More than 200 people are facing felony charges for their presence at Inauguration Day protests back in January, including several journalists who could spend up to seven decades behind bars.
Of the more than 230 people arrested, most were charged with felony rioting, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $25,000, Al Jazeera reports.
However, in April, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia returned a superseding indictment that increased charges for approximately 212 of the defendants.
Among the people facing steeper charges are independent journalist Alexei Wood and fellow journalist Aaron Cantu. The independent reporters are each looking at up to 70 years in prison thanks to the additional felony charges, including urging to riot, conspiracy to riot, and destruction of property.
Cantu — who recently pleaded not guilty — is facing this hard time despite the fact that court documents do not name him in any individual acts of violence or vandalism.
According to Wood, the implications of the defendants' cases "are humongous for striking fear into protesters. The state is not just going after window-breakers, which in itself may not be justified."
"Instead, the state seeks to criminalize dissent by indiscriminately arresting more than 200 people and imposing a slew of felony charges that carry the potential of decades in prison," Wood added. "But it also means if we're [journalists] too close to a newsworthy story, we could be facing more than 70 years."
While following the route of the anti-fascist bloc's march, Wood started a live-stream on Facebook which depicts demonstrators shouting chants of dissent and others becoming destructive. One masked man is seen spray painting “Revolution or death” on a wall, and one group of marchers went off course to smash the window of a limousine.
However, as Al Jazeera notes, the footage does not show or suggest that Wood was an active participant in the protest or the destruction of property.
“The live-stream speaks for itself. It's right there for everybody to see. I love that it's there for everybody to see because I want individual people to see my work and make their own decision," Wood said. "I think it's a very clear case."
It is evident that these arrests and charges are part of a ploy to discourage civil disobedience as well as punish the media for shedding light on these moments.
"This case is so much bigger than myself and the more than 200 people who got arrested with me,” Wood said. "This could be precedent setting for resistance movements in general, but also independent journalism in the era of Trump."
As protests have become more frequent throughout the nation, about 18 states have considered more than 30 bills that aim to curb protests by proposing severe penalties for demonstrators. This includes Arizona, where the state Senate voted 17-13 earlier this year to send a bill to the House that would expand racketeering laws to include rioting.
The Arizona bill also broadens the definition of rioting to include any damage of property. If the bill were passed, the government would have the authority to criminally prosecute and seize assets of anyone at a protest where any property was damaged.
If nothing else, these policies that lump everyone together and punish law-abiding citizens are certainly an infringement on Americans' right to peacefully assemble.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters