18 U.S. Code § 2383 - Rebellion or Insurrection
Any act of rebellion or insurrection against the U.S. government constitutes a serious federal crime punishable by serious jail time and fines. This crime is embodied under Title 18 U.S. Code 2383.
Simply put, this law makes it illegal to incite, assist with, or participate in a rebellion or insurrection against United States laws and authority.
While peaceful protests are legal and are protected by the Constitution, violence, and destruction are not. Rebellion and insurrection apply when perpetrators destroy government property or assault federal officers. This type of illegal behavior is considered a crime against the United States and the Constitution.
It's important to note that 18 U.S. Code 2383 insurrection and rebellion charges are rarely filed by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) because they recognize the First Amendment right to free speech. Still, specific unlawful behavior could result in criminal charges under this statute.
For example, recall the events at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, when a group of people stormed a government building to disrupt Congress' formal certification of presidential election results.
They broke windows, destroyed government property, and were aggressive against federal law enforcement officers. Other potential charges tied to the storming of the Capitol include trespassing in a federal building, disorderly conduct, obstructing a law enforcement officer, unlawful entry of restricted buildings or grounds, and theft of public money, property, or records.
18 U.S.C. 2383 says, “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….”
Being convicted under this law could land you up to 10 years in federal prison. Let's review this federal law further below.
18 U.S.C. 2383 - Explained
Insurrection refers to acts of violence, but it's not the only charge that could apply. Seditious conspiracy, for example, is an effort to overthrow the United States government. People can be charged with sedition and conspiracy even if they never carry out the planned violence.
Rebellion or insurrection is a federal offense that criminalizes inciting, engaging in, or giving aid and comfort to any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or its laws.
As noted, while actual acts of rebellion and insurrection are rare, this law has sparked new interest in the wake of the January 6 riots on the U.S. Capitol as speculation arose whether any of the protestors, President Trump himself, would be charged with rebellion and insurrection.
While many have been convicted of other crimes related to the riots, none have been charged under 18 U.S.C. 2383.
What Is Considered Insurrection?
While the term "insurrection" is not explicitly defined by federal law, courts and legal scholars generally interpret it as a violent uprising or organized resistance against the government or its regulations.
Insurrection often involves acts intended to overthrow, disrupt, or challenge the authority of the United States or impede the enforcement of federal laws.
What Is Considered Rebellion?
Similar to insurrection, the term "rebellion" is not explicitly defined. Still, in legal contexts, rebellion is generally understood as an organized, armed, and often violent resistance or opposition to established government authority or its laws.
Rebellion typically connotates a more widespread and coordinated effort than insurrection, aiming to overthrow or undermine the existing governmental structure. To prove a violation of U.S.C. 2383, the prosecution must establish the following elements:
- The defendant knowingly incited, engaged in, or gave aid and comfort to a rebellion or insurrection.
- The rebellion or insurrection was against the authority of the United States or its laws.
- The defendant's actions were willful and intentional.
What Are Some Examples?
The most poignant and current way we can illustrate the idea of rebellion or insurrection is the January 6 Capitol riot. Regardless of what charges were or were not brought by federal prosecutors, consider the following:
- For "vigilante" groups such as The Proud Boys, for whom there has been sufficient evidence of deliberate and coordinated efforts to descend on Washington, invade the Capitol Building, physically disrupt the electoral vote count by Congress, and potentially inflict harm upon members of Congress and the Vice President...it could be argued that leaders of The Proud Boys had committed acts qualifying for charges under U.S.C. 2383.
- For anyone providing funding or other support to these groups in coordinating their disruptive efforts...they, too, could potentially have been charged under U.S.C. 2383.
- For others who were simply in attendance at the rally that turned into a protest, who participated in the breach of the Capitol building but were swept up at the moment...while these could (and were) charged with other federal crimes, it would be difficult to convict them under 18 U.S.C. 2383 because their actions were neither organized nor coordinated, and therefore did not meet the accepted definitions of rebellion or insurrection.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 115 Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities have several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 2383 rebellion or insurrection, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 2381 - Treason;
- 18 U.S.C. 2382 - Misprision of treason;
- 18 U.S.C. 2384 - Seditious conspiracies;
- 18 U.S.C. 2385 - Advocating the overthrow of Government;
- 18 U.S.C. 2386 - Registration of certain organizations;
- 18 U.S.C. 2387 - Activities affecting armed forces generally;
- 18 U.S.C. 2388 - Activities affecting armed forces during war;
- 18 U.S.C. 2389 - Recruiting for service against the United States;
- 18 U.S.C. 2390 - Enlistment to serve against the United States.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 2383?
A conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2383 carries severe consequences. If you are found guilty of acts of insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. government, you could face the following:
- Imprisonment for up to 10 years; and
- A fine of up to $250,000 as determined by the court.
In addition, regardless of other penalties, a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2383 permanently disqualifies you from holding any government office in the United States.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 2383?
If you are accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 2383, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can help you identify potential defenses and build a solid legal strategy, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of intent. The prosecution must prove that your actions were willful and intentional. Showing that you lacked specific intent to incite or engage in a rebellion or insurrection could be a viable defense.
Perhaps we can argue First Amendment protection. In some cases, your actions may be protected under the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. However, the First Amendment does not protect speech that incites imminent lawless action.
Perhaps we can argue that there was no insurrection or rebellion. Your attorney may argue that even if your actions violated other federal laws, they did not meet the generally accepted definitions of rebellion or insurrection. Perhaps we can negotiate a favorable plea bargain.
To review the details of your case, you can contact us by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.