Kyle Rittenhouse getting away with murder was all but certain. His trial was merely a showpiece; as perfunctory as much as the outcome was assured. But a trial, or the idea of one, had to go ahead in order to show US citizens — and those of us around the world watching the fiasco unfurl — that justice exists. No trial at all would’ve been unacceptable. So a facsimile of one went ahead in its place. In an ideal world, in which the guidelines set down for trials are followed, the judge and defence are supposed to follow clear rules of behaviour, fairness is to be shown in considering what’s inadmissible and what isn’t, and, overall, the judge is to be unbiased.
This illusion holds firm for many despite the historical injustices the US legal system has meted out to African-Americans, People of Colour, and other minorities. Over the decades activists have documented the tortures the US government carries out at Guantanamo Bay, the excessive sentences handed out to Black people in the judicial system on top of the racist policing they face on a daily basis. So the not guilty verdict in the Rittenhouse case shouldn’t shock.
George, a Boston-based activist, sumed up people’s expectations going in as the trial started when he tells me “we all pretty much knew he was going to get off”.
In the weeks leading up to him shooting and killing Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum and injuring a third, Gaige Grosskreutz, in Kenosha, Rittenhouse was recorded on video as saying he wanted to “start shooting rounds” at people he believed to be stealing from a pharmacy. The prosecution argued that Rittenhouse “saw something, jumped to a conclusion based on exactly zero facts, and then threatened to kill someone based on his baseless assumption and wrongful interpretation”. Luckily for Rittenhouse Judge Bruce Schroeder disagreed and said the video was inadmissible.
Over and over Judge Schroeder’s leanings were on full display. From berating the prosecution to the courtroom hearing his phone’s ringtone which just happened to be the same one used by former president Donald Trump for his rallies, there was never a moment when anybody doubted his views. How much clearer could it be than when he ordered the men Rittenhouse shot could not be called victims and instead could only be referred to as “arsonists” or “looters”? And how could any of this not have an effect on the jurors?
But Schroeder is just one of many who enforce a legal system that is stacked against African-Americans and minorities. He is emblematic of a festering wound in American society that has been worsened by successive administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
Remember, it was the administration of Bill Clinton that encouraged the introduction of harsher measures to deal with crime. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out that the Democrats wanted to “wrest control of crime” from Republicans. And, according to the ACLU, “the two parties began a bidding war to increase penalties for crime, trying to outdo one another”. It resulted in the Democrats passing the 1994 Federal Crime Bill which “encouraged even more punitive laws and harsher practices on the ground, including by prosecutors and police, to lock up more people and for longer periods of time”. States would also go on to create more mandatory minimum sentences because of the bill.
It’s no coincidence that as of 2020 the rate of imprisonment of African-American men is more than five times greater than that for white men. Rittenhouse’s victims weren’t Black. But they were in Kenosha to stand shoulder to shoulder with their Black comrades. And that made them a target.
Rittenhouse became the new poster boy for white nationalists everywhere in the aftermath of his shooting of Huber, Rosenbaum, and Grosskreutz. He had killed members of the feared “Antifa”, thereby ensuring his place on a pedestal alongside the likes of Brenton Tarrant and Randy Weaver. Despite his crocodile tears in front of the judge, Rittenhouse has courted the increasingly dangerous movement of far-right extremists in the US. Not long after his initial guilty plea earlier this year he ended up in a bar posing with members of the Proud Boys and taking photos with them while they all made “white power” hand signs. A tour of the race-baiting media outlets has already begun. Tucker Carlson of Fox News interviewed him on Monday. Carlson, whose history of racism is well documented, described Rittenhouse as “a sweet kid” and “EXACTLY the kind of person would [sic] you want many more of in your country”.
No sooner than the jury declared Rittenhouse not guilty on all five counts, fascists and far-right extremists everywhere began celebrating. Ireland was no different.
