As a criminal lawyer federal, I explain the federal criminal charge of seditious conspiracy. This is a hot topic this week in light of the guilty verdicts obtained by federal prosecutors earlier this week of “Oath Keepers” on this and others charges. First, let’s start with the federal criminal statute that defines this crime. It can be found at 18 United State Code (USC), section 2384. Here is what is required to convict for seditious conspiracy:
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
So, let’s break that down. First, it takes two or more criminal actors. Second, it requires that those actors conspire (i.e., form an agreement to) to engage in certain specifically enumerated conduct, which is not particuarly well-defined. The covered conduct is of a pretty wide variety. However, that conduct can be grouped as acts against the “Government of the United States;” acts against the carrying out of the laws of the United States; acts against the property of the United States.
From a sentencing standpoint, the punishment is a term of imprisonment within the federal BOP of up to 20 years. What is perhaps surprising is that the statutory maximum is not even higher, in light of the fact that the statute includes essentially the attempted taking down of the US government.
This is a rarely used statute. Perhaps for obvious reasons. It is not every day that someone takes these types of serious criminal actions. It has been reported that the last successful use of the statute to gain a conviction was in 1995, in connection with the actions of Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and his followers who engaged in a scheme to blow up the United Nations, an FBI building, and two tunnels and a bridge linking New York and New Jersey. Interestingly, it has also been reported that the statute was used as the basis for a federal prosecution in the 1950’s when Puerto Rican activists stormed the Capitol. See AP News at: The rare seditious conspiracy charge at center of Jan. 6 trial, explained | AP News.
Despite its complexity and its little used nature, the use of the statute seemed tailor made to the charges brought against the Oath Keepers in the recent DC federal trial. As we now know, that prosecution has resulted in a guilty verdict against the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes. It should be noted that his co-Defendants (with one exception) were found not guilty of that particular charge, while being found guilty of various other charges.
We should not expect the statute to be utlizied with any greater frequency going forward, with the caveat that federal prosecutors likely will not hesitate to bring charges under it in the future if additional Jan. 6 style events occur. That is a certainty.
Written by Michael Leonard – Leonard Trial Lawyers
November 30, 2022