Robbins: What is sedition?
It has recently been swung about as frequently as a Louisville Slugger in a batter’s box.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … but what is it? And while we’re at it, what on God’s green acre is a seditious conspiracy — which seems to go together like apple pie and a la mode?
The dictionary definition of sedition is “incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.” By that definition, however, teenage rebellion against one’s parents could be termed seditious. So maybe it’s just a wee bit more than that.
It is related to — and sometimes used interchangeably, though incorrectly — with the terms treason and insurrection are closely related to one another. But just like pickles may be related to cucumbers, they are not exactly the same thing. To understand sedition, you also need to get your head around its cousins: treason and insurrection.
So let’s dive in.
Support Local Journalism
Sedition refers to conspiring with others to incite rebellion against lawful authority, which is a stand-in for the word government. All three of sedition, treason and insurrection are addressed in 115 United States Code sections 2381-2391.
Pursuant to the code in which our federal laws are recited, sedition occurs when two or more persons conspire to commit certain illicit actions against the U.S. government. “Conspiracy” or “conspire” means putting one’s heads together to commit such acts regardless of whether the actions are actually attempted or carried out. But it requires a bit more than that; conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, along with an intent to achieve the agreement’s goal.
And … most U.S. jurisdictions also require an overt act toward furthering the agreement. An “overt act” in turn means that some step is taken toward fulfillment of the goal which is a statutory requirement, not a constitutional one.
Seditious acts include: conspiring to take down, overthrow, or destroy by force the U.S. government; levying war against the government; opposing the authority of the government; hindering, delaying, or preventing any U.S. law from being carried out; and/or taking, seizing, or possessing U.S. government property by force.
In regard to the present Jan. 6 brouhaha, there’s a lot to potentially hang one’s seditious hat on, and the penultimate one of the above — hindering, delaying, or preventing any U.S. law from being carried out — may prove particularly nettlesome to the white-collar-and-tie crowd in the former administration, perhaps all the way to the top. Sullying the hands of the Proud Boys and others of their ilk may be one, two, or maybe all five of the enumerated seditious acts.
The penalty for sedition is imprisonment for up to 20 years.
Treason is often thought of as treachery, but it’s more than that. It has a specific definition under federal law. Treason occurs when anyone who owes allegiance to the United States commits certain acts against the government.
There is, in fact, a treason clause in the U.S. Constitution (Article III, Section 3, Clause 1: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”). The punishment may range from five years in the slammer up to being put to death.
Let’s not forget or leave out insurrection which may be defined as an organized effort by a group of citizens against their government, usually involving force. Insurrection may include inciting a rebellion, being present at or assisting rebellions, engaging, encouraging, or giving aid and comfort to a rebellion, … all things your momma likely told you not to do. One found guilty of insurrection can be put behind bars for up to 10 years.
The act of plotting or conspiring constitutes sedition. The act of treason occurs when action is taken against the government or aiding enemies of the government. Contributing to or aiding a group of people rising up against the government is insurrection.
Hey, what about seditious conspiracy? Well, it’s sort of redundant since sedition is itself a conspiracy. It’s sort of like saying a round circle.
There is an ancient curse alternatively attributed to the Chaldeans and/or the Mandarin Chinese; may you live in interesting times.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices Of Counsel in the Vail Valley with the Law Firm of Caplan & Earnest, LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions; real estate and development; family law, custody, and divorce; and civil litigation. He may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at Rrobbins@CELaw.com. His novels, “How to Raise a Shark (an apocryphal tale),” “The Stone Minder’s Daughter,” and “Why I Walk so Slow” are currently available at Barnes and Noble & Amazon.com.