The DOJ is turning political expression into conspiracy and free assembly into a crime.
They are using a shocking legal theory: if you attend a march where other individuals engage in vandalism you are collectively liable for their acts and should face decades in prison. Ditto if you’re a journalist who is merely covering the event.
That’s what happened to 193 people, including two journalists, who are charged with eight separate offenses, including engaging in a riot, conspiracy to riot, and inciting a riot for joining an anti-Trump march in DC on Inauguration Day.
Apparently vandalism did occur during the march, in full view of police. But the police didn’t make any arrests. Instead, they followed the march, eventually encircling over 200 people and arresting them en masse. According to a report from DC Office of Police Complaints (OPD), “it seems that proximity to the area where property damage occurred was a primary factor” in the arrests.
DOJ also took a dragnet approach charging 214 people with breaking the same windows. The felony indictments fail to mention most of those charged by name and instead of describing criminal conduct, recounts typical protest behavior, such as chanting, “Whose Streets? Our Streets” as evidence of conspiracy.
On November 15, 2017 the first mass trial of 193 protesters and journalists who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time begins. These unprecedented charges pose a dramatic threat to free expression, as the prosecutor’s theory of the case is essentially the criminalization of protest itself (If you haven’t already, read our Policy & Legislative Counsel Chip Gibbons’ in depth account of what’s at stake in the J20 Cases in The Nation Magazine).