According to latest news from Seattle, protesters now are controlling some parts of the city, preventing police from entering.

Can it be treated as insurrection against Federal Government, according to Insurrection act?

  • 19
    I don't know much about what the federal government can or cannot do, but city police are not federal agents. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:55
  • 6
    How does the Seattle situation differ from a 1960's sit-in? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 20:34
  • 1
    Isn't this a question about law rather than politics?
    – bof
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 1:03
  • The use of passive voice in your question -- "be treated" -- allows a plethora of assumptions, leading to a surfeit of reasonable answers. If you want to make your question meaningful, identify the party or parties dong the "treating". Eg. "Can any rational person treat the CHAZ as a federal insurrection?" "Can Trump treat the CHAZ as a federal insurrection?" Etc. Answers can vary widely. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 2:06

4 Answers 4


I'm a local, I've been in the zone the last couple days. I'm not qualified to give a legal or historical answer, but I want to make a few points about the nature of the zone, that hopefully can inform more historical answers.

It's not special.

The police of the East Precinct voluntarily left, they were not driven out (like Minneapolis 3rd Precinct was). There hasn't been looting or burning before or since. Businesses there are not boarded up. The protesters spew a lot of hateful rhetoric against police, but is very much a case of "all bark no bite" - police could come right back in if they wanted (EDIT: and in fact they have visited to inspect the precinct building)

A "militia" (the John Brown Gun Club, jbgc for short) has offered security to the neighborhood, and are the guys open carrying, working the barricades, and wearing body armor. They do not own the zone, and there are not many of them. They haven't fired their weapons, and they aren't standing guard against the police, as much as they're standing guard against threats from other citizens. There is a paranoid sense in the air that Proud Boys (or other phantom white nationalist groups) will infiltrate and perform some kind of dramatic terrorist attack; so the armed guards are there to deter that, or at worst respond in kind to any sort of attack - very much in the spirit of a "well regulated militia".

The people in the zone are not united in trying to oppose the City, and the protest leaders (such as Raz Simone and Omari Salisbury) are generally not as enthusiastic about the "Autonomous Zone" designation as some of the random protesters are (when I asked them yesterday, at least). They're mulling over how to proceed, but their main goal seems to continue to be police reform - not takeover. They're painfully aware that police are necessary to handle bad guys, and enforce laws that people agree are good. They explicitly do not want to be in the business of responding to domestic disputes or thefts.

Again, I cannot speak to the Insurrection Act itself, so this may not be a direct answer. But the news coverage of the zone, and its image on social media, is more dramatic than the zone actually is. A lot of rhetoric about what it is (and isn't) has been put out by both sides. If this constituted an insurrection, it'd be one of the least impressive in history.

EDIT: by "not special", I mean that the zone is not "occupied" so much as it is a big block party. You can walk right in - you're not frisked or anything. They make a lot of speeches, spray a lot of graffiti, and make grandiose tweets, but ultimately it's disorganized. Any list of demands or statements that you see are generally written up by some random few people who probably aren't in touch with many others. It isn't comparable to the Tamil Tigers or the PIRA taking a neighborhood and dictating terms for their territory.

  • 7
    Can you clarify how this is not "special". Having an armed paramilitary group patrol a district is not common in the USA.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 16:28
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    "There is a paranoid sense in the air that Proud Boys (or other phantom white nationalist groups) will infiltrate and perform some kind of dramatic terrorist attack" -- It's not that paranoid; the FBI picked up some folks in Las Vegas last week who were planning exactly that. usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/04/… Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 19:52
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    "They are not trying to oppose the City" They've literally spray-painted "You are now leaving the United States" signs.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 14:11
  • 2
    "painfully aware that police are necessary" <- you mean, "staunchly subscribe to the view that police are necessary".
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 19:05
  • 5
    @nick012000 I've seen graffiti saying "Elvis lives" too. I wouldn't rely on graffiti as a guide to life.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 0:49

In strictly rational terms, it would be difficult to call this an act of insurrection. There has been no armed conflict, no declarations of independence or sovereignty, no expressed intention of overthrowing even the local government, and police and government officials are not being prevented from entering the area. Instead, Seattle police and officials have voluntarily withdrawn, boarding up their precinct building and allowing protesters to congregate freely. The protesters have 'won' in the sense that they wanted the right to protest freely, but that is all.

