"Attorney General William Barr told the nation's federal prosecutors to be aggressive when charging violent demonstrators with crimes, including potentially prosecuting them for plotting to overthrow the U.S. government, people familiar with the conversation said."
--The Wall Street Journal, last week
Imagine that. A tough prosecutor acting like a tough prosecutor. Or at least telling other tough prosecutors to act that way on a conference call.
Law professors and other experts on legal matters say any prosecutions for sedition will be hard to prove in an American court. There are too many boxes that must be checked--which is a good thing in a free society. A free person shouldn't be convicted of plotting against the government for just any old protest. But the law is on the books for a reason--for those rare cases when it is needed.
Americans on both sides of this issue had to expect some sort of pushback. Protests are the American Way of doing important things, sure--which is why the First Amendment guarantees more than the freedom of the press. It also guarantees freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble. Emphasis on the peaceably part, please.
For in the year of our discontent, 2020, there have been all-American protests and, well, the others. The most effective protests cause real change by gathering allies, a la the Civil Rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s. The others cause backlashes, as violent protesters burn down buildings and even kill people.
Which is why so many Americans are telling pollsters that law-and-order will be on their minds when they go to the polls in a few weeks.
We are reminded of this debate over the last few months. This is part of our editorial, back on Aug. 30:
And then this, from our own newspaper, toward the end of the week: "On Thursday, prosecutors [in Portland, Ore.] said they had resolved the first felony case related to the protests when the defendant pleaded guilty. Rollin Tristan Fodor, 18, entered the plea on a charge of first-degree arson and was sentenced to 45 days of time served, community service and three years' probation."
If that is resolve, then what would ambivalence and equivocation be?
Protests are sometimes needed in a free country. But those who turn them into violent clashes, and put other lives in danger, and ramp up the turbulence in this already divided nation, need to pay a price, legally. Things are getting ugly, and without real resolve by authorities to punish law-breakers, things could get uglier.
Those who'd lead a violent mob to break things and harm people don't need this kind of green light.
When voters, parents, taxpayers and just plain folk see prosecutors "resolving" first-degree arson with community service and some time served, there will be a natural push in the opposite direction. And law-and-order candidates (such as the sitting president) will start emphasizing law-and-order efforts. Or instructing his AG to do so.
According to reports, the nation's attorney general not only encouraged federal prosecutors to prosecute, officials on the conference call also talked about bringing federal cases against people who obstruct officers responding to unrest.
After Americans saw people block the entrance to a Los Angeles hospital where two deputies had been taken after being shot--all the while chanting "We hope they die"--few citizens, we reckon, will be upset over any such charges.
Sometimes even non-action has consequences. Such as when local prosecutors agree to time served for first-degree arson. Those consequences sometimes amount to more violence in the streets.
And sometimes those consequences amount to the pendulum swinging in another direction.