What Federal Crimes Are People Getting Charged With for Storming The Capitol?
March 31, 2021
January 6, 2021, might be a defining moment in the history of the U.S. That morning at 10:00 a.m., the “Stop the Steal” rally began in Washington D.C. Though the motivations of many rally attendees were to protest what they believe was an “unfair” election, top federal law enforcement agencies have alleged a much more sinister plot to overthrow the government.
The rally culminated with Donald Trump urging his supporters to “show strength” and “march over to the Capitol building” to protest what he and his supporters believe to be a broken election process.
Based on political rhetoric on and offline, the blind passion of people and well-organized far-right groups, what was sold as a “peaceful protest” soon turned into one of the darkest days in American history when attendees stormed the halls of Congress. Forcing congress members and others to briefly halt the certification of the presidential election while they sought refuge.
In all, 5 American citizens died, countless injuries occurred and there was significant damage to federal property during the storming of the Capitol. In the aftermath of the insurrection attempt, federal law enforcement agencies have started combing through more than 200,000 pieces of digital evidence and tips (i.e., pictures, video, social media chats, status updates, text messages, etc.).
So far, they’ve charged more than 150 people with various crimes pertaining to their involvement in the riot, and there are apparently a lot more arrests to come.
Understanding Conspiracy Charges
Many of the rioters of January 6, 2021 will face conspiracy charges. Unlike most other federal crimes, “conspiracy” is a federal charge that typically accompanies other attempts at or successfully completed crimes. Generally, it means plotting or planning with others to commit an offense against the United States government.
Those found guilty of conspiracy face up to five years in prison. However, sentencing can be as much as 20 years or more if the charges are combined with other crimes. There is a lot of room for interpretation regarding conspiracy laws. Prosecutors regularly use them in a variety of ways to include drug charges, cyberattacks, etc.
Regarding the insurrection, the FBI and other federal investigative agencies are likely to charge those involved in the riot’s planning and execution with conspiracy. That includes high-level members of far-right groups such as The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and members of other far-right extremist groups.
Though all of the insurrection participants won’t be charged with conspiracy, many face other potential charges, including sedition, rioting, insurrection, assault, theft, destruction of federal property, and more.
Additional Federal Charges
The January 6th insurrection didn’t just include conspiracists. Many attendees blatantly broke federal laws by destroying federal property, assaulting police officers, attempting to commit crimes against the federal government, and many other illicit activities.
While many pundits and politicians call the rioters “insurrectionists,” it’s not likely they will be charged for such a crime. In total, federal insurrection charges have been brought against less than 30 people in the entire history of the United States.
Generally, insurrection means to “incite, assist, or engage” in a violent rebellion against the U.S. government. Since insurrection is so hard (if not impossible) to prove in this situation, federal law enforcement agencies are not likely to charge people with it.
Sedition is a crime that dates back to the late 1700s. At the time, it was used to criminalize criticism of the government. However, they were not popular laws and have since been changed.
According to the U.S. criminal code, “seditious conspiracy” generally means two or more citizens who conspire against the U.S. government to:
- Overthrow, put down, or destroy by force
- Levy war against the U.S.
- Forcibly oppose the authority of the government
- Forcibly seize, take, or possess any property of the government
- Prevent, hinder, or delay any execution of the law by force
Individuals found guilty of seditious conspiracy face up to 20 years in federal prison.
At least 50 police officers suffered injuries as a result of protecting the capital. That’s in addition to the five Americans (including police officers) who lost their lives. Assault on federal property or against a federal officer is a crime that can result in up to 20 years in prison and hefty fines.
Storming the Capital
Individuals involved in the violent or illegal aspects of the “Stop the Steal” protests face many other potential charges in relation to physically storming the capital. They include charges such as:
- Trespassing on federal property
- Disorderly conduct
- Unlawful entry
- Firearms offenses
- Civil disorder charges
Will Some People Be Let Off The Hook?
The insurrection involved a lot of people. While not everyone attending the protest committed crimes, many others will face harsh penalties for their roles in the violent riot. Legislatures and law enforcement agencies take the insurrection attempt very seriously and vigorously pursue those responsible and involved.
The government has a mountain of evidence to sort through, interviews to conduct, and people to find before the dust settles. As of now, more than 150 people have been charged for their involvement in the riot. This is unprecedented in American history.
It can take months for the FBI to find every trespasser, persons that unlawfully entered Congress, etc. For this reason, it’s more likely they will start to focus more on the organizers, strategists, and enablers who led the riots and called for violent actions. Some people will inevitably get away with breaking the law, but most perpetrators eventually will face charges.
Michael Humphreys has spent more than 25 years with the United States Department of Justice as a federal prosecutor, including approximately 10 years in Washington, D.C., handling cases all over the United States. Up until the end of 2018, he was a federal prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas. An attorney with a very broad range of criminal and civil experience, Michael is no stranger to the courtroom having been involved with high-stakes federal litigation. If you need powerhouse lawyers for your federal case, get Michael on your side. Michael handles federal criminal and civil matters across the United States.