Attorney General Bill Barr encouraged federal prosecutors to choose the most serious charges for those arrested for violent crimes during protests, including by way of a rarely used sedition law that would charge the demonstrators with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government.
President Donald Trump has previously accused at least one Black Lives Matter activist of treason.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Barr offered up a number of statutes for the prosecutors to use in a call last week and pushed them to use federal charges even when state ones could apply.
Barr, following Trump’s lead, has put prosecuting protesters front and center in his agenda, often making no distinction between those demonstrating peacefully and those the FBI has identified as opportunistic interlopers taking advantage of the chaotic scenes.
“Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr said of the Portland protests during a July House hearing.
Trump too has largely conflated Black Lives Matter protesters and the mostly made up “Antifa” extremists into one malevolent black-clad force looking to invade the suburbs and wreak general havoc.
The Trump campaign and White House have been candid about their belief that centering attention on the protests — which in some cities have included or provided cover for looting, arson and violence — is the President’s winningest path to reelection.
“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order,” former White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News last month.
The campaign has cut many ads featuring destruction (though not all even from the United States) to posit that this current situation is what life would be like under a President Joe Biden. Fairly blatant race-baiting of his base, the ads also serve to distract from the administration’s epic bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed almost 200,000 American lives.
There is some data to suggest that the racist fear mongering may be less effective this time around than it was in 2016, but based on Barr’s actions, team Trump is still giving it the old college try.