The U.S. Justice Department is considering whether to charge members of far-right groups involved in the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol under a federal law usually used against organized crime, according to two law enforcement sources.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, enables prosecutors to combat certain ongoing racketeering crimes such as murder, kidnapping, bribery and money laundering. The 1970 statute provides for hefty criminal penalties including up to 20 years in prison and seizure of assets obtained illegally through a criminal enterprise.
The sources, a current law enforcement official and a former official who recently left the federal government, said using the RICO statute to charge people involved in the Capitol violence is being debated within the Justice Department, with no final decision made. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
The siege by supporters of former President Donald Trump left five dead including a police officer. It is not yet clear if cases arising from it meet “statutory elements” necessary for a RICO charge, the former federal official said.
“This is something that is being mulled over in the halls of DOJ,” the official added, using the department’s initials.
President Joe Biden’s administration has warned that domestic extremism is a growing threat following the Capitol rampage, a sharp departure from the way Trump regarded extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. In a September pre-election debate with Biden, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Kristina Mastropasqua declined to comment about the potential use of the RICO statute beyond pointing to prior statements by the senior federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, that he would charge people based on what the evidence showed.