School, work, and sheer laziness have conspired to keep me from updating this corner of the web as often as I should, meaning long-form commentary by moi on the news cycle’s blitzkrieg of Controversial Things has been unfortunately lacking. But recent takes on the case of Kyle Rittenhouse have brought me to a tipping point where I feel I ought to write something longer than a tweet thread about it. Some readers, including other Christians, might find my take offensive. Even in relatively more sympathetic takes on the case, there are certain qualifiers and caveats that writers seem expected to throw in if they still want to be thought “reasonable.” It is entirely possible that this post will end up omitting some or all of these sorts of qualifiers. If that happens, I’m sorry. It was how the cookie crumbled.
Like the rest of you, I initially came to Kyle’s case knowing and assuming nothing. At a glance, in broadest outline, it sounded like a sad situation. Now that full footage has been released, replayed and dissected, it clearly adds up to a case of legitimate self-defense. Additionally, a statement from Kyle’s defense team claims that he was not even guilty of carrying a rifle across state lines, but was handed the rifle after spending a work day in Kenosha when he heard someone’s business could use protection. Although, I will be candid: I was never too exercised at the thought of Kyle’s “traveling” armed from one town to another half an hour away, less than perfectly prudent as that would have been. As it is, if this account is true, it sounds as if Kyle was simply showing up to work and going about his own business in Kenosha, then learned about a situation where he thought he could help and decided to stay.
It’s clear from the footage that Kyle was trained on the rifle he carried, so this was not the “clumsy LARP-ing man-child recklessly waves about a weapon he can’t handle” sort of affair that some commentators have pretended it was. I also emphatically disagree with Tim Carney’s take at the Washington Examiner. Writes Carney:
The 17-year-old charged with two homicides in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was not a hero vigilante, nor was he a predatory white supremacist. He was, the evidence suggests, a foolish boy whose foolish decisions have taken two lives and ruined his own.
If you go armed with a rifle to police a violent protest, you are behaving recklessly. The bad consequences stemming from that decision are at least partly your fault.
Carney clears the ground-scraping bar of not labeling Rittenhouse a predatory white supremacist (which even some Christians have appeared unable to clear, more on this in a moment), but we have no evidence that Rittenhouse was foolish or reckless in his choices. Carney writes as if he was marching into the middle of a mob waving his rifle and spoiling for a fight. Yes, he was offered and accepted a rifle, which he was well-trained to handle, because he wanted to protect people and property from violence effectively if needed. Where is the foolishness/recklessness in this? And, as has been pointed out, he was also carrying a medical kit from his job as a lifeguard and even used it to help a wounded protester. Looks pretty responsible to me.
But Carney’s take, sloppy and patronizing as it is, isn’t the take that has me angriest. That honor would go to The Gospel Coalition, for this shameful attack piece run on August 29th, titled “Why I Hate August.” The author, K. Edward Copeland, goes through a compare/contrast of Kyle’s case and the case of Jacob Blake (on which more details have emerged just since the piece ran, and which is far from as simplistic as first knee-jerk reactions made it sound). He contrasts Blake’s shooting with the fact that Rittenhouse was ignored by police on the night of the incident and went home despite making an attempt to turn himself in. Supposedly, this proves systemic bias against “black and brown bodies.” In the course of drawing this contrast, without batting an eye, he outrageously lumps Kyle with other “armed mass shooters” like Dylan Roof. To be clear, we are talking about deranged killers who stormed peaceful public gatherings with the express intent of murdering as many innocent people as possible. This is the company Rittenhouse apparently keeps in the mind of K. Edward Copeland.
That any major outlet would run a bit of slander like this is sad, but at this point in the devolution of our country’s journalistic class, it’s only to be expected from most mainstream sources. But for a major Christian news outlet to run it is shocking. It is unconscionable. It violates not only the basic standards of journalistic integrity, but Christian standards for love of truth and of neighbor. At this point, I am sorry to say that it is clear The Gospel Coalition is giving free rein to its minority voices to vent in whatever manner they please, merely because they are minority voices. Running this piece was the equivalent of running a piece by a white author flirting with alt-right ideology while venting his resentment at feeling shamed for his white skin—which will never happen, nor should it. I merely note the blatant double standard.
Rittenhouse appears to have conducted himself about as well as he possibly could have in about the worst possible situation. He appears to be a decent, idealistic kid who entered that situation with the desire to do good, and, in fact, did do good. The people who attacked him were violent people who had harmed the innocent in the past and will no longer be able to harm the innocent in the future. (Obligatory caveat that no, this would not justify an unjustified shooting, but since the shooting was in fact justified, I see no reason to ignore this information.) And yes, I’m willing to make analogies that some might think are painting him in “too heroic” a light—for instance, I don’t see why it’s unreasonable to compare him to underage soldiers who passed themselves off as 18 so they could join American forces in the great battles of World War II. In hindsight, would we say these young men were foolish, reckless, joining a fight that wasn’t “theirs” when they should have stayed at home? I’m sorry but the language of “not their fight” is a concession to the language of bullies: “What are you looking at? This isn’t your fight. Keep walking.”
Some have cautioned against turning Rittenhouse into a conservative folk hero. I have no desire to do this. I don’t wish to canonize him or make him a mascot. But perhaps I am angry because Kyle reminds me of young guys I know. Good guys. Guys from my own hometown. Guys who, yes, support the police and plan to vote for Trump. Get over it. Perhaps I’m angry because I look at Kyle and I think that could easily have been one of them.
Kyle Rittenhouse decided not to keep walking. For that, I say good on him. And I don’t particularly care who hears it.