On Friday, after a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on charges stemming from the riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year, one noticed two interrelated trends.
First, there was the cacophony of voices on the left declaring that the verdict meant open season on protesters. You got the impression, reading their articles and tweets, that a racist judge and jury had given racist, conservative white men everywhere permission to grab their guns, go out and just pick off daisy-picking protesters at random.
To them, it was like deputizing all of right-wing America to act like the National Guard at Kent State. Men and women on the Right Side of History™ wouldn’t just be facing down injustice, they’d be facing down a veritable army of vigilantes pointing guns at them.
Then, in cities from New York to Portland, Oregon, we saw ugly glimpses of the mentality that led to the Rittenhouse shootings last year.
Not as intense, mind you — the winter of 2021 has nothing on the summer of 2020, at least when it comes to “fiery but mostly peaceful protests” — but it’s not difficult to see how the situation in Kenosha escalated last year when a group of Black Lives Matter activists takes to the streets of New York, chanting, “Every city, every town, burn the precinct to the ground.”
#BlackLivesMatter Activists take to the streets of Brooklyn NY in response of the #KyleRittenhouseTrial and chant ” EVERY CITY EVERY TOWN BURN THE PRECINCT TO THE GROUND “#NYPD #NYC pic.twitter.com/WyyUJcjR0B
— Leeroy Johnson (@LeeroyPress) November 20, 2021
According to WCBS-TV, hundreds of people blocked the Brooklyn Bridge in protest of the Rittenhouse verdict.
“The message basically is that when you stand up for black liberation, when you stand up for black lives, no matter who you are, you automatically become a target of the system,” protester Na-Lakan Masego said.
In case you weren’t paying attention to the trial, here’s how the three men whom Rittenhouse shot tried to “stand up for black liberation” on Aug. 25, 2020.
Rittenhouse was defending properties in Kenosha during uncontrolled rioting there in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake two days earlier.
On the night in question, Joseph Rosenbaum chased him and allegedly tried to grab his AR-15. Rosenbaum was a 36-year-old convicted child molester who had charges pending against him for domestic abuse and jumping bail, according to Fox News. He’d been released from a mental hospital earlier that day after a suicide attempt.
Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum, at which point more of the mob went after him. Rittenhouse testified that they were yelling, “Cranium him, kill him.”
Rittenhouse was then hit with a skateboard and taken to the ground by Anthony Huber, a 26-year-old with convictions for choking his brother in 2012 and domestic abuse and disorderly conduct in 2018. Rittenhouse shot and killed him, too.
Defense: “With your arms up in the air, he never fired?”
Gaige Grosskreutz: “Correct.”
Defense: “It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him, advanced on him, with your gun…pointed at him that he fired?”
— Bree A Dail (@breeadail) November 8, 2021
That’s “protest,” apparently, or “standing up for black liberation.”
We saw another form of “protest” in Portland, Oregon, after the verdict. While riots in the Pacific Northwest metropolis are so common they scarcely make the news anymore, it’s a reminder of what happens when law enforcement abdicates its responsibility to enforce the law.
Breaking: Riots are ongoing in Portland, Oregon, after the Rittenhouse verdict. pic.twitter.com/lmRRlCj1fe
— PM Breaking News (@PMBreakingNews) November 20, 2021
A person using a wheelchair was knocked over during a protest that was declared a riot by authorities tonight
Portland police clashed with demonstrators who gathered downtown after the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse pic.twitter.com/3wLSIhoRNr
— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) November 20, 2021
According to KOIN-TV, roughly 200 people in downtown Portland threw objects at police officers, broke windows and talked about burning down a federal courthouse.
Again, small stuff compared to last summer, but if you needed to be reminded of what counts as a “protest” to this crowd, here you are:
But remember: None of this is dangerous. Rittenhouse’s acquittal is.
Over at The Guardian, an Op-Ed by Cas Mudde declared, “Kyle Rittenhouse has walked free. Now it’s open season on protesters.”
“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,” Mudde wrote. “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.”
Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia who hails from the Netherlands, could perhaps be forgiven for a certain Eurocentric outlook on self-defense. It also bears noting that his work focuses on the far-right — and when you’re a hammer, you see nails everywhere.
However, everything he suggests about the Rittenhouse case in that paragraph (and in the rest of the piece) is reductionist and wrong.
You’ve probably heard that Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha with his AR-15, which is what Mudde seems to imply. This is untrue; the gun was in Wisconsin and had been purchased for Rittenhouse by Dominick Black, his sister’s boyfriend.
The not guilty verdict, given the facts, is hardly a warrant for the febrile scenario Mudde predicts — in which roving bands of bloodthirsty vigilantes travel the country, hunting down innocent protesters.
Don’t tell that to David S. Cohen, who got in an equally overwrought take at Rolling Stone. Headline: “The Rittenhouse Verdict and a Supreme Court Case Could Spell an ‘Open Season’ on Protesters.”
Cohen’s hot take combined the verdict with a concealed carry case before the Supreme Court at the moment.
“With a proliferation of concealed-carry permits and a sense among the far right after today’s verdict that they have the freedom to patrol racial-justice protests and act as vigilantes, the court system’s message couldn’t be clearer — anyone who protests against racial injustice risks taking their lives into their own hands,” he wrote.
Like Mudde, Cohen evinces an understanding of the Rittenhouse case inconsistent with having watched or read much coverage of it.
Here’s his ridiculously selective description of the events of Aug. 25, 2020: “Rittenhouse said he went to Kenosha the night of Aug. 25, 2020, to protect property. He did so by openly brandishing a semi-automatic rifle through the streets of the city in the midst of unrest over the shooting of Jacob Blake.
“While patrolling the streets, there was gunfire that resulted in some of the Black Lives Matter protesters thinking Rittenhouse was attacking them. They charged Rittenhouse, and he opened fire, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz.”
Beyond what Cohen left out, let’s not forget the “protesters” he describes were on the streets of Kenosha in violation of a curfew.
The curfew was not in place because of the Kyle Rittenhouses in the city; it was those aligned with the Rosenbaums and Hubers and Grosskreutzes who were destroying businesses and burning down properties.
Speaking of concealed carry permits, it’s also interesting to note that while Cohen makes much of how dangerous they are, he doesn’t see fit to mention that a) Rittenhouse wasn’t concealed-carrying and b) Grosskreutz was — even though his permit had lapsed.
Mudde and Cohen weren’t the only offenders in this department — actor Josh Gad had a wonderfully unhinged thread Friday on Twitter if you want more of this, just with less nuance and more swearing — but they fit the Platonic form of a certain strain of anti-Rittenhouse venom.
Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz had every right to be out on the streets in the midst of a violent riot after an unenforced curfew. Why? Because all three men believed in racial justice and black liberation, just like all the heroes in Kenosha that night.
Kyle Rittenhouse, meanwhile, had no right to be out on the streets. After Rosenbaum chased him and tried to grab his gun, Rittenhouse should have just given himself up because, in the words of the prosecution, he didn’t have the “privilege” of self-defense and “everybody takes a beating sometimes.” His acquittal means open season on protesters.
“Protesters” like the BLM marchers in New York City chanting that in “every city, every town,” people should “burn the precinct to the ground.” “Protesters” like the ones in Portland, who came a bit closer to effectuating those chants in praxis.
If this is what “protest” looks like, and if good people can’t protect themselves from these “protesters,” heaven help us all.
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