Yes. Under 18 U.S. Code § 2101 and § 2102, rioting is a federal crime that can lead to serious penalties for convicted individuals. Further, inciting or encouraging a riot is also a federal offense.

That means that social media influencers, politicians, and the like can all be held criminally accountable for encouraging and/or facilitating riotous behavior. Generally, whether an individual is guilty of participating in a riot or inciting a riot depends on a few factors, including:

  • Their level of participation in a riot
  • Whether they traveled from another state to participate in a riot
  • If they made statements online, on television, on the radio, etc. that encouraged or promoted a riot
  • Many other factors

Individuals convicted of rioting or inciting a riot face serious prison time and fines. If you’ve been accused of participation in a riot, it’s in your best interest to consult with a federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Continue reading to learn more about federal riot charges and penalties.

What Is The Federal Riot Act?

One of the main goals of the Riot Act of 1968 was to limit the involvement of outside agitators who play a destructive role in riots. For that reason, federal riot laws focus on individuals who cross state lines with the intent to cause public disorder.

According to 18 U.S. Code § 2101, an individual can be charged with a federal rioting offense if they:

National Guard at Capital Hill

Travel across state lines or use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce (i.e., radio, cell phone, laptop, TV, etc.) with the intent to:

  • Incite a riot
  • Organize, encourage, or participate in a riot
  • Commit violent acts to further a riot
  • Help another person or organization to incite or participate in a riot

It’s important to note that lawful protests are not considered rioting. Generally, a “protest” becomes a riot when violence and other acts of lawlessness are promoted and carried out in order to obtain an objective.

Further, an individual can be charged with inciting a riot even if they are not physically involved in the event.

What Is A Riot?

With so much news about rioting, it can be easy to forget exactly what constitutes a riot. The federal government defines rioting as:

  • A public disturbance
  • That is carried out with three or more individuals (at least one committing the crime)
  • Involving a singular act of violence or multiple acts
  • Wherein the group’s actions place others in reasonable fear of danger or harm, and/or
  • Wherein the group’s actions cause physical injuries

For perspective, the events on January 6, 2021, were more than protests or an out-of-control riot. It was much more akin to insurrection.

With that in mind, hundreds of individuals involved in the January 6 insurrection currently face federal riot charges in addition to several other federal offenses.

The federal government can charge individuals involved in a riot with countless other crimes. A few common charges that may accompany rioting offenses include but are not limited to:

  • Destruction of federal property
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm on federal property
  • Treason, sedition, and subversive activity
  • Seditious conspiracy
  • Possession of explosive materials by an unauthorized person
  • Arson
  • Civil disorder
People Rioting on Capital Hill on January 6, 2021

In addition to federal rioting charges, individuals involved in a riot may also face state charges depending on the circumstances of the case.

What’s The Difference Between Rioting and Your First Amendment Rights?

Speaking out against the government is how this country was founded. With that in mind, voicing opinions that oppose the government and participating in lawful protests are rights that every American citizen shares.

However, speech otherwise protected under the First Amendment becomes unprotected speech if the individual intends to incite lawlessness, and their words (written or spoken) or actions are likely to produce a riot.

How To Defend Against Rioting Charges

If you’re facing federal rioting charges, your first call should be to an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. In most cases, law enforcement officials quickly arrest suspected rioters. Generally, the faster you connect with a lawyer, the faster they can potentially have you released from custody.

Additionally, it’s up to the prosecution to prove that you were either involved in a riot or helped to incite a riot. Evidence in a rioting case is typically thin, unclear, and incomplete due to the nature of the offense.

Working with a skilled federal defense attorney can help to increase the likelihood of reduced or dismissed charges.


Former federal prosecutor, respected lawyer committed to delivering results. Following graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law, Paul Padda began his career in 1994 with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. litigating complex civil cases in both federal trial and appellate courts. He later was selected to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) where he handled a wide array of civil matters in federal court on behalf of the United States of America. In 2004, Mr. Padda moved to Las Vegas to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney where he litigated both civil and criminal cases. Following 16 years of significant legal experience involving high stakes litigation, Mr. Padda decided to form a law firm that would assist individuals and businesses in vindicating their legal rights.