US Attorney General William Barr has urged federal prosecutors to bring heavy-handed charges against people accused of violence and property destruction during racial justice protests this summer, including possibly meting out indictments for attempting to overthrow the government.
Mr Barr warned prosecutors in a conference call last week that violence at demonstrations against police brutality — 93 per cent of which have been peaceful this summer, studies have found — could intensify as the calendar creeps towards the 2020 presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, The Wall Street Journal reported.
To help deter an uptick in violence, Mr Barr suggested that DOJ prosecutors consider filing federal charges when state charges might cover suspects’ alleged crimes.
The attorney general mentioned the possibility of charging people with sedition, a seldom-used criminal statute that punishes citizens who “conspire to overthrow, put down, or… destroy by force” the US government or use force to attempt to “seize, take, or possess” any of its property.
Mr Barr has made it a department priority to round up and prosecute violent demonstrators at the racial justice protests this summer, more than 200 of whom have been charged with crimes related to destroying property, assaulting law enforcement officers, or illegally wielding firearms.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement officials have expressed alarm at the increase in clashes between left-wing protesters and organised groups of right-wing counter-protesters such as the Proud Boys that confronted and scrapped with Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Oregon earlier this month.
The DOJ’s crackdown on the violent protests have provided a policy backdrop to Mr Trump’s aggressive campaign rhetoric denouncing the violent pockets of mostly peaceful protests this summer and attempting to tie Mr Biden to their most radical elements.
Tensions between law enforcement and minority communities flared throughout the summer after the deaths in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, as well as the officer-involved shootings of several other unarmed black men across the country.
Mr Biden has repeatedly denounced the violence perpetrated by both left-wing and right-wing elements on American streets in recent weeks, but that has not stopped Mr Trump from delivering unfounded forebodings about destroyed cities and suburbs of his Democratic opponent wins the election.
"No city, town or suburb will be safe," the president said at a campaign stop in Michigan last week, warning a raucous crowd that “looters” and “anarchists” from “Antifa” — the loose category of left-wing, anti-fascist demonstrators who have violently clashed with police and Trump supporters this year — would soon be their neighbours if Mr Biden is president.
The former vice president has condemned violent demonstrations “across the board.”