When the authorities begin to piece together those who led the charge into the Capitol or most directly incited violence, they can turn to even more serious charges. According to Matt Jones, a former assistant U.S. attorney for D.C., it’s unlikely prosecutors would treat this case like a typical protest, which might result in charges like trespassing or disrupting congressional operations. “What we’re seeing there is far different,” he said. “These are grave threats to our democratic institutions.” Jones said that there are a number of serious federal criminal laws that would likely apply—and a few others that are almost never invoked, such as those against seditious conspiracy.

Seditious conspiracy applies when multiple people “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or … oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.” The charge can come with 20 years in prison.