The big question on most everyone’s mind is if the capitol rioters will be brought up on Sedition charges and SHOULD they be? Before we talk about that lets look at the definition of Sedition:
Dictionary Version: Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward rebellion against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent toward, or rebellion against, established authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interest of sedition.
United States Justice Department Version: Sedition A revolt or an incitement to revolt against established authority, usually in the form of Treason or Defamation against government. Sedition is the crime of revolting or inciting revolt against government. For two or more people to conspire to overthrow or destroy by force the government of the United States or to level war against them.
However, because of the broad protection of free speech under the First Amendment, prosecutions for sedition are rare. Sedition is a serious felony punishable by fines and up to 20 years in prison and it refers to the act of inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it.
In its unfortunate reintroduction to American discourse, “sedition” resembled “treason,” a word that in recent years has become an increasingly popular term for smearing anybody with opposing viewpoints. While specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution as levying war against the United States or “adhering to their enemies,” it’s been used to label people “guilty” of nothing more than supporting opposition political candidates or of refusing to applaud a speech. (Reason 2020)
Given that treason potentially carries the death penalty, it’s a particularly inappropriate epithet to fling at people whose politics you dislike. Sedition “only” carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, but that is a brutal consequence to dangle over people for supposedly violating a law that has historically been used by the powerful against their critics.
If sedition is the sort of crime that weak governments enforce against their citizens, the new popularity of the accusation, along with that of treason, might well be an indicator of the decayed nature of our political institutions. With Americans holding high contempt for one another and nearly record low trust in government—one-in-five voters in a January 6 YouGov poll even supported the storming of the Capitol—it’s easy to see how insecure politicians and members of the pundit class could seek strength in outrageous charges and draconian penalties.
But bogus charges and suppression of speech—whether that speech is wise or intemperate—won’t reinforce shaky institutions. If people horrified by the events of January 6 want to prevent a recurrence, they can best do so not by resorting to a disreputable legal weapon, but by convincing all sorts of Americans that their freedom and security can be maintained under the existing system. That means that, so long as they respect the rights of others, the system will leave them alone, and not be used to crush them.
Seditious conspiracy charges could easily boomerang in the years ahead and end up being used to stifle dissent, especially by people of color and other historically marginalized groups.
Should the Capitol Rioters be charged with a crime? YES. Should they be charged with Sedition? NO!
We’ve got a long history of using sedition laws to suppress dissent. And although that’s not what those who were invading the Capitol were doing, they were engaged in action, not just speech. We still need to be careful about expanding a framework that’s been so connected to the suppression of ideas.
Op Ed By- Big Sarge