ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said they are looking for information that will help them find persons responsible for violent activity at the nation’s Capitol Wednesday. Depending on what the FBI charges those responsible, it could mean hefty fines and jail time.
Being charged with rioting holds a lesser penalty than sedition but where’s the line between rioting, seditious conspiracy, advocating the overthrow of the government, or treason?
It boils down to intent, said Director of the Government Law Center and Assistant Professor at Albany Law School, Ava Ayers. “The question is always going to be what was the intent and the difficult part is going to be to prove that the people who attacked the Capitol were there to do those things.”
Sedition is a fancy way of describing acts against the government but there’s a bit more to it. Those convicted of sedition do not have to have had the intent of overthrowing the government. They could also intend to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law.
Ayers said based on the information available this could apply to some of the people who participated in the violence. “They were there to delay the execution of the electoral college process. I mean that was explicitly the goal.”
To charge some of those involved at the Capitol Wednesday with rioting would be more simple than charging someone with sedition or advocating the overthrow of the government. Ayers said all that would need to be proved is that the group caused damage or harm to people or property.
People convicted under the Anti-riot Act can spend up to five years in jail and be fined. There is an added stipulation to the law regarding government buildings. If the damage is more than $1k, persons convicted can spend up to 10 years in prison with higher fines, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists.
It’s the difference between moral rights and legal rights. The American Revolution was clearly illegal, nobody can doubt that. We were part of England and we rebelled. You can’t do that as a matter of law but sometimes you should do that as a matter of morality and it’s easy to think of examples from history where breaking the law was the right thing to do- Martin Luther King, people who resisted the Nazi’s and to a lesser extent people all over the world every day that break unjust laws and risk serious consequences for doing that.Ayers
“We saw a long list of crimes being committed yesterday (Wednesday) and that’s even before we get to the question of what liability the president or government officials have for their role which is more complicated,” Ayers said.
Ayers explains it’s also where the responsibility of government officials intersects with the Capitol violence, “If you tell people the election is being stolen what you’re saying is that there is already an insurrection happening. You’re saying that this government that’s about to take power on January 20 is not the legitimate government of the United States. You’re in fact accusing your adversaries of a coup and when a coup is happening everything about the legitimacy of government is thrown into question.”
Because the validity of the government is being challenged, Ayers said prosecutors will have to decide whether those charged with crimes related to the Capitol uprising were there because they felt a moral obligation.
“This is very dangerous territory because when the legitimacy of the government is in question people can say I have the moral duty to resist by the use of force and the breaking of laws,” Ayers said.