Bill Barr reportedly suggested bringing sedition charges against protesters

Lauren Aratani
<span>Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP</span>
Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

William Barr told prosecutors to explore aggressive charges against people arrested at recent demonstrations across the US, even suggesting bringing a rarely used sedition charge, reserved for those who have plotted a threat that posed imminent danger to government authority, according to multiple reports on Wednesday.

The move signals a doubling down on Barr’s aggressive approach to the protests. Barr told US attorneys from across the country during a conference call last week that they should seek to pursue federal charges against people who were arrested at demonstrations, even if state charges could also apply, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal reports that more than 200 people have been charged with federal crimes in relation to the protests, including arson, assault of federal officers and gun crimes. Dozens of the people who face charges were protesting in Portland, Oregon, where protesters held nightly demonstrations and faced violent crackdown from federal agents.

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The attorney general suggested that prosecutors could even bring a rarely used sedition charge, which means a person plotted a threat that posed imminent danger to government authority, against protesters. With the first amendment protecting any general anti-government speech, bringing on a sedition charge would require proof that a person posed imminent danger.

Barr also suggested exploring charges against Seattle’s mayor, Jenny Durkan, for allowing the establishment of the city’s autonomous occupied protest zone, the New York Times reported.

The conference call is just the latest way Barr has appeared to have a deep desire to vigorously crackdown on protests, further aligning himself with Donald Trump’s attempts to paint protests against racial injustice as violent and the need for “law and order” to temper them. Over the summer, Trump sent federal troops into cities across the country to respond to protests, leading to multiple clashes between protesters and federal officers.

While police officials have said that both far-left and far-right fringe groups have been involved in turning otherwise peaceful protests destructive, Barr has made the antifa movement one of his main prosecution targets, despite there being little evidence that there is an organized antifa movement.

Meanwhile in Oregon, widely discredited rumors that members of antifa are looting empty homes have led to fears of vigilantism, and prompted pleas from law enforcement to ignore misinformation.