Double Standard Bearers - Supremacy and Sedition
Mother Jones|January/February 2022
There’s a reason the Capitol rioters have dodged the charge: race.
By Anthony Conwright. Illustration by Dakarai Akil. Photographs by Getty

AS OF THIS writing, 695 people have been charged for federal crimes related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol breach—crimes motivated by the lie that Joe Biden won because of nationwide election fraud. Of those 695 people, not one has been charged with sedition, defined in the US Code as two or more people conspiring to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy” the government, “prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law,” or “by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States.”

January 6 defendants came armed with bats and bear spray and stun devices and guns and zip ties, aiming to overthrow the election by any means necessary. They called for the execution of the vice president. They assaulted law enforcement, bludgeoning officers with American flagpoles and police barricades. They stormed the Senate floor, stole mementos, and seized government files. They told us what they were there to do—for weeks ahead of time, in some cases—and they very nearly did it.

But no one has been charged with sedition, because America does not talk about violent expressions of white supremacy as sedition. Even when it manifests as a coup against America itself.

Not every person who stormed the Capitol is enrolled in a white supremacist group, but one does not need to avow white supremacy to be its surrogate. What other ideology imbues a mob with the power to besiege the citadel of American democracy and attempt to usurp an election, all in the name of “patriotism”?

“I was listening to Infowars and I was, like, getting patriotic,” said Daniel Rodriguez, who tased DC police officer Michael Fanone during the breach. “We thought we were being used as a part of a plan to save the country, to save America, save the Constitution, and the election, the integrity.” Rodriguez, who helpfully described himself to federal prosecutors as a “piece of shit,” was indicted not on sedition but on more technical charges like obstruction of an official proceeding, along with theft and destruction of government property.

“My story is just that we thought that we were going to save America, and we were wrong,” claimed Rodriguez.

Yet his story is part of an American tradition that casts white supremacy as well-meaning patriotism gone awry, instead of as an ideology antithetical to our best aspirations. But “negro sedition,” as one 1919 newspaper put in the headline of an article warning of “physical…opposition to the government,” has always been viewed as anti-American. Take George Ware, an aide to civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael and an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In August 1967, Ware was arrested in Tennessee on a warrant charging him with sedition for comments he’d made at a Black school in Nashville: “Black people must achieve power by whatever means necessary, including violence.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MOTHER JONESView All

Looks Don't Kill

Plastic surgery has a troubled history inside prisons. Some advocates want it to make a comeback.

8 mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

Break the Chain

We’ve got a plastics problem. Will chemical recycling solve it?

4 mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

Rent to Own: Purchasing Power

Minneapolis weighs a law that could let renters buy their place—or pick their landlord.

7 mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

Table Straps

How the nation’s biggest restaurant lobby protected the major chains during the pandemic and left the little guys behind

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

The Coming Coup

The insurrectionists failed to topple a fair election. But Republican legislators are succeeding at seizing control of how—and if— votes are counted.

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

The Pushback

Millions of refugees are fleeing war, persecution, and the effects of the climate crisis. A new frontier of brutality awaits them.

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

The Influencer

The totally out-of-this-world tale of the fugitive chinese tycoon who has joined forces with Steve Bannon to blanket the web with far-right propaganda

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

Holy War

How Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, and other militant right-wing activists are hellbent on transforming the Catholic Church— starting with the pope

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

Food for Thought: There Will Be Blood

Lab-grown meat still requires slaughterhouse products.

3 mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022

Rule the School: Boards of Control

Our long history of letting white Americans veto racial progress in education

7 mins read
Mother Jones
March/April 2022