Of course, the President gets to decide what is and is not 'insurrection', and Trump has a demonstrated tendency to cast things in irrationally exaggerated terms, often referring to even the mildest opposition (for instance) as 'treasonous'. Whether that could translate into an invocation of the insurrection act is an open question, though I suspect it won't; as a matter of practice, Trump has regularly used threats and intimidation tactics, but has rarely followed through with overt applications of force. Further, since Washington state still has a fully functioning government on all levels, and that government is not itself rebelling agains the US, the Insurrection Act would seem to imply that Trump would need an invitation from the State Legislature or Governor to intervene on their behalf. Given the political orientation of Trump's base, Trump would probably not want to be seen sending Federal troops to take over Seattle against the wishes of both its citizens and its government

  • 27
    I have seen enough self-contradiction within Trump's base that I'm not sure they would actually be opposed. Although they say they are against government intervention of any sort, in practice they generally are supportive or defensive of police actions against the protesters.
    – Kai
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:35
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    @Kai it's not a "contradiction" to use Troops to restore peace. We did it in 92 for the LA Riots, as one of many such examples. We didn't end up with a King then... and lumping "Trump supporters" into a self-contradiction as if the protesters/rioters/anarchists aren't walking contradictions as well... You put 50 million people into a group ("trump supporters" and "liberal left) and you'll get contradicting views because 50 million people don't really agree on everything.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 21:46
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    @WernerCD I don't think that contradicts my point, which is simply that I don't think a majority of Trump's base are die-hard civil libertarians in practice
    – Kai
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 21:50
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    "no declarations of independence or sovereignty" what about the "autonomous" right in the name they chose?
    – Hasse1987
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 22:35
  • 24
    @Hasse1987: Please... If you won't take that as hyperbole (which it clearly is), at least recognize that the protesters are not declaring themselves independent of Seattle governance. They are simply declaring the zone to be free of police: the very group they are protesting against. They still consider themselves citizens of Seattle, Washington state, and the US, and doubtless they will consent to police returning when policing problems are somehow resolved. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 22:55

It is the President who gets to decide. 10 U.S. Code §252 "Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority" says:

Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.

As this is an explicit power given to the President by Congress, a question of whether a President can treat something as "insurrection" is almost certainly "yes". A court may give judicial review (is the power constitutional? is the use of the power reasonable, in the common law sense) But the short answer to "can the President call in the army?" is nearly always "yes".

  • 1
    "and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion" reminds me of what happened in 1989 at Tiananmen Square. How is it different? Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 18:34
  • @user1271772: There are very few photos of Tiananmen Square. The government actively suppressed (and continues to suppress) reporting about the protests. It is unlikely that such restrictions would be Constitutional in the US.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 23:25
  • 1
    @Kevin what does the number of photos have to do with it? "use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion" is exactly what China did. Okay I see that you're saying the "difference" is that in the US the aftermath would be different, in that it would be unconstitutional to censor people's freedom of speech about the event. But what about the event itself? Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 0:26
  • @user1271772: The lack of photos indicates that censorship was contemporaneous with the event, or else the international press would have created and circulated more of them. In other words, China censored it in real time; the censorship was part of the event. That certainly would not happen in the United States (as things currently stand).
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 0:32
  • 1
    @Kevin That's a fair point. I was thinking that the use of armed forces to do whatever necessary, to suppress the crowd, was the most essential part, and is what reminded me of Tiananmen Square when I read Code 252. I'll never forget the pictures of tanks and physical forces being used to remove humans from the square, which is essentially what the President is allowed to do in the USA. Doing this and censoring it is worse, even if only marginally worse. Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 1:30

Precedent is strongly against treating a sit-in as an insurrection. It was not done when sit-ins were much more frequent during the 1960's. It was not done in 2016 when a federal facility, the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was occupied for several weeks.


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