Federal prosecutors should consider charging violent protesters under a criminal sedition law, which doesn’t require proof that they were plotting to overthrow the government, the justice department said in a memo on Thursday.
The federal statute governing sedition charges applies to other acts, including preventing law-enforcement officers from carrying out their duties and forcibly taking property belonging to the government, according to the memo issued by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
The guidance marks a move by the justice department to use federal prosecutions against violent demonstrators when state and local officials decline to bring charges.
The memo was issued in response to mounting alarm and criticism that the department would look to charge protesters with plotting a coup, which carries a prison term of as much as 20 years.
Rosen said the department’s position has been “misrepresented” by “secretive leaks” that appear “designed to misrepresent what the department is actually doing to protect the rights and interests of the American people.”
Rosen said the “seditious conspiracy” statute is one of several federal offenses that prosecutors should consider in charging defendants involved in riots.
Rosen’s boss, William Barr, last week pushed US attorneys to pursue sedition counts.
Barr and President Donald J. Trump have frequently criticized the violence accompanying some of the demonstrations that arose in May after the death of a Black Minneapolis man in police custody.
Trump’s response has been to fashion himself as the “law and order” candidate in the November presidential election, a defender against anarchy and socialism. The President, in an address at the National Archives in Washington on Thursday, denounced school curricula that emphasize the impact of slavery and racism on American history and blamed “left-wing indoctrination” for the demonstrations against police brutality.
And in a speech in Virginia on Wednesday night, Barr said the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t care about Black lives but instead wanted to use African Americans who were killed at the hands of police as “props” to advance its political agenda. Bloomberg News