If a 17-year old white kid involved in a tragic incident with three white adults can divide the entire country along partisan lines, raising the specter of white supremacy and white privilege, is there anything that can’t?
No one should know Kyle Rittenhouse’s name. In some slightly more rational world, he would be a normal, unknown 18-year old kid and two people would not have been killed at the end of his gun, another injured. Fate, however, is woven with slender threads, and so Mr. Rittenhouse’s parents allowed a 17-year old to travel to Kenosha, WI and insert himself in a volatile situation, one someone of his age and experience likely should have had no part of, whatever his motivations. Alas, this is not the only thin thread leading to the tragic events on August 25, 2020. Jacob Blake might have been arrested peacefully two days earlier, rather than being shot while wielding a knife against police officers executing a lawful warrant. Perhaps, there might have been no warrant at all or Mr. Blake himself might not have caused a domestic disturbance. The media could have exercised something resembling judicious restraint and objectivity in the coverage of Mr. Blake’s shooting, instead of denying he had a knife at all, ignoring the warrant itself, and tying it to the killing of George Floyd, who was unarmed and not subject to any warrants. The officers involved in Mr. Blake’s shooting would ultimately be cleared by both local and Federal police, but much too late to change the trajectory of events within barely 48-hours.
The facts of the situation made no difference to the governor of Wisconsin himself, Tony Evers. he could also have used some sober-headed restraint rather rather than jumping to conclusions and fanning the flames of unrest. Instead, his comments on the matter read like a clarion call for riots, “While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country,” he wrote on Twitter, note the acknowledge that the details are not yet known as if they were unimportant. “We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country…And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites. I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.”
For the record, Kenosha itself isn’t exactly a hotbed of urban or racial unrest with less than a 100,000 residents, no history of racial strife, and around 5 murders a year before the incident. Thus, the residents of Kenosha and the surrounding areas could’ve chosen to protest peacefully, rather than starting a riot, destroying buildings, breaking windows, defacing property, and facing off with the police. The media didn’t help here either. Instead of accurately covering the riots for what they were, emphasizing the barbarity and danger, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez stood in front of burning buildings with the heading, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting.” The police in Kenosha and Wisconsin could’ve responded more effectively, quelling the riots without relying on civilians for help. Rather than personally thanking Mr. Rittenhouse for being on the scene with a gun at around 10.45 that fateful evening, saying to him “We appreciate you guys. We really do,” the police in question could’ve recognized him as a child and taken him off the street for his own safety. Mr. Rittenhouse himself might never have said shortly thereafter, “People are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business, and part of my job is to also help people. If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That is why I have my rifle, because I need to protect myself, but I also have my med kit,” mere minutes before the tragic shooting.
Joseph Rosenbaum, one of the men Mr. Rittenhouse killed, could’ve been safely locked up in a mental hospital at the time of the shooting. He was released just hours before after being under psychiatric care for a suicide attempt. Numerous witnesses saw the troubled man acting “belligerent” and “erratically,” including verbally threatening Mr. Rittenhouse himself and shouting the n-word. In fact, it is difficult to understand why he was on the streets at all having been indicted for 11 counts of child molestation, and ultimately pleading guilty to two counts of sexual conduct with a minor after already serving 15 years in prison. The other man killed, Anthony Huber, might also have been in prison, thanks to a lengthy record including threatening his brother with a butcher’s knife. “Mr. Huber told his brother that if he didn’t start cleaning a room in the house, he was going to gut him like a pig,” Mr. Rittenhouse’s attorney, Corey Chirafisi read from the original complaint. “Mr. Huber told his brother that if he stopped cleaning, he would kill him.” Mr. Huber also pleaded guilty in 2013 to two felony counts of strangulation and suffocation, plus false imprisonment.
If the world were just a tiny bit more sane, rational, or just plain decent anyone of these events might have been different and we would never know the Rittenhouse name, but that’s not the world we live in recently and Mr. Rittenhouse ultimately took two lives, injuring another. Nor does the insanity and lack of common sense end there, some might say the tragic shootings themselves were just the beginning as they were instantly politicized, though Mr. Rittenhouse was just a 17-year old boy at the time and wasn’t even able to vote in the 2020 election. These facts didn’t prevent the media and progressive politicians from almost immediately turning him into the poster boy for white supremacy, promoting an almost fact-free narrative that he traveled to Kenosha, WI solely for the purpose of hunting and killing black people. Guests on MSNBC have compared him to a “school shooter,” and claimed he is “arguably a white supremacist” even though his victims were white. The Intercept referred to him as a “white supremacist” 16 times in a single article on the story. Some asked, “Why do reporting when we already know Rittenhouse is a terrorist?” Journalist Tariq Nasheed described the trial as “basically performance art white supremacist theater.” David Leavitt, another journalist, tweeted, “If you’re defending Kyle Rittenhouse, you might be a white supremacist.”
