Attorney General William Barr HIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Are you kidding me? Sedition? From 1798?
Just in case someone is not persuaded that this Trump Administration is falling off its rocker, the advice from Atty. Gen. William P. Barr to federal prosecutors to use a two-century-old law to stop people — no, specifically "violent" leftist protests outside federal courthouses — from seeking to overthrow the government should make us stop and scratch our collective heads.
For openers, protesting disproportionate police brutality against Black citizens is not calling for the overthrow of the government.
Secondly, there is actual evidence that groups other than Black Lives Matter or the oft-cited, if unorganized "antifa" are not the only ones in street. You heard nothing from Barr about using sedition laws against actual, organized, gun-toting, right-wing, white supremacist nationals who seem actually to want to overthrow the government — as well as to mix it up with lefties in the streets.
Thirdly, sedition laws have not been used over two centuries for good reason: Their Constitutionality runs very close to the edge of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly that have protected leftists, neo-Nazis, right-wingers, flag-burners and vocal bayers-at-the-moon.
Looking for a definitive reason to deny the Trump team four more years? How about using the law to declare a virtual shutdown of civil liberties and free speech. Barr's remarks this week were so outrageous that comparing state orders mandating masks and shutdowns for public health to slavery were not even the top line head-slap.
This has nothing to do with people who break rules about trespass or fire-setting or bottle-throwing,
No, this is the baring of raw power to shut down dissent. And it is a blatant attempt to use the Justice Department to underscore a Donald Trump campaign promise for Law & Order prompted by several localized protests that turn violent only in the middle of the night — a continuation of absolute reinterpretations of law and procedure to promote Trump's politics.
The wording of the federal sedition statute says it is a crime for two or more people to conspire to use force to oppose federal authority, hinder the government's ability to enforce any federal law or unlawfully seize any federal property — elements that might conceivably be made to fit a plot to, say, break into and set fire to a federal courthouse, despite evidence that more than 93% of nearly 8,000 Black Lives Matter protests between May and August this year have been peaceful.
Maybe Barr should be looking at those organized Western ranchers, right-wingers all, when they held off enforcement of federal water law enforcement at gunpoint. Or at organized, armed Trump supporters who entered statehouses to threaten the lives of legislators considering laws to require coronavirus masks.
Or he could be looking at Trump administration officials and Republican supporters calling on people to arm themselves for insurrection in the event that Joe Biden wins the election. Or maybe even at the continued use of federal law enforcement and the Justice Department itself as political instruments to advance the partisan cause of a single sitting president seeking reelection, clearly throwing out any separations of power as constitutionally required to get his way in a wide variety of cases ranging from the misuse of U.S. intelligence to the matters of impeachment.
Just who here is seeking the overthrow of government as we have known it for 200 years? FBI Director Christopher Wray told a House committee it is right-wing white militias. Where's Barr?
I get that Barr wants prosecutors to be aggressive in the case of Portland's protests, which have involved the setting of small fires at the federal courthouse. Pursue shooters who have emerged aggressively, please. But moving to sedition and its 20-year sentences in the name of liberty and Law & Order? Are we Belarus or Hong Kong?
Actually, coincidental to the disclosures about using sedition laws, came news that federal officials had been stockpiling ammunition and devices that could emit deafening sounds or singe anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire to clear Lafayette Square in Washington for that Donald Trump Bible photo op. The disclosures came in The Washington Postfrom D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco, who led the brigade there, and filed them as a whistleblower.
Are we nuts all of a sudden as a nation or can we see this as the excess of a bad political campaign? Does Barr think we are idiots? He actually compared his own prosecutors to pre-schoolers and asserted that he and Trump are in charge, not those career prosecutors who make daily decisions in individual cases.
Barr was wrong in citing "a dozen cases" each year in which Black citizens are mistreated; there are 250 deaths at the hands of police this last year. He and Trump are wrong to deny that there are systemic elements to racism in this country and to our policing practices.
The federal sedition law is rarely invoked, and something that does not seem to fit the circumstances of the unrest in places like Portland in response to police killings of Black men. So, too, would be ordering the arrest of the Seattle mayor for allowing a protest to cool itself in that city.
Promoting sedition laws to stop protests is an extremist Justice Department policy. Barr has no business being attorney general.