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Significance of Charges Laid for January 6, 2021 Assault on
U.S. Capitol in Washington DC
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Historical Examples of Use of Seditious Conspiracy
It remains to be seen whether in the United States today, in hopes of preserving the Union, President Biden will choose not to charge Donald Trump and/or his top supporters including in the military, with seditious conspiracy in planning the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. If Civil War history is any guide, he will not. But it remains to be seen because the conditions today are not the same.
From an historical perspective, in an effort to restore the Union following the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War, the top Generals involved in violently seceding from the union, including Robert E. Lee, were not charged with sedition or insurrection. These were the same generals that had led the war of aggression against Mexico prior to the Civil War. Imperialist war has been a means for the U.S. to avoid or postpone civil war in the past and, given current threats against Russia, may well be again.
It is also the case that around WWI, which was also a time of increasing activity by state-organized racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the military named many of its bases after Confederate Generals. These include Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, named after General Braxton Bragg, Ft. Hood in Texas named after General John Bell Hood and Ft. Polk in Louisiana, named for General Leonidas Polk. There are also Fts. Beauregard, Benning, Lee, Pickett, Rucker, A.P. Hill and Gordon, located across the South – all named after Confederate Generals. It is only now, after massive and repeated protest, that these names are being removed, along with the many statues of them.
When it comes to seditious conspiracy charges, they have most commonly been used repeatedly to repress and jail Puerto Rican patriots fighting for independence. The Puerto Rican patriots charged in this way have often been given life sentences, though the charge usually carries a maximum 20-year sentence. In 1936, Pedro Albizú Campos and others fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico were charged and sentenced to 26 years. In 1954, famed patriot Lolita Lebron and three others entered the Capitol building and fired shots at the members of the House of Representatives from the visitor’s gallery while declaring that Puerto Rico will not be a colony and will be free. They were imprisoned with Lolita Lebron sentenced to 50 years. Given Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S., the United Nations and international law sanctions resistance and use of force to achieve independence but the U.S. refuses to recognize this.
Again in 1981, Puerto Rican independence fighter and human rights activist Oscar Lopez Rivera, Carmen Hilda Valentín Pérez and 11 others were charged with seditious conspiracy, though Oscar had committed no violent act.
Seditious conspiracy is used against forces like the Puerto Rican freedom fighters as it is not necessary to prove that a violent act of sedition was committed, but rather that there was a conspiracy to carry one out. All involved rightly fought for Puerto Rico’s independence and refused to recognize the authority of the U.S. to charge and try them, rather than recognize them as prisoners of war. He and the others all received exceptionally long sentences, Oscar 55 years, Pérez 90. All of these patriots were part of organized efforts to defeat U.S. colonialism and free their beloved Puerto Rico. It is because the U.S. sought revenge against them for standing firm for independence that seditious conspiracy charges and long sentences were used against them. Even in prison, the freedom fighters refused to submit to the vengeful treatment, facing years of solitary confinement.
The significance today is that currently the government appears to be targeting forces standing against the government, this time extreme-right wing, while putting in place greater use of seditious conspiracy for future use against anti-war, anti-racist activists and rights defenders. The issue is presented as one of extremes, not one of government failure and dysfunction of the existing institutions and the repression needed to contend with that.
(TML Daily, posted February 4, 2022)