Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When Sedition Is Not Sedition

Photo: Toe Tags-Street Pirate

So, the melodrama in Washington continues. The vitriol makes the rational American cringe. Wall Street looks to manipulate, as do the billionaires who are currently playing at being monarchs. The media doesn’t know whether to chase behind the sound bites presented by people who display everything bad about the American psyche, or, actually report the situation from the vantage point of informed journalism (guess which stance is winning). Meanwhile, most of us work at swallowing the rising bile of anger and sense of betrayal, and, worry.

Since the 2008 presidential election and the 2010 midterms that gave the Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives (don’t get me started on how that happened), I have recognized a distinct similarity to the Republican maneuvering in the final two years of the Clinton presidency. They distracted the country with issues that should only have had relevance to Clinton and his wife. Quietly, they obstructed and the government accomplished nothing. They waited for Clinton’s exit, sure that the distraction would result in a Republican takeover. And they were right.

Why mess with success? It appears that this plan of obstruction and inaction remained the Republican strategy leading up to the 2012 presidential election. They distracted with nonsense about the president’s birth and misleading information about the Affordable Care Act - well - lies, actually. The Republicans seem to have fully embraced the act of looking you straight in the eye and lying to you. They obstructed confirmation of presidential appointments and stalled on needed legislation. Then, oops!, the president was reelected.

Republicans have chosen to leave the realm of reality and trample their oath of office. They are sticking to their plan -  with an eye on 2016. Republicans are committing sedition, first by fomenting so much dysfunction in federal and state government in terms of how the people are being served by their tax money (read "stalled appointments," "nonexistent legislation to address jobs," “sequestration,” “government shutdown,” “threat against the credit and credibility of the United States economy”) and secondly, by controlling the vote. All the while spouting patriotism as a shield against any possibility of being legally charged for their actions.

It is my opinion that these are acts of treason and sedition. There should be legal charge and challenge to this domestic attack against the democracy of the United States of America. These are sentiments that seem to be increasingly shared and echoed across social media. But, whose job is that anyway?

And herein lies the rub. We do have laws that cover sedition and treason, both federal and among the states. However, they are worded to penalize the intent of violence and violent overthrow of the government.

The Sedition Act of July 1798 punished false statements with the intent to “defame” the federal government or “to stir up sedition within the United States.” It was a blatantly partisan political move against those who opposed President John Adams. It was allowed to lapse in 1801. However, the 1798 Act did generate important debate over freedom of speech.

The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a federal crime to willfully spread false news of the American army and navy with an intent to disrupt their operations, to foment mutiny in their ranks, or to obstruct recruiting. The Espionage Act was amended by the Sedition Act of 1918, which expanded the scope of the Espionage Act to any statement criticizing the Government of the United States. These Acts were upheld in 1919 in the case of Schenck vs. United States (Charles Schenck was secretary of the Socialist Party of America). However, by 1921, repeals resulted in maintaining only the laws forbidding foreign espionage in the United States and allowing military censorship of sensitive material.

In 1940, the Alien Registration Act made it a federal crime to advocate or to teach the desirability of overthrowing the United States government or to be a member of any organization which does the same. This act, known as the Smith Act, remains in effect to this day. However, sedition is difficult to convict, with exceptions that smack of America’s institutionalized biases.

In 1967, demonstrators against the draft were charged with sedition. The charges were dropped.

In 1981, Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican Nationalist and Vietnam war veteran, was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and various other offenses. López Rivera rejected an offer of conditional clemency in 1999. He is said to be among the longest held political prisoners in U.S. history, having been jailed for over 33 years.

In 1987, fourteen white supremacists were charged with seditious conspiracy. They were acquitted.

In 1995, Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine others were convicted of seditious conspiracy.

In 2005, Laura Berg, a nurse at a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs hospital was investigated for sedition after writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, accusing then President Bush of criminal negligence in regard to government response to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. Charges were dropped in 2006.

In 2010, nine members of the Hutaree militia were arrested and charged with multiple crimes, including seditious conspiracy. The group identifies itself as Christian warriors, adhering to the ideology of the Christian Patriot Movement. The presiding judge dismissed all charges, except for a firearms possession charge. Three members pled guilty to possessing a machine gun and were sentenced to time served.

The crux of the matter is this: unless those members of Congress, who are determined to destroy the United States government and harm the economy for Main Street America, show up to their next session with guns ablazing, the law will not condemn them. This becomes a job for American voters.

The U.S. Attorney General has filed against North Carolina’s recent voter suppression laws. The ACLU is filing against the Kansas proof-of-citizenship voting law which suspended 17,000 voters in its initial iteration. But, until the American electorate demands maintenance of its right to vote and then votes, American democracy will remain the victim of gerry-mandered voting districts and voter suppression, not to mention the loss of civility in public life, brought to you by the will of some very wealthy, very greedy, very egocentric persons.

So, whose job is it to challenge the acts that are crippling the government? Voters.

1 comment:

  1. Fact is: All of this is seen as a game. "Who wins this time?" Republicans or Democrats? The populace has become so bored with the idea of voting that they seem to have forgotten why it is more important than choosing the winner of "The Voice". Since they have no understanding of the political process, they vote ( if they bother to ) for the guy/woman who has purchased the most media time on their favorite cable channel.