18 USC §2381 Treason.
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

18 USC §2383 Rebellion or insurrection.
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 fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

In light of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant's recent speech given on 7/7/20 (see 2:33:00 to 2:34:04)

"For those watching from outside Seattle, don't let anyone tell you in your fight to tax big business in your city that you're being divisive, because class struggle is what gets the goods. The private, for profit housing market has utterly failed working people. Not just here and now, but everywhere and always. Because capitalism is completely incapable of meeting the most basic needs of working people.
Internationally, the working class needs to take the top 500 corporations into democratic public ownership, run by workers, in the interest of human need and the environment, not billionaire greed.
I have a message for Jeff Bezos and his class. If you attempt again to overturn the Amazon tax, working people will go all out in the thousands to defeat you.
And we will not stop there. Because you see, we are fighting for far more than this tax. We are preparing the ground for a different kind of society. And if you, Jeff Bezos, want to drive that process forward, by lashing out against us, in our modest demands, then so be it. Because we are coming for you and your rotten system. We are coming to dismantle this deeply oppressive, racist, sexist, violent, utterly bankrupt system of capitalism. This police state. We can not, and will not, stop until we overthrow it and replace it with a world based instead on solidarity, genuine democracy, and equality. A socialist world. Thank you.

(Transcribed from given link)

Do her words, especially "we cannot or will not stop" until we "dismantle," "overthrow," and "replace" this "police state" with a "Socialist World" rise to the level of violating 18 USC §2381 and/or 18 USC §2383?

  • 3
    To the existing answers I would add that the criminal penalties established by Title 18, including disqualification to hold office, may only be imposed by a court after conviction. I also wonder whether "office under the United States" includes state and municipal offices.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 11:31
  • Is there a transcript of the video you can post here? Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 16:17
  • 39
    That would entail rounding up every presidential candidate in recent memory, since they all campaign on "taking our country back" from whoever is currently in power. Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 16:24
  • @phoog under the United States. It doesn't mention any state office. But since it's obviously a felony, a conviction would be disqualifying in the state of Washington according to this article.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 18:20
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


TL; DNR: No. Charging the Councilwoman under §2383 for making a speech would violate the First Amendment, and "levying war" in the §2381 means actually fighting, not conspiring to fight.

18 USC §2383 Since §2383 is a statute, it must conform to the Constitution. To charge Sawant for what she said in a speech would violate the 1st Amendment, which says, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..."

Even without the First Amendment problems, §2383 would not apply. The words "rebellion and insurrection" in §2383 are usually read to mean real violence, not vague words that may or may not involve violence. Not even Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has had several armed standoffs with the government, was charged under §2383.

18 USC §2381 Since §2381 is based on Art. 3, §3, the Treason Clause of the Constitution, the First Amendment does not apply to it. Following the Treason Clause, §2381 has two prongs. To be guilty of treason, one must either:

a) Levy war against the United States; or

b) Adhere to its enemies.

"Enemies" has been interpreted to mean enemies in a real war, so the second prong does not apply.

Since Sawant is not actually levying war against the United States, §2381 can only apply to her if it covers a conspiracy to levy war against the United States. The Supreme Court decided it did not in 1807, in Ex Parte Bollman. Bollman was charged with conspiring with Aaron Burr to carve a new country out of the US. The Court ordered Bollman released. In his opinion, John Marshall explained why:

However flagitious may be the crime of conspiring to subvert by force the government of our country, such conspiracy is not treason. To conspire to levy war, and actually to levy war, are distinct offenses.

Marshall’s narrow reading of the Treason Clause was consistent with the views of the Founders. In Federalist 43, James Madison explained that in the past, “violent factions” had often used “new-fangled and artificial" definitions of treason to “wreck their alternate malignity on each other…” To keep from repeating this sorry history, the Constitution “opposed a barrier to this peculiar danger,” by defining what constituted treason and specifying how it was to be proved.

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    No. Which party is the Communist Party? The WPK, takes the Stalinist line about "establishing socialism in one country." Thus, its "Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System," say nothing about overthrowing the capitalist system. Who thinks we are at war with Cuba?
    – Just a guy
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 18:58
  • 16
    The US and North Korea are not technically in a state of war. The US never declared war. North Korea and South Korea are technically in a state of war.
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 19:05
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    There is only one Hezbollah. There are many communist parties. After reading your comment, I was not clear which of these communist parties you were referring to. I still do not know.
    – Just a guy
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 19:31
  • 15
    @grovkin But which one? Cuba has one, China has one, North Korea has one, even America has one. While they may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, I don't think there's any reasonable argument that the Communist Party USA is currently waging war against the United States, for example.
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 6:51
  • 19
    Capitalism is not the USA, and the USA is not (solely) capitalism, McCarthyism notwithstanding.
    – user4657
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 7:08

No. Setting aside hyperbole, it is perfectly legal to "overthrow" the US government (and arguably even the Constitution), provided it is done in a legal manner. Overthrowing the government or even the Constitution need not use violence. Every four-year election cycle could theoretically overthrow the whole government, and every Constitutional Amendment partially "overthrows" the prior state of the Constitution.

For example, there is are perfectly legal manners of "overthrowing" an incumbent elected official, such as elections, impeachments, convictions (for those who do not enjoy immunity while in office), and recalls. Doing so to all elected members of the government simultaneously would be perfectly legal, although difficult to achieve.

Likewise, there is no limit to the scope of a constitutional amendment; thus a constitutional amendment can "overthrow" the entire constitution, in the same way that the 3/5ths clause was "overthrown" by the 13th amendment, or how the 18th amendment "overthrew" the limitations of federal regulation of intrastate commerce, production and sale, with regards to alcohol, only to be overthrown in turn by the 21st amendment.

  • 1
    And how the 21st amendment "overthrew" the 18th amendment.
    – Phoenix
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 2:20
  • 4
    @asgallant Overthrow has many definitions. One of them is to defeat an opponent. One of them is to forcefully remove someone. One of them is to throw a ball farther than intended. By claiming that only one specific definition could possibly be meant, you've already lost your treason trial. Any beginning attorney would shut you down in seconds by pointing out that overthrow doesn't necessarily mean violence. Because it doesn't. English sentences are not mathematical expressions, and words are not variables.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 19:30
  • 2
    @barbecue when has overthrow been used to refer to a non-forceful transition of power in government? I can't speak to the rest of the world, but it simply isn't used like that in the US.
    – asgallant
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 2:45
  • 3
    Rather than post six or seven separate web links which conclusively prove that this word does not have a single definition, I'll just point out that the English language makes extensive use of metaphor, and political dialog in particular makes extensive use of hyperbole. Trying to turn some politician's pandering to their base into treason is just dumb.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 15:25
  • 2
    @lag here is an article which explicitly calls for non-violent overthrow of the Trump administration. It specifically mentions the 2020 election as one means of overthrowing.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 13:12

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