Black Panther is an amazing comic book movie that presents a complex issue of treason: Eric Killmonger is a US Born citizen, whose father was a prince of Wakanda. Eric served as a Navy SEAL and in the CIA, thus took an oath to uphold and defend the United States Constitution.

Killmonger was employed by the armors dealer Ulysses Klaw to engage in murder, theft, and obstruction of justice in England and South Korea. Killmonger then raised the legal stakes by challenging King T’Challa for the rule of Wakanda.

There are significant legal issues for a US Citizen to overthrow a foreign kingdom, even if the citizen has a claim of dual citizenship. There is an even larger issue with directing an attack on the United States.

Killmonger Violated the Logan Act with Overthrowing King T’Challa 

The Logan Act prohibits US citizens from directly or indirectly commencing correspondence with a foreign government with the “intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States…” 18 USCS § 953.

Eric Killmonger’s actions to overthrow the lawful government of Wakanda, followed by destabilizing the country with the destruction of the Wakandan Heart Shaped Herb, and declaring war on the United States and other US allies, took influencing foreign governments to defeat the measures of the United States to levels never seen before, in fact or fiction. This also raised the issue that Killmonger committed treason against the United States.

Acts of Treason

The United States Constitution defines the crime of treason as “levying War against them [The United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” United States Constitution, Article III, Section 3.

Congress has stated that:

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 USCS § 2381.

Eric Killmonger had been a Navy SEAL, and if not on active duty, was at least subject to recall. Moreover, as a CIA operative, Killmonger had taken an oath to upload and defend the United States Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. This is where treason becomes odd, because the United States and Wakanda were not enemies or engaged in acts of war. That changed when Killmonger overthrew King T’Challa and directed the country of Wakanda to arm its spies in the United States and other countries to effectively conquer the world for a new Wakandan Empire. These actions are also enlistment to serve in armed hostility against the United States, with the twist that the enlistment was overthrowing a foreign government to become the head of state. 18 USCS § 2390.

These actions would be treason, plus supporting an Insurrection or Rebellion in the United States by sending advanced Wakandan weapons to arm US Citizens to overthrow the Government of the United States. Federal law prohibits anyone from inciting or engaging “in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States…” The punishment is fine or imprisonment, plus barring that individual from holding any office in the United States. 18 USCS § 2383. 

There are no cases where US service members overthrow a government and declare war on the United States. However, there are many cases of treason. One such instance was a first generation Japanese-American citizen who was found guilty of committing treason during World War II. The Defendant had traveled to Japan on a US Passport in 1939 to attend college. The Defendant started college in Japan in the March of 1941. The Defendant had renewed his US Passport twice and was registered with the Japanese police as an alien while in college. The Defendant did not finish school until 1943.  Kawakita v. United States, 343 U.S. 717, 720-721 (U.S. 1952).

Oeyama Nickel Industry Co., Ltd. employed the Defendant during the war as an interpreter who berated and physically harmed US prisoners of war who were used as slave labor. The POWs were forced to mine and process 200 carloads of ore a day in the Japanese war effort against the United States. The Defendant did not simply act as a translator towards the POW’s. His actions included, “swearing at the prisoners, beating them, threatening them, and punishing them for not working faster and harder, for failing to fill their quotas, for resting, and for slowing down.” Kawakita, at *737.

The United States Supreme Court held that the Defendant committed treason against the United States, because his actions were aimed at getting more work out of prisoners of war in order to give the Empire of Japan aid in making weapons to be used against the United States. While the Defendant’s actions were small, it is the nature of the act that is important for treason. As Justice Douglas explained:

These were not acts innocent and commonplace in appearance and gaining treasonable significance only by reference to other evidence, as in Cramer v. United States, supra. They were acts which showed more than sympathy with the enemy, more than a lack of zeal in the American cause, more than a breaking of allegiance to the United States. They showed conduct which actually promoted the cause of the enemy. They were acts which tended to strengthen the enemy and advance its interests. These acts in their setting would help make all the prisoners fearful, docile, and subservient. Because of these punishments the prisoners would be less likely to be troublesome; they would need fewer guards; they would require less watching. These acts would tend to give the enemy the “heart and courage to go on with the war.”

Kawakita, at *741-742, quoting Lord Chief Justice Treby in Trial of Captain Vaughan, 13 How. St. Tr. 485, 533.

While Killmonger’s plan failed and no Americans were killed, that does not change the fact Killmonger ORDERED an attack on the United States after overthrowing King T’Challa. These actions are treason and the US Government would have been in the right to ask for Killmonger’s extradition.

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