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Bill Barr Said Prosecutors Could Charge Rioters for Conspiring to Overthrow U.S. Government

Attorney General Bill Barr said during a conference call with U.S. Attorneys last week that charging Americans with sedition was on the menu of criminal statutes available to federal prosecutors examining how to charge violent protesters, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

According to the Journal, which cited “people familiar” with the conference call, the attorney general “encouraged the prosecutors to seek a number federal charges, including under a rarely used sedition law, even when state charges could apply.”

The seditious conspiracy statute, 18 U.S. Code § 2384, is a means of punishing those who conspire to violently overthrow or who oppose by force the authority the U.S. government or who by force conspire to seize federal property:

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.

A plain reading of the statute suggests that federal authorities could theoretically charge individuals who are working in concert, for example, to attack federal law enforcement and take over a federal courthouse.

FBI outcast Peter Strzok, among others, immediately interpreted the report as proof that the attorney general is succumbing to the “ever-present temptation to sacrifice the first amendment to stifle dissent.”

Attorney General Barr has said publicly that Black Lives Matter and antifa are “essentially Bolsheviks.” Barr called antifa a “highly organized” and “new form of guerrilla warfare”—the type of thing that would be covered by the seditious conspiracy statute.

Law&Crime reached out to the DOJ’s public information office for comment on the report.

[Image via MANDEL NGAN_AFP via Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.