WASHINGTON — Hundreds of supporters of President Trump stormed the United States Capitol building while Congress was working to finalize President-Elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6, with four people dead.
Words like "insurrection" and "sedition" are being used by elected officials and on social media to describe the chaos seen yesterday. Those words might be vaguely familiar to many Americans thinking back to high school history textbooks, but what could they mean in a modern court of law?
So what does insurrection mean?
"Insurrection is the violent uprising against the government," Jeffrey Jacobovitz says. While sedition is the incitement of a revolt against lawful authority, "insurrection itself is the actual overthrow, the violent uprising. Insurrection involves violence."
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The U.S. code carries a maximum of ten years in prison for inciting, engaging in, or assisting in an insurrection.
"Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."
Jacobovitz says the nature of insurrection would bring charges against several people, including for incitement. "It's generally more than one person," he says.
Many people, including members of Congress and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have accused President Trump and others around him of inciting Wednesday's violence.
What's the difference between insurrection, sedition, and treason?
"Sedition is the urging of the action, urging the overthrow or urging some sort of anti-governmental action," Jacobovitz says.
He told us in an interview earlier this week that treason goes a step further.
"Treason is really looking to overthrow the US government," he explains, "sometimes it involves foreign defendants, other times it doesn't. But sedition is really a conspiracy to incite some sort of rebellion or incite some sort of action involving the US government."
These actions are related, but different.
"Treason is when you actually make war against the United States or you give aid to an enemy of the United States," David Benowitz said.
U.S. Code actually lists death as the highest punishment for treason.
"Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."
Jan. 6 Capitol Riots
Jacobovitz says he expects a lot of arrests and charges to come from Wednesday's Capitol breach.
"There will be an investigation," he says, "You have potential charges of sedition. You have potential charges of treason. And, you know, it was a mob, which was breaking into the Capitol and causing vast destruction. There have been arrests already, but there will be more arrests."
The key for prosecuting, he says, is intent. If federal investigators cannot prove that a person charged with insurrection actually intended to overthrow the government or lawful authority, they would likely face lower charges instead, like rioting or destruction of property.
The Insurrection Act of 1807 exists to allow a president to quell uprisings like this. It gives the president the power to deploy the military and National Guard within the United States. Jacobovitz says President Trump's involvement in yesterday's events muddies the waters.
"It allows the president to enforce military law, sort of a takeover of the government. But this is an unusual situation because you had the president involved and telling people to go to the Hill."