form of speech.
But it’s a difficult law to navigate and, furthermore, successfully charge with and later gain a conviction.
When does protest become sedition? The right to free speech has been expanded since anti-war activists burned their draft cards.
— فْجْرْ✨ (@cswor1) September 17, 2020
Of course, many may look at the federal charge of sedition and think that it bears an uncanny resemblance to treason (defined in Article III in the Constitution) – which is understandable.
But the difference between sedition and treason is that sedition is the conspiring to overthrow the state authority and treason is the act of actually waging a war against the United States or proving aid to an enemy of the nation.
Looking at U.S. Code 18 U.S.C. § 2384, sedition is legally defined as follows:
“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.”
Considering all that has played out over the past several months in areas such as Seattle and Portland, it does make sense why AG Barr would bring up the idea of sedition.
Many that are left-of-center are – quite frankly – freaking out over AG Barr suggesting that prosecutors explore charges of sedition against suspects who may have engaged in such acts.
Rachel Maddow referred to the suggestion by AG Barr as going “off the deep and” and “nuts”.
Joyce Alene, an MSNBC contributor, is claiming that AG Barr is trying to levy sedition charges against people who are intent on “voting against Trump”:
“Voting against Trump isn’t plotting to overthrow the United States. But apparently Bill Barr thinks it is & wants to aggressively charge people with sedition. Cannot overstate how serious this is.”
But there’s literally nothing in any reports circulating that implies AG Barr’s suggestion relates to that agenda. Furthermore, sedition is a very well-defined act and can’t just be used against people legitimately protesting peacefully.
Even someone who described themselves as an “aggressively anti-Trump voter” called out Alene’s framing of the shared articled online:
“Speaking as an aggressively anti-Trump voter, let me say that nothing in that story suggests he wants to charge people w/sedition for voting against Trump. He wants to charge violent protesters with sedition. What are you missing about that?? Did you even read the article?”
Voting against Trump isn’t plotting to overthrow the United States. But apparently Bill Barr thinks it is & wants to aggressively charge people with sedition. Cannot overstate how serious this is. https://t.co/gBq9DCCHP7
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) September 17, 2020
Sedition usually requires more than someone saying “we need to revolt” in a general sense.
There has to be planned actions discussed and attempts to fulfill those actions.
Instances like perhaps arming people with weapons to attack police officers (which sounds an awful lot like what happened on July 25th in Seattle).
Whether or not the DOJ explores and acts on sedition charges is anyone’s guess – but considering all that has happened in the recent months, it would not be surprising if a case (or cases) could be made.