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.”

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