Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent toward, or insurrection against, established authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel.
Suppose that over the course of a few months, a small band of armed militants has coordinated strategies to distribute firearms and take over the nation's capital by force through a website on the clandestine "deep web." All indications show that the group is dead serious in its intentions, but they're thwarted by an FBI investigation that leads to arrests. While sharing information and discussing ideas -- even distasteful ones -- is generally protected as free speech, the FBI believes this crosses the line. The alleged ringleaders of the plot are charged with "seditious conspiracy" (simply referred to as "sedition"), a federal crime related to treason and other anti-government offenses.
Sedition is a serious felony punishable by fines and up to 20 years in prison and it refers to the act of inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it. The following provides an overview of this particular crime against the government, with historical references.
Seditious Conspiracy and Federal Law: The Basics
The federal law against seditious conspiracy can be found in Title 18 of the U.S. Code (which includes treason, rebellion, and similar offenses), specifically 18 U.S.C. § 2384. According to the statutory definition of sedition, it is a crime for two or more people within the jurisdiction of the United States:
- To conspire to overthrow or destroy by force the government of the United States or to level war against them;
- To oppose by force the authority of the United States government; to prevent, hinder, or delay by force the execution of any law of the United States; or
- To take, seize, or possess by force any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.
Free Speech, Sedition, and Treason
In order to get a conviction for seditious conspiracy, the government must prove that the defendant in fact conspired to use force. Simply advocating for the use of force is not the same thing and in most cases is protected as free speech under the First Amendment. For example, two or more people who give public speeches suggesting the need for a total revolution "by any means necessary" have not necessarily conspired to overthrow the government. Rather, they're just sharing their opinions, however unsavory. But actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics of an attack, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered a seditious conspiracy.
Ultimately, the goal is to prevent threats against the United States while protecting individuals' First Amendment rights, which isn't always such a clear distinction.