After bringing federal charges against more than 125 people accused of being part of the violent mob that stormed the US Capitol, now comes the hard part.
Law enforcement officials say they are moving from the so-called low-hanging fruit arrests and charges to more complicated cases, focusing on the extremist groups that participated in the attack.
That effort will take months to try to piece together, in part, because unlike some of the early arrests of suspects – who gleefully posted on social media or even live-streamed their involvement – many alleged attackers took pains to hide their identities and their involvement.
Hundreds of more arrests are still expected, officials have said.
Prosecutors have said in detention hearings they are working on bringing seditious conspiracy charges – a prospect that Washington, DC, acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin raised publicly early on.
But with a new administration now running the Justice Department, taking such a major step on a rarely used law would likely require sign-off from the new Biden administration officials at Justice headquarters.
For now, the department is led by acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson and acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin. It’s unclear whether they would want to be the ones to sign off on sedition charges, with Senate confirmation likely still weeks away for Judge Merrick Garland and Lisa Monaco, Biden’s picks for the top two jobs. If department officials decide to wait for Garland to arrive, it could slow the work underway.
The Civil War-era law brings up to 20-year penalties for plotting to overthrow the US government and to use force to oppose US government authority or to delay the execution of a US law. Last summer, amid street protests following the police killing of George Floyd, then-Attorney General William Barr encouraged federal prosecutors to use the law against leftist protesters, a move that no one made.
The most recent use of the law came during the Obama administration, but a judge dismissed seditious conspiracy charges against members of a militant group in Michigan that had discussed attacks against federal and local authorities, because they hadn’t done enough to directly attempt to thwart the federal government.
The law was used successfully in 1995 against Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and a group who plotted to destroy landmarks in New York. And in the 1980s, a Puerto Rican separatist was sent to prison on seditious conspiracy and other charges for a campaign of bombings.
Garland and Monaco both have government experience confronting domestic terrorism.
In 1995, Garland – then a senior official at the Justice Department in Washington – flew to Oklahoma City to supervise the aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, at the time the deadliest domestic terror attack in the country’s history.
Monaco, who has led the Justice Department’s National Security Division, was only weeks into a position as then-President Barack Obama’s chief adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism when two self-radicalized Boston brothers planted two bombs on the parade route of the city’s marathon.
The Boston bombing and other jihadi-inspired attacks were the most pressing concern for counterterrorism authorities at the time, but Monaco also played a leading role in some of the earliest instances of what would become a wave of White supremacist threats, like the 2015 massacre at one of the oldest Black churches in the country, Charleston’s Mother Emanuel.