The Road to Sedition

 "Sedition: incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority." That's how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it.

What concerns us from WWNK is that lately, more and more often criticism of the U.S. government or U.S. foreign policy has been labeled with that term.

Does that mean regime critics are now being called insurgents?

Outraged over the government's slow response after Hurricane Katrina, Laura Berg, a clinical nurse specialist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque, NM, wrote an angry letter to the editor of her local newspaper in September 2005.

Berg suggested that Bush, Cheney, Chertoff, Brown, and Rice "should be tried for criminal negligence" and urged that "This country needs to get out of Iraq now and return to our original vision and priorities of caring for land and people and resources rather than killing for oil."

She ended her letter with the words, "We need to get up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit. Otherwise, many more of us will be facing living hell in these times."

After the Weekly Alibi published her letter on September 15, Berg's work computer was seized by her employer and an investigation launched. Asked for clarification, Human Resources chief Mel Hooker explained that "The Agency is bound by law to investigate and pursue any act which potentially represents sedition."

Berg's mistake: To let on in her letter that she was a VA nurse and therefore an employee of the very government she criticized. Her superiors only backed off when it turned out that Berg hadn't typed the incensed letter at work.

The principle of sedition has been around for over 200 years. In 1798, on the brink of a possible war with France, U.S. President John Adams signed the so-called Alien and Sedition Acts into law. The Acts, passed by the Federalist-dominated Congress, restricted speech critical of the government with penalties of up to $2,000 and up to two years in prison.

The Library of Congress states that "These laws were designed to silence and weaken the Democratic-Republican Party." In other words, they were rather unpopular, which ostensibly contributed to the election victory of Thomas Jefferson, a powerful advocate of equality and liberty. The Alien and Sedition Acts expired along with Adams' presidency.

"Sedition" is as outdated as grandpa's cuckoo clock, but it does still exist in current law. According to People's Law Dictionary, sedition nowadays means "the federal crime of advocacy of insurrection against the government or support for an enemy of the nation during time of war, by speeches, publications and organization. Sedition usually involves actually conspiring to disrupt the legal operation of the government and is beyond expression of an opinion or protesting government policy."

"Since freedom of speech, press and assembly are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and because treason and espionage charges can be made for overt acts against the nation's security, sedition charges are rare."

For some people too rare, it seems. Last week, The Conservative Voice commentator Ben Shapiro asked "Should We Prosecute Sedition?"

He cites various incidents, one of them a speech former VP Al Gore held at the Jeddah Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia. "The 21st century has to be a century of renewal," Gore said, "and our ability to overcome these cycles of disrespect and violence is the key to making it a century of renewal."

Had he stopped there, all would have been well. Unfortunately, Gore decided to put his foot in his mouth by lamenting the "terrible abuses" of Arabs in the U.S. immediately after 9/11 and the "thoughtless way in which [Saudi] visas are now handled."

A stupid mistake? No doubt. Sedition? Well, let's see what else Shapiro summarizes with that word.

From Gore's foolish outburst, he moves seamlessly to 2004's presidential candidate John Kerry (D-Mass.) who complained last December on "Face the Nation" that U.S. soldiers were "going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of the night, terrorizing kids" and women and breaking religious customs. Followed by the example of Howard Dean, DNC leader, who said, also in December, that the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."

Wait a minute: There certainly is a difference between sedition and uttering a political opinion?

Not much. Not anymore.

"At some point, opposition must be considered disloyal," fumes Shapiro. "At some point, the American people must say 'enough.' At some point, Republicans in Congress must stop delicately tiptoeing with regard to sedition and must pass legislation to prosecute such sedition."

Dissenters, beware.

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Posted 02-21-2006 9:33 PM by Doug Casey
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