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DOJ could bring sedition charges against Seattle mayor over 'occupied protest zone'

The Department of Justice is allegedly considering charging Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for sedition due to her allowance of an armed, occupied protest earlier this summer.

Ari Hoffman Seattle, WA
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The Department of Justice is allegedly considering charging Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for sedition due to her having allowed armed rioters to take control of six blocks of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood earlier this summer.

The bombshell article in the Wall Street Journal  said that "people familiar with the conversation" confirm that Attorney General William Barr asked prosecutors in the Justice Department's civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Durkan for allowing rioters to establish the police-free Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) for three weeks this summer.

This occupied area was the location of regular confrontations between city officials and protesters and was the scene of five shootings which resulted in the deaths of two teenagers.

The most extreme form of the federal sedition law criminalizes conspiracies to overthrow the government of the United States. Seattle's occupiers said that they had seceded from the US and posted signs reading "you are now leaving the US." They originally termed their occupation as the People's Republic of Capitol Hill and the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

The sedition statute also says that the crime can occur anytime two or more people have conspired to use force to oppose federal authority, hinder the government's ability to enforce any federal law or unlawfully seize any federal property.

According to the Journal "In a conference call with U.S. attorneys across the country last week, Mr. Barr warned that sometimes violent demonstrations across the U.S. could worsen as the November presidential election approaches. He encouraged the prosecutors to seek a number of federal charges, including under a rarely used sedition law, even when state charges could apply."

The occupation began when Seattle officials abandoned the East Police Precinct following nightly riots against the officers stationed there. Following the evacuation of the precinct, rioters occupied the facility and the surrounding area and used barricades left behind by Seattle Police to create the zone.

Armed militants from Antifa, the John Brown Gun Club and other groups guarded the "borders" of the zone, refused entry to police officers and harassed people who were deemed unwelcome. According to police, during the three weeks of CHOP, crime spiked 250 percent in the occupied area, including shootings, assaults, rapes, and robberies.

Former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, in an address to Seattle police officers, said that the decision to leave the East Precinct was not hers, adding that the city "relented to severe public pressure." This caused many to speculate that the decision to abandon the precinct was Mayor Durkan's.

Emails recently obtained by The Post Millennial reveal that Durkan was aware of the violence in the CHOP but chose to describe the zone to the media as a "block party" or "street fair." Durkan even called it "the summer of love" on CNN

Durkan, her staff and surrogates negotiated with the rioters throughout the occupation and even spent over one million dollars installing barriers (and eventually removing them) so as to better secure the occupiers from attempts to dismantle the CHOP. These barriers, as well as the armed militants, were cited as reasons first responders could not reach the shooting victims fast enough inside the CHOP leading to the death of two teens.

While Durkan continued to placate the mob, activists and social justice 'warriors' blamed the mayor for allowing the police to use tear gas and other methods to disperse the rioters and looters before the formation of occupation. Signs appeared in the occupied area asking for Durkan to resign along with graffiti saying "Depose Durkan."

The rioters eventually showed up at Durkan's undisclosed address, after being led there by Marxist council member Kshama Sawant. They vandalized the Mayor's home. Shortly thereafter, the mayor ordered the dismantling of CHOP.

After the occupation ended Mayor Durkan promised $100,000,000, unused city facilities and more to the various groups that were present in the CHOP.

President Trump regularly offered help to Seattle to end the occupation, even threatening to take care of it himself if Mayor Durkan and Governor Jay Inslee did not.

Rather than accepting any responsibility, Durkan blamed the occupation on Fox News and President Trump.

Fox's Sean Hannity asked the president in an interview "I had a source that told me, I was not able to confirm it, that one of the reasons that the Seattle mayor finally acted is that they were given notice that if they didn't act that you were going to. Is there any truth to that?"

Trump replied "A hundred percent. We were going in, we were going in very soon, we let them know that. And they, all of a sudden, they didn't want that. So they went in before we got there. But we were going in very shortly, very soon, and we would have taken the CHOP, they call it, CHOP. We would have taken it back very easily," the president added. "But they went in and, frankly, the people just gave up, they were tired, they had it for a very long period of time."

Not only did Durkan constantly refuse help from the president, she asked that all federal officers be removed from Seattle in a letter cosigned by other Democrat mayors, even while riots continued in their cities.

Federal prosecutors have recently begun charging more than 200 people, many of them known associates of Antifa, with violent crimes during protests and riots. The charges include arson, assaulting federal officers, gun crimes and more. US Attorneys have stepped in to charge perpetrators when local municipal attorneys, such as Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, have said that they would not prosecute "protesters" for lesser offenses like interfering with police or ignoring police orders been reluctant to do so and released rioters accused of violent crimes.

This hands-off approach to the nightly riots by local district attorneys led to US Marshals deputizing Oregon State Police to help quell the Portland riots. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler cosigned the letter demanding the President remove federal officers, though Portland has been plagued by violent riots for over 100 straight nights.

Legal experts told the Journal that "to bring a sedition case, prosecutors would have to prove there was a conspiracy to attack government agents or officials that posed an imminent danger. They added that there is a fine line between the expression of antigovernment sentiment, which could be protected speech under the First Amendment even if it included discussions of violence, and a plot that presented an imminent danger and could justify a charge of sedition."

A more applicable legal route could be to "use a statute that allows prosecutors to bring a federal case against someone who impedes or obstructs a law-enforcement officer responding to unrest, which experts said is also infrequently applied. That could potentially allow them to bring charges before an act of violence occurs, but hasn’t been tested much in the courts, leaving gray areas as to what behavior could be characterized as obstruction."

In response to the revelations in the article, Wednesday night Durkan responded in a series of tweets.

"The attorney general seems personally, deeply offended by the autonomous zone and wants someone to pay for it," said Chuck Rosenberg, the former US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, and as reported by The New York Times.

"If the people of Seattle are personally offended, they have political recourse. There is no reason to try to stretch a criminal statute to cover the conduct.'"

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