Attorney General William Barr has said some protesters should be charged with sedition or inciting a rebellion, and Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan should have criminal charges brought against her for “allowing” some Seattleites to create a police-free protest zone, according to several news reports from The Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune.
The WSJ learned of Barr’s statements about prosecuting protesters for plotting an insurrection against the U.S. government (which he allegedly made last week while on a conference call with U.S. federal prosecutors) because some who were privy to the call blew the whistle, the WSJ reported.
The WSJ also noted that federal prosecutors have already “charged more than 200 people with violent crimes related to the protests.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania is currently facing off with Lancaster, Pennsylvania, criminal authorities who set the bail for seven protesters at $1 million, Colorlines reported on September 16.
The current COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning of the last few months have led the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) to write, “The United States is at heightened risk of political violence and instability going into the 2020 general election.” Barr’s aggressive stance on activists does not help national tensions, especially considering that more than 80 percent of all demonstrations involve the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement or the pandemic and that an overwhelming 93 percent have been peaceful, according to the ACLED.
The irony, ACLED points out, is that while Barr may believe, as 42 percent of people polled do, that “most protesters [associated with BLM] are trying to incite violence or destroy property,” research has shown that “this disparity stems from political orientation and biased media framing, such as disproportionate coverage of violent demonstrations.”
While prosecution for sedition is rare because the government has to prove that two or more people within the territory have plotted to overthrow the government (and not just protest), legal experts say that Barr and his crew can find workarounds to shut folks up and take down a picket line.
“There’s all these different statutes the government can use if they are worried about things like property damage,” University of Alabama law professor Jenny Carroll told the WSJ. “If you start charging those people, even if you don’t get a conviction, it may make people think twice before going out to exercise their right to free speech.”