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What violence at our Capitols means, legally: Civics Education and 1/6/21


The League can help with the legal definitions for the 1/6/21 acts being discussed. These are rarely cited for the usually dignified US transition of power. It is important to understand the gravity of these acts to our democratic republic and the penalties to those participating. We want to focus here on attacks to our Capitol(s). Many are questioning the lack of police preparedness and coordination on 1/6/21, contrasting it to last summer’s BLM protests. Now, coordinated and adequate protection must be quickly arranged for the inauguration and beyond.

Legal experts distinguish between higher level and lesser individual crimes being investigated, in DC and around the country, as reports expose threats of violence in the next few days.

Big picture, or high crimes:

  • TREASON is defined in US Code, Title 18, Section 2381. Note, war has not been declared. Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

  • RIOT is defined in US Code, Title 18, Section 2102 The 1/6/21 events were closer to insurrection.

  • INSURRECTION an attempt to overthrow the authority of the federal government, using force to resist and subvert defined in US Code, Title 18, Section 2383 as: Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten an insurrection years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

  • DOMESTIC TERRORISM This is more serious. Here’s the FBI statement on the US Capitol violence and their summarized definition of domestic terrorism (our annotations): (1) violent, criminal acts (we can all agree that what happened was violent since people were hurt and killed) (2) committed by individuals and/or groups (the attack involved hundreds of individuals who breached security of the U.S. Capitol) (3) to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature (There should also be little doubt that this was to further a political ideology since there was massive amounts of signs, flags, and social media posts expressing these people’s intention and ideology.) (4) against its own citizens. (And finally, the people within the building were primarily citizen legislators, staff, and personnel.)

  • The U.S. PATRIOT ACT was written to deter and punish domestic terrorists. Acts of domestic terrorism are defined in Section 802:

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of

the United States or of any State

(B) appear to be intended –

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or

kidnapping and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

  • SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY This relevant national security statute is used very rarely and some of last week’s actions seem to pertain. See the US Code Title 18, Section 2384: Criminal disruption of government proceedings by individuals: 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.

From LWVPDX Leadership:

"Despite the violent and frightening interruption to Congress’s mandated task of certifying the electors’ votes for president and vice president, our elected representatives returned to their constitutional duty, completing their task in the middle of the night. The rule of law prevailed. We thank them."

Individual crimes being investigated from 1/6/21

Criminal law experts note these individual 1/6/21 crimes. Ongoing investigations may include others:

· Unlawful entry, possibly trespass

· Felony theft and destruction of property

· Assault on law enforcement officers or others, for example journalists in Salem

· Communicating threats

· The pipe bombs found

· Attempted murder and deaths as a direct result

If coordination between individuals in these crimes is found, additional penalties may apply. Some elected officials may have been involved. For them, being barred from serving in public office may apply.

The League of Women Voters values peaceful political expression. It is the core of our mission. The violence, deadly and disruptive at the US Capitol last week prompted unprecedented League statements: The LWVUS condemned the domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol and called for the immediate removal of President Trump. Violence is wrong. Those bringing it must be held accountable.

From LWVUS leadership:

"The League condemns the attack for what it was: domestic terrorism. We call on all members of Congress to respect the certification process, condemn the actions of these terrorists, and support a peaceful inauguration on January 20th."


We grieve for the violation of our US Capital and the heritage it embodies for our republic. We call for respect of our Constitutional processes, accountability for criminal actions, and for safety, for reliable protection of our public servants and for the work we have given them to do.

The League of Women Voters, now entering our second century, celebrates our legacy of informing voters. We thank voters for the historic voter turnout rates around the country.

The LWVOR will continue to encourage other states to share our automatic voter registration, and safe and secure Vote-by-Mail practices. We call for a peaceful transition, with respect for the election results and the will of the people.

Please be safe, everyone.

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