Throughout history when people are involved in a failed coup attempt, they are made to suffer consequences designed to send a message to everyone else that if you do the same, you will be punished. For example, after the 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey, 75 people were prosecuted, tried, and jailed, some for life, ranging from leaders of the coup to those carrying out the actions. There hasn’t been a coup attempt again in that country since. (I’m not saying Turkish President Erdogan is someone to be admired, just pointing out the facts.)
If as a nation we don’t want to see more attempted violent coup attempts by Donald Trump and his supporters in the near term—or any other group in the foreseeable future—then every single person who was involved in this coup designed to prevent the certification of President elect-Joe Biden’s victory must be prosecuted. That includes Trump himself for inciting the riot along with all persons who entered the Capitol without permission.
As of this writing, of the hundreds if not thousands who illegally occupied the Capitol on Wednesday, only 26 people who were on the grounds were charged. However, Trump’s DOJ is actively investigating and more charges are expected. But the full investigation and prosecution will fall on Biden’s future attorney general, Merrick Garland. (This is actually good because if mass charges were announced before Trump leaves office, he might pardon all his supporters.)
Garland should appoint a special counsel or a U.S. Attorney to investigate the origins of this coup, similar to how former AG Bill Barr appointed John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. But this can’t wait for a 9/11 type commission that took nearly two years to complete its work. This investigation must be completed expeditiously as possible to send a clear message that you will be held accountable for participating in, as Biden called it, an “insurrection” that “borders on sedition.”
The list of potential crimes that those from top to the bottom of this coup can be charged with is long, but any analysis must start with the most serious charges, especially sedition. Under federal law, a seditious conspiracy occurs when two or more people conspire to use force “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” In this case, the Trump mob was there to stop the counting of the electoral votes that was mandated to take place on Jan. 6 by federal law. That’s a textbook case of sedition.
And Trump is a co-conspirator insofar as he directed his followers to do this at the rally shortly before the attack. First, Trump incited the crowd to act, stating, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.” Then he directed the crowd expressly where to go: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue… and we’re going to the Capitol,” adding, “and we’re going to try [to] give our Republicans… the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
Trump was clear that “we” are going to the Capitol—even promising to walk them in furtherance of the obvious goal of stopping the counting of the electoral votes as mandated by federal law. (Although needless to say, Trump, who probably hasn’t walked farther than from the cart to his ball in 40 years, hightailed it back to the White House via limo.)
Another prong of the sedition law makes it a felony to use force to seize federal property—which the protesters did until being driven out of the House, Senate, and congressional office buildings. A violation of this federal statute, 18 U.S. Code Section 2384, carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
You may recall that the current acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in September urged federal prosecutors to consider charging members of the Black Lives Matter movement with seditious conspiracy if they vandalized federal courthouses. Well, what the MAGA insurgents did was far worse.
There’s also the federal crime for the very word Biden used, “Insurrection.” Under this federal statute, it’s a felony for anyone who “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.” The penalty includes up to 10 years in prison and, very interestingly for Trump, a ban on holding any future federal office.
Prosecutors will also have a range of other laws to charge the mob that entered the Capitol from disorderly persons to destruction of property to trespassing. And they must charge all involved.
The hope is this these charges also have the immediate impact of neutralizing the violent or criminal elements of QAnon, Proud Boys, and other far-right groups that media outlets have confirmed were involved. For example, The Daily Beast confirmed that the woman shot and killed by security forces in the Capitol when she defied their orders and tried to “rush” through a window into a secure area, was an ardent QAnon activist who came to D.C. because she believed in the QAnon conspiracy that Jan. 6 was the day “Trump would execute his opponents in the Democratic Party.”
CNN has also identified from digital photos various members of the Proud Boys, leading QAnon members and other far-right activists—including those who attended the Charlottesville “Unite the Right" rally—who were in the Capitol and even in Speaker Pelosi’s office in violation of the law.
Everyone—I mean everyone—involved in this coup must be criminally charged and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It’s time to show the people who claim they love “law and order” what law and order really looks like. Anything less will ensure that we will see more of this in the future—and not just the MAGA crowd but from others who think they can engage in a violent coup against our government and not face consequences.