A Twitter account for the Dublin Bay South branch of the National Party tweeted that Rittenhouse “did nothing wrong”. In response to the tweet Michael Connell, who posts under the name Satirical Soldier, and is himself a former member of the Irish Defence Forces, described the Kenosha shooter as a “righteous operator”. Along similar lines Herman Kelly, leader of the Irish Freedom Party celebrated the verdict writing that Rittenhouse had acted in “Self-defence”.
Elsewhere in the depths of Irish social media anonymous far-right accounts also welcomed the verdict. On Telegram one account linked the result to International Men’s Day, calling on people to celebrate both the day and verdict. A similar account posted “Hats off” to Rittenhouse. And another wrote “Congratulations to war hero Kyle Rittenhouse on beating the case. What a guy, what a legend”. The international consequences of Rittenhouse walking free should not be underestimated.
But the most immediate effects will be felt in the US. Even though Trump undeniably lost the presidential election to Joe Biden last year little has changed on the ground. For as toxic as Trump’s administration was, he was a consequence of the political and social system that’s existed in the US since its founding. Racial violence didn’t suddenly burst out on to the streets as soon as he took office. It was always present, fomented by both Democrats and Republicans whenever they saw fit to do so.
What Trump’s election victory did do was make the toxicity more blatant. And this emboldened the latest generation of extremists who feel their time has come. Aiding and informing them are a mass of conspiracy theories and disinformation now available thanks to modern technology. Support from a militarised police force also created a safety barrier of sorts. They know that if anyone will feel the wrath of law enforcement it’ll be Black people, minorities, and essentially anybody protesting for social justice.
From the other side of the Atlantic Amy recounts that she “felt nothing” during the trial. A veteran activist in the US she says she “knew this system is a farce” and is “set up to protect people like Rittenhouse”. Amy “wasn’t surprised by anything” during the trial, going so far as to relate that she “felt like they were laughing at us”. And when Rittenhouse was found not guilty, Amy reveals “it was exactly the outcome I expected”.
Some believe that the state has declared open season on the left.
Amy appears to agree, arguing “it has essentially been made legal for leftists to be murdered by the right”. Leon, a blunt Buffalo-based man, also agrees. Arguing that it was obvious “the judge was biased from the start, he goes on to insist that the verdict has now given Rittenhouse and others like him “a virtual license to kill whoever the hell they want”. Going on, Leon asserts:
Now the little bastard is being hailed as a hero by Proud Boys and Nazis. The court hearing did nothing but strengthen our already growing problem with domestic terrorism and it’s terrifying.
Aside from the results of Rittenhouse’s trial other recent history would appear to support this view. In September 2020 a US Marshall task force gunned down an anti-fascist activist in what Rolling Stone described as “a hail of bullets”. Law enforcement was seeking Michael Forest Reinoehl in connection with the murder of “right-wing agitator Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson” the previous month. The task force managed to track Reinoehl to Washington. But instead of attempting to arrest him it appears two deputies made the unilateral decision to move in and “immediately began firing” from their car. According to the medical examiner, three bullets hit Reinoehl even though he apparently faced a barrage of over 30 rounds. The police officers involved will face no repercussions.
The parents of Huber also voiced their disgust at the not guilty verdict Rittenhouse received. Echoing what others have already related, in a statement they wrote “Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son”. And, what’s more:
It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street. We hope that decent people will join us in forcefully rejecting that message and demanding more of our laws, our officials, and our justice system.
Meanwhile, support for the Biden administration continues to fall as the Republican party leans even further into extremism. It doesn’t bode well for the next few years in the US. To prepare, and keeping in mind the Rittenhouse trial, Amy contends that the left must “arm up, and keep physically fit if they are able”. For George the working class needs to seize power. He maintains that as long as the status quo remains “democracy and equality will never be a material reality for the American people”.
These arguments and tactics might seem alien to some on the western fringes of Europe. But it’s a natural reaction to the reality of many in the US as left-wing activists can apparently be murdered without consequence. And, in this morass of political and social breakdown in the US, Trump and his assorted mass of followers are watching and waiting for their opportunity. His meeting with Rittenhouse and his mother shows Trump’s opportunism hasn’t wilted. It seems the early days of a second US civil war could already be here.
Featured image via Twitter