Attorney General William Barr told federal prosecutors to consider charging violent protesters with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government, the Wall Street Journal reported citing anonymous sources, the latest move by the U.S. Department of Justice to crack down on demonstrations for police reform and against racism that have swept the nation.
During a conference call with U.S. attorneys last week, Barr reportedly told prosecutors to be aggressive when charging violent protesters and aim for multiple federal charges whenever possible, including sedition, which is a conspiracy by two or more people to overthrow the government.
That would fall in line with an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in June announcing the DOJ will “prosecute to the fullest extent permitted under Federal Law” anyone who damages government property or incites violence.
Legal experts say proving sedition charges in court would be difficult and could run up against First Amendment protections.
Trump has made cracking down on the protests a key message in his reelection campaign, often claiming Democrat-led cities are unable to keep violent demonstrations under control.
Barr has defended federal law enforcement’s aggressive response to demonstrations in Portland and elsewhere, arguing “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests.”
Over 200 people have been charged with violent crimes related to the protests, mostly with counts of arson, and assault.
The DOJ didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes and declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal.
Barr has made controversial moves to increase the scope of the DOJ’s power since he assumed office in 2019. In March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to seep through the U.S., the DOJ asked Congress for a slew of new powers during national emergencies, including the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without a trial, and to pause the statute of limitations for criminal investigations and civil proceedings, according to a Politico report.
“Treating protest as a form of sedition won’t stand up in court, but that is clearly not the point here. This is a tyrannical and un-American attempt to suppress demands for racial justice and an end to police violence. Independent and ethical prosecutors should reject this administration’s authoritarian impulses,” said Somil Trivedi, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project
Two lawyers accused of lighting an empty, already damaged NYPD police van on fire with a Molotov cocktail during a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn face seven federal felony charges, and could potentially serve life in prison.
Barr Tells Prosecutors to Consider Charging Violent Protesters With Sedition (Wall Street Journal)
DOJ seeks new emergency powers amid coronavirus pandemic (Politico)
These Two Lawyers Face Up To Life In Prison For Allegedly Burning An Empty Cop Car (Buzzfeed News)
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