Attorney General William Barr told prosecutors to bring or consider aggressive charges — including sedition — against those suspected of violence at protests, according to multiple reports.
The charge of sedition is levied when someone is suspected of attempting to overthrow the government and has rarely been used, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Barr is also said to have called for criminal charges against Seattle's mayor over the city's autonomous police-free zone during the protests earlier this summer.
Attorney General William Barr told prosecutors last week to bring or consider aggressive charges in connection to violence at protests over the summer — including charges of plotting to overthrow the government — several news outlets reported.
Barr made the assertion in a call with federal prosecutors in which he also said demonstrations that could turn violent were likely to increase ahead of the November presidential election, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The New York Times reported that some on the call were alarmed by Barr's mention of sedition charges.
Sedition charges are rarely used. Legal experts told The Journal that for there to be a sedition charge there must be proof of a conspiracy to attack government officials or agents that posed an "imminent danger," and they warned of a line between general antigovernment sentiment and an actual plot to overthrow the government.
Two people briefed on the discussions told The Times that Barr also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department's civil-rights division to see whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan over Seattle's autonomous police-free zone that protesters created amid unrest over George Floyd's death.
The Times cited experts who said that would be unusual. "The attorney general seems personally, deeply offended by the autonomous zone and wants someone to pay for it," Chuck Rosenberg, a former US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, told The Times. "If the people of Seattle are personally offended, they have political recourse. There is no reason to try to stretch a criminal statute to cover the conduct."
In June, President Donald Trump referred to protesters in the zone as "domestic terrorists." Durkan defended the protesters and said: "Demanding we do better as a society and provide true equity for communities of color is not terrorism — it is patriotism."
According to The Journal, more than 200 people in the US have been federally charged with violent crimes amid the unrest over police brutality sparked by Floyd's death in Minneapolis, but FBI officials have said those charged are mostly "opportunistic individuals" who took advantage of the protests.
Trump has called for protests to be quashed and advocated more cases and longer sentences to be brought against those who commit violence at protests.
Barr's calls for aggressive charges and those against Durkan come as Barr told a Chicago Tribune columnist that if Trump lost the November election, the US faced a "clear fork in the road" and would be on the brink of destruction.
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