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On Rittenhouse’s Acquittal

On Rittenhouse’s Acquittal November 25, 2021

“The idea of citizens arming themselves to supplement the police, when the police are being too casual with protestors, when the police aren’t being fascist enough.  That’s not anything I thought I’d see in my lifetime in this country. It feels like a really dark place; it feels like a really really dark moment.” – Professor Melissa Murray

This will article will trigger people.

What we are dealing with is a right-wing movement that will use institutions when it is useful; they will discard them when it is useful. We have to find a way to fight that kind of politics. Obviously, we’re never going to burn the Capitol down, we’re never going to atta k institutions in the same way. But I think it argues for having a normal politics strategy and one that’s honest about how this is a process taking place outside the bounds of our democracy – an enemy from without – and I think one aspect of it that we have to stop doing is I think we have to stop begging corporate interests and mainstream media that have such a personal, financial, cultural stake in not being honest about this problem. We have to stop begging them to stop the world radicalising them. We have to stop begging them and beseeching them to see it the same way, and we need to come up with strategies ourself, from outside these institutions to attack the propaganda apparatus, to attack the way in which Facebook and FOX News work in concert to radicalise people on a grand scale. And we have to start being honest about just how big a threat it is and I think right now the truth is we aren’t.” – Jon Lovett

FOX News, on the other hand, reported the verdict with the chyron: “Rittenhouse Trial Reveals a Culture in Decline.”

There were a lot of myths surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse (KR). It was undoubtedly a complex case and a difficult one to prosecute. It was made more so by the laws for open carry and self-defence. His charges (and not-charges) were as follows:

At trial, Rittenhouse faced a charge of first-degree reckless homicide for killing Joseph Rosenbaum, an enraged but unarmed man who had chased him; first-degree intentional homicide for killing Anthony Huber, a demonstrator who had struck him with a skateboard and then lunged for his rifle; two felony counts of recklessly endangering the safety of the Daily Caller’s video chief, Richie McGinniss, and a demonstrator who had kicked him in the head; and first-degree attempted intentional homicide for shooting Gaige Grosskreutz, a demonstrator and paramedic who was armed with a Glock pistol.

Initially, Rittenhouse also faced a misdemeanor count of unlawfully possessing a dangerous weapon. He was too young to have bought the rifle—Black bought it for him and now faces his own felony trial—but, to the surprise of many, the judge, Bruce Schroeder, dismissed it.

It continues:

Two portraits of Rittenhouse emerged during the two-week trial. The defense portrayed him as a selfless teen-ager and aspiring law-enforcement officer or paramedic who wanted to help defend Kenosha and provide first aid. Prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse courted trouble by hubristically inserting himself into a volatile situation—he volunteered to help guard property that he did not own, in a city where he did not live, while flaunting, confusingly, both a first-aid kit and a semi-automatic rifle.

The Rittenhouse trial will be remembered for its voluminous video evidence and for live streamers’ role in either documenting, or negatively influencing, historic events. The footage—captured also by demonstrators, a civilian-operated drone, and an F.B.I. surveillance plane—showed every shooting from various angles. The jurors watched numerous clips of Rittenhouse in the moments before and after the shootings. He was interviewed by live streamers and shown yelling, “Anybody need medical?” Not long before the gunfire started, he lied about being an E.M.T. and bragged that, if there was trouble, “I’m running into harm’s way.”

There were also notable, and loud, rebukes. After Rittenhouse’s attorneys moved for a mistrial, accusing the state of overreaching, the lead prosecutor, Thomas Binger, tried to explain himself, but Schroeder boomed, “Don’t get brazen with me!” In one motion, Rittenhouse questioned the integrity of footage that prosecutors alleged showed him provocatively pointing his gun at people first. (One of the prosecutors wearily remarked, “We did not alter the file,” adding, “None of us know how to alter the file.”) The judge acknowledged that the footage made him “very queasy,” but he allowed it.

Here is what we know.

