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Reconstruction-Era Laws Show Jan. 6 Cases Are Not Political

Solomon Shinerock and Annika Conrad
October 24, 2023

Investigations into the protests and acts of violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, have breathed new life into laws passed during the Reconstruction era, the period between 1865-1877 when significant reforms were passed in the wake of the Civil War.

Earlier this year, on May 4, four participants in the Jan. 6 events who were leaders of the Proud Boys extremist group were convicted under one such law, seditious conspiracy, for their actions at the U.S. Capitol building.

Then, on Aug. 1, former President Donald Trump was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for his alleged role in the events of Jan. 6 under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 241. That law, also known as the Klu Klux Klan Act, was enacted in 1871 to criminalize conspiracies against civil rights.

This charge, along with some of the other charges Trump currently faces, have invited legal commentary on whether he is precluded from holding office under the 14th Amendment's third section — a provision that, before Jan. 6, had not been applied in over 150 years.

While many commentators have thrown around terms like "treason," as a legal matter, that principle has no application to the events of Jan. 6.

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