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Q&A: Should Joyce Kaufman statement be prosecuted as sedition?

Few prosecutions for sedition

Radio host Joyce Kaufman says to a crowd at a rally: "I am convinced the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave me a Second Amendment. And if ballots don't work, bullets will." Why is this not prosecuted as sedition?

Prosecutions for sedition, which is the crime of revolting or inciting revolt against the government, are very rare because the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech offers very broad protection.

In the case of Kaufman's statement, the government would have to consider: Does any perceived threat someone hears in her speech constitute a real danger, or is it just rhetoric? Do her statements create a clear and present danger to rights that the government protects? Is there any action associated with the perceived threat?

The courts have tightened laws enacted against sedition since the first one passed, in 1798, though they have declined to declare all such laws unconstitutional.

The most prominent recent case of sedition was successfully brought against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric living in New Jersey, and nine others. They were convicting of seditious conspiracy by plotting crimes against the United States. Rahman was convicted and is serving a life sentence in North Carolina.

Kaufman is a right-wing radio talk show host in South Florida. She was going to serve as Republican Rep.-elect Allen West's chief of staff, but withdrew after the statement you cited in your question was reported.

She didn't apologize. Instead, she complained about being electronically "lynched" by the "liberal media."

It's not the first time her statements have drawn attention. In 2007 she suggested that illegal immigrants who committed crimes in the United States should be hanged, and she recently referred to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and former House Speaker, as "garbage."

Limiting political mudslinging

What prompted the inclusion of "and I approved this message" on federal election ads?

Attack ads became so numerous in the final four decades of the 20th century that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was passed in 2002. Its chief sponsors were Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

It requires a statement from a candidate that identifies him or her and states that the candidate approved the message in an attempt to limit mudslinging in commercials. The candidate must appear on the screen or in a voice-over, accompanied by a clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate, according to the law.

For more information about the law's requirements, visit

Q&A: Should Joyce Kaufman statement be prosecuted as sedition? 11/29/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 29, 2010 6:41pm]
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