  • He is a person with alt-right sympathies. We can see this from all sorts of things – what he has worn, who he has hung out with, and even subsequently making the shite power sign.
  • As a 17-year-old boy who had two weeks previously declared he wanted to shoot and kill some criminals, he went across state lines to Kenosha, getting hold of a friend’s gun, a semi-automatic AR-15 style gun.
  • Rittenhouse did not have formal firearms training, yet Wisconsin’s law allowed him to openly carry a semi-automatic rifle.
  • He broke police curfew and went to get involved in a Black Lives Matter protest heavily embroiled with ideas of racial equality that was a melting pot of potential violence.
  • He shot three people and killed two.
  • After someone else fired into the air, Rittenhouse turned to the unarmed Joseph Rosenbaum who went to take KR’s gun. Rosenbaum was shot four times at close range.
  • After shooting, he was chased, tripped after being hit in the head, and shot at someone who tried to jump-kick him, and missed twice.
  • KR was hit by a skateboard by Anthony Huber who tried to take the gun away. KR shot Huber in the chest and killed him.
  • Gaige Drosskreutz approached KR with a handgun and was shot in the arm.
  • KR was charged with two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, two counts of reckless endangerment, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, and one count of curfew violation.
  • The last two counts were dismissed by the judge during the trial.
  • The judge’s mobile phone went off several times during the trial, playing a Trump rally theme tune, once after which he made a racist joke.
  • Since his acquittal, he has been branded a hero by the right wing, with Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Madison Cawthorne offering him internships. FOX News contributor Kurt Schlichter tweeted:

I could go on. And if anything sums up the whole debacle – the whole political landscape in the US – that Tweet is it.

So, what went wrong?

Well, the homicide convictions were always going to be hard because you have to show intent and the whole thing was chaotic. Proving intent beyond a reasonable doubt in that scenario was an uphill battle, even without the biases of the judge and potentially the jury. The jury wanted, during the deliberation, to see the footage over again of KR wrestling with Rosenbaum and Huber for the gun. Getting inside Rittenhouse’s head at that moment was going to be key to understanding intent. Any doubt works in favour of the defence.

Crying in a very teenager sort of way (which is par for the course for a teenager) on the stand leaned into the idea that this was a teenager making teenagery decisions.

Murder in the first degree was going to be difficult to win as a legal case.

Really, it was all about the more minor convictions. But the judge threw two of them out and refused to admit Ritttenhouse’s declaration that he wanted to kill some criminals and a previous fight. The judge did allow the jury to be instructed on lesser offences such as homicide that did not require intent but recklessness is interesting, because the jury didn’t go for them. One might have expected recklessly endangering the lives of those around him to be something the jury might well have opted for in light of the fact that they would acquit him of first-degree homicide charges. This would have allowed them to straddle both camps, but they didn’t bite.

As such, KR was seen to be in Kenosha merely responding to these perceived threats legally. Where the people who died, died as a result of shots from his gun.

This analysis is truly brilliant. Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau, along with Professor Melissa Murray, get to the nub of the matters on this excellent episode of Pod Saves America:

My favourite quote is from Lovett as follows:

“Why do people say these things? Why does a kid believe he ought to guard a f*cking car dealership in Kenosha even though he makes the situation more dangerous by his presence? It’s because of the media he consumes; these people are part of that media. He was deputized by Tucker Carlson! We get into these debates over symbolic examples but these are real people that died and right-wing media figures and politicians, they don’t care that people died. They don’t even care that they drove this kid into a situation in which he killed people. But even from their own perspective, their ally, this kid, now has seared in his memory the experience of killing two people, shooting a man in the chest, bleeding in front of him.

“A living vigilante is useful to them. A dead vigilante is useful to them. Kyle Rittenhouse gets to be a hero, Ashli Babbitt gets to be a martyr, and the fact that real people will be hurt, that real people will be impacted doesn’t really matter. It’s the same logic that every night on FOX News a vaccinated workforce led by vaccinated anchor, spreads vaccine misinformation. Of course they don’t care if people live or die: they feed their biggest fans, the bodies of their biggest fans into the gristmill of their content factory for outrage, for grievance. They do not care. So of course, they will celebrate this guy as a hero. They do not care if this leads to more people taking it upon themselves to go out there and be vigilantes, to make dangerous situations worse.”