Celebrities also got in on the act. LeBron James mocked Mr. Rittenhouse for crying during his testimony, writing on Twitter, “What tears????? I didn’t see one. Man knock it off! That boy ate some lemon heads before walking into court.” The View co-host, Joy Behar, claimed they were only “crocodile tears,” and that it was “one of the worst acting jobs” she’d ever seen. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion, but punching down so far on a now 18-year old well before the verdict is even in reveals a certain cold callousness driven primarily by their political persuasion. It’s difficult to imagine either acting this way were Mr. Rittenhouse a black youth. Of course, much of their ire has been spent imagining how Mr. Rittenhouse would be treated were he black, as race touches everything these days. Joy Reid from MSNBC even managed to bring Critical Race Theory into it, proclaiming without any evidence, “Earlier today, the teenager accused of murdering two men and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year took to the stand in his own defense. And the circumstances are almost built for an actual CRT course. The White, now 18-year-old, faces an almost entirely White jury of his peers, with the exception of one Black man. Dream with me, Paul. Could any child of color, young person of color ever, ever, ever, ever do that on a stand and get away with it?” The guest dutifully replied, “You already know, Joy, of course not, this is White privilege on steroids.”
Politicians who swore an oath to the Constitution and to uphold the rule of law including the right of a defendant to be innocent until proven guilty jumped to similar conclusions. Representative Hakeem Jeffries tweeted, “Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key.” Incredibly, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, felt the need to get personally involved, at least peripherally. In September 2020, then-candidate Biden posted a video on social media that showed Mr. Rittenhouse carrying his AR-15 rifle before the shooting incident. He captioned the tweet by saying, “There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night,” referring to then-President Trump. Earlier this week, Fox News correspondent, Peter Doocy asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the tweet. “Why did President Biden suggest that Kyle Rittenhouse, on trial in Kenosha, is a white supremacist?” Ms. Psaki refused to answer, sighing instead, and then refusing to comment, saying that President Biden is against “vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons.”
The vigilante meme has also taken off. The New Yorker published an article earlier this year, “Kyle Rittenhouse, American Vigilante,” claiming that “After he killed two people in Kenosha, opportunists turned his case into a polarizing spectacle,” as if the media wasn’t mostly or at least partially to blame. As they describe it, “He wasn’t old enough to be a certified E.M.T., yet he shouted, ‘I am an E.M.T.!,’ and proclaimed, ‘If you are injured, come to me! ‘ Adopting the language of first responders, he told a streamer, ‘If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.’ Rittenhouse’s intentions may well have been lost on demonstrators. In addition to the rifle, he wore an Army-green T-shirt and the Sport Patriot style of Ariat boots: part camouflage, part American flag.” Of course, they didn’t publish any similar articles when protestors in Seattle declared an “autonomous zone” and took law enforcement into their own hands, resulting in multiple fatalities while the Seattle mayor was proclaiming a new “summer of love.”
Ultimately, it’s not hard to read “vigilante” as another code word for “white supremacist,” though it remains impossible to see how one can be accused of white supremacy for the alleged murder of two white people. Mr. Rittenhouse didn’t attack or injure anyone who was black or a person of color. He wasn’t the one screaming racial epithets, nor has anyone produced a single comment he made prejudicial towards black people. The best they can come up with is that there is video of him drinking underage and using what used to the OK sign, now a symbol of white power apparently. Lest you think I am picking entirely on progressives, the reaction in some right leaning quarters has similarly defied common sense at times to the point where some are even calling Mr. Rittenhouse a hero for shooting three people and getting beaten with a skateboard. “He’s a patriot,” a man who declined to give his name told Politico last year. “He’s a hero,” another man named Alan Endries said. To be sure, the Rittenhouse-as-hero meme doesn’t appear to be promulgated by many prominent conservative figures. Most simply seem to believe he exercised his right to self defense and wasn’t the aggressor, but the fact remains Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial is yet another flashpoint in the never ending culture wars.
One wonders how this could be: If a 17-year old white kid involved in a tragic incident with three white adults can divide the entire country along partisan lines, raising the specter of white supremacy and white privilege, is there anything that can’t? Lost in the debate is the simple truth that Kyle Rittenhouse never should’ve been there even as the riots themselves never should have occurred. The entire tragedy never should have happened, much less played out in the media and political sphere for more than a year, and none of us should even know his name. However the jury rules, we’re all much worse off for it in my opinion.