Wow. This is so powerfully and accurately expressed.

There is no doubt this will embolden those right-wing lawmakers and activists who want to strengthen and expand open carry and self-defence laws.

As Lovett also states so insightfully:

“This is a society they are quite comfortable building. if what we have here is a situation in which, because the guns themselves are legal, you can have a circumstance in which people descend on a place, bring incredibly dangerous weapons to that place – anyone with a weapon is a threat, anyone with a weapon can feel threatened, three people can be shot, two people can be dead – and no crime is committed. That is a lawless place. That is not Kenosha anymore, that’s Squid Game. That’s what we’re heading towards. And I do think that sometimes, in our political conversation, a lot of experts on television will be very descriptive about the law, about what the law says, about what the law doesn’t say. But you step back and it’s like, “Well, this is not the society that we want, this is not the kind of world we want to live in.”

As Murray replied, this is the resort to law for the promotion of justifying what is essentially lawless behaviour.

David French, Atlantic contributor and US Presidential nominee at one point and someone whom I have publicly debated on radio, a conservative and an Iraq War veteran who has written about his decision to carry a concealed weapon, recently observed that “one of the symbols of the American hard right is the ‘patriot’ openly carrying an AR-15 or similar weapon.” In the piece, he sees Rittenhouse as “the next step in that progression. He’s the ‘patriot’ who didn’t just carry his rifle; he used it.”

So whilst the case was undoubtedly complicated in the context of first-degree homicide, how did we get here. No, how did you, America, get there? And where do you do from here? Given that was took place – someone taking a gun to a protest where the police were active anyway, and shooting three people and killing two, can be within the law? That such a person is not only not legally reprimanded, but is held up as a hero and offered jobs!?

Cas Mudde (Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, the author of The Far Right Today, and host of the podcast Radikaal) makes these observations:

I do not want to discuss the legal particulars of the verdict. It is clear that the prosecution made many mistakes and got little to no leeway from the judge, unlike the defense team. Moreover, we know that “self-defense” – often better known as vigilantism – is legally protected and highly racialized in this country. Think of the acquittal of George Zimmerman of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013.

In essence, the Rittenhouse ruling has created a kind of “stand your ground” law for the whole country. White people now have the apparent right to travel around the country, heavily armed, and use violence to protect the country from whatever and whoever they believe to be threatening to it. Given the feverish paranoia and racism that has captured a sizeable minority of white people in the US these days, this is a recipe for disaster….

The most worrying effect of this verdict may be this: giving rightwing vigilantes a legal precedent to take up arms against anyone they consider a threat – which pretty much runs from anti-fascists to so-called Rinos (Republicans in Name Only) and includes almost all people of color – means it is now open hunting season on progressive protesters….

This was something I knew nothing about but is both shocking and yet unsurprising:

A Boston Globe investigation found that “between [George] Floyd’s death on 25 May 2020 and 30 September 2021, vehiclesdrove into protests at least 139 times”, injuring at least 100 people. In fewer than half of the cases the driver was charged, and only four drivers have been convicted of a felony. Moreover, in response to these attacks, Republican legislators have proposed laws to protect the drivers from legal action in case they hit a protester. Florida, Iowa, and Oklahoma have already passed such laws.

With all of his support from the right-wing media ecosystem,  David French sees this as “a political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence.”

I agree.

But where to? Really, where to now? As the Pod Saves America host Favreau opines, the only way to solve this problem is at the ballot box. But when misinformation and disinformation hold so much sway, and when the right control the loudest megaphones, including the entirety of talk radio across the country as well as Sinclair (which operates the vast majority of local TV news) and behemoths like FOX News, then competing at the ballot boxes becomes as much as an uphill battle as prosecuting a right-wing vigilante shooter who shot three people and killed two.

2022 and 2024 will come along and the GOP will romp in. I don’t see things getting any better.

(Oh, and any persistent nutjobbery in the comments will get you at least a time out.)

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