20 november 21
[Editor’s note: When I ran across this on RSN (Reader Supported News, a familiar left-wing website), I thought it was poorly reasoned and seriously distorted with regard to the facts of the case, the applicable law, and the criteria for self-defense. So I thought I would engage. Not warmly received. Still going on.]
It is one thing to argue that the jury reached a reasonable verdict based on the law, and another entirely to celebrate Rittenhouse’s actions.
The United States is a nation awash in firearms, and gun owners are a powerful and politically active constituency. In state after state, they have helped elect politicians who, in turn, have created a permissive legal regime for the carry and use of firearms, rules that go far beyond how courts originally understood the concept of self-defense.
These laws have made it difficult to convict any gun owner who knowingly puts themselves in circumstances where they are likely to use their weapon—that is, anyone who goes looking for a fight. It should come as no surprise then, that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after shooting three men in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020, killing two of them. Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber were killed; Gaige Grosskreutz was injured but survived to testify against Rittenhouse at his trial.
According to Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse need not have proved that he acted in self-defense—rather, the state had to prove that he did not. Even if Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha with a firearm because he wanted to put himself in the position to use it, as David French writes, “the narrow nature of the self-defense inquiry is one reason people can escape responsibility for killings that are deeply wrongful in every moral sense.” Under some circumstances, Wisconsin law allows an individual to provoke an attack and still claim self-defense.
It is one thing to argue that the jury reached a reasonable verdict based on this law, and another entirely to celebrate Rittenhouse’s actions. Much of the conservative media and the Republican Party, however, don’t see the killings as “wrongful” in any sense, instead elevating Rittenhouse as the manifestation of retributive violence against their political enemies.
The shootings took place across the backdrop of protests and riots in Kenosha that followed a police officer’s 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Black man, in the back and side, and the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd. Rittenhouse’s critics contend that his intentions were racist, because he showed up armed in anticipation of protests on behalf of Black rights, while his advocates maintain that he was defending the city from rioters and point out that his victims were white.
The ideological battle lines recall the 2013 George Zimmerman trial. In Zimmerman’s case, prosecutors said he assaulted 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense claimed the then-29-year-old had been attacked by Martin, whom Zimmerman had been following. Even though Martin would have had reason to be concerned about a grown man following him, the law was designed to accommodate people like Zimmerman, who was armed, and his defense attorneys were able to create enough reasonable doubt among the jurors to secure his acquittal.
Conservatives saw Zimmerman as a martyr who acted in self-defense, unfairly vilified by a liberal press. Martin’s supporters saw him as yet another Black teenager perceived to be menacing both by authorities and by those who consider themselves adjacent to the authorities, as one of many Black children never extended the benefit of the doubt to which others are accustomed. But Zimmerman wasn’t simply acquitted; some on the right embraced his actions as the fulfillment of a violent fantasy.
Few people ever use a firearm in self-defense—doing so is rare even for police officers—so the extreme elements of right-wing gun culture have to conjure the specter of impending catastrophe in order to maintain their political salience. Sometimes this manifests in deranged reveries of armed revolution, sometimes in overt fantasies of murdering urban minorities, and sometimes in the make-believe of resisting a supposedly tyrannical government. Right-wing gun culture is not unlike the wellness industry, in that it requires the cultivation of a sustained insecurity in its audience in order to facilitate the endless purchase of its products. You can never be too skinny, and you can never have too many guns to stop the impending communist takeover.
Not content to maintain that Zimmerman was innocent of murder, some of his supporters lived vicariously through his gunning down of a Black teenager. People bought Trayvon Martin shooting targets. Right-wing pundits marked his birthday with jokes, and spread falsehoods about his background in an attempt to retroactively justify Zimmerman’s killing of him. Some people turned Zimmerman into a hero, because he killed the kind of person they liked to imagine themselves killing. The fact that then-President Barack Obama empathized with the fear of many Black parents, that their children will be seen not as children but as dangerous threats, by saying that if he had a son “he’d look like Trayvon,” only added to the fantasy’s appeal.
The legal questions in the Rittenhouse trial—like those of the Zimmerman trial—have become entangled with the political ones. In the aftermath of the January 6 attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, some conservative media have escalated their justifications of political violence. In this context, Rittenhouse has become a folk hero for the same reason Zimmerman became one—not because they see him as a scared child who acted rationally in a frightening situation, but because they see him as a soldier in a war against the enemies of America as they want it to be. Like Zimmerman, Rittenhouse killed the kind of people some on the right like to fantasize about killing.
As the historian Caroline Light writes in Stand Your Ground, English common-law traditionally held that self-defense could be invoked only as long as one attempted to retreat, if possible. There were important exceptions such as defending one’s home, a concept known today as the “castle doctrine.” In the aftermath of Reconstruction, American courts began expanding the circumstances under which certain men could invoke the right of self-defense; an Ohio court determined in 1876 that “a true man, who is without fault, is not obliged to fly from an assailant, who by violence or surprise maliciously seeks to take his life, or to do him enormous bodily harm.” In the 21st century, state legislatures passed legislation such as “stand-your-ground laws” that extended the circumstances under which “self-defense” could be invoked further. But from the beginning, such laws were bound up in the perceived social morality of the invoker, and those whom the right was being invoked against. The “true man” could take his castle anywhere.
Consequently, which acts of violence are considered legitimate self-defense has always been highly political. For most of American history, white men alone had a right of self-defense that included both their persons and property. Although the concept of armed self-defense is not inherently racist in the abstract—many 1960s civil-rights figures bore arms when not protesting—in practice the American legal system has tended to see certain claims of self-defense as more legitimate than others. “Our embrace of lethal self-defense has always been selective and partial,” Light argues, “upholding a selective right to kill for some, while posing others as legitimate targets.”
Zimmerman had a right to defend himself; his supporters could see Martin only as the sort of person the right of self-defense was meant to be invoked against. In Georgia, Travis McMichael, on trial for murder after he, his father, and a friend chased Ahmaud Arbery through their neighborhood, before pulling guns on him, has similarly sought to justify his actions as self-defense. “It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would’ve got the shotgun from me, then it was a life or death situation,” McMichael testified. “And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.” Even the white nationalists facing a civil lawsuit over their 2017 riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, have sought to invoke their right to self-defense.
There is a paradox of fragility here, in which a moment of fear—perhaps one imbuing the deceased with supernatural strength—is invoked to justify homicide, and the dead who would be alive but for this moment of terror subsequently become a symbol of the frightened man’s valor. At a certain point the logic of this sort of “self-defense” becomes indistinguishable from a custom that simply allows certain people to get away with murder. This is the legal regime that a powerful minority of gun-rights advocates have built—one in which Americans are encouraged to settle their differences with lethal force, preferably leaving as few witnesses capable of testimony as possible.
The fact that Rittenhouse has become a folk hero among Republicans points to darker currents within the GOP, where justifications for political violence against the opposition are becoming more common. The party finds the apocalyptic fear of impending leftist tyranny useful not only for turning out its supporters, but also for rationalizing legislative attempts to disenfranchise, gerrymander, and otherwise nullify the votes of Democratic constituencies. Engineering the American political system so that Republicans’ political rivals are unable to contest their power is a less forceful solution than killing people, but the political goal is similar: to never have to share power with those they disagree with.
For this reason, the party defends those who engage in rhetoric threatening violence against their political enemies and silences those who denounce it. Whether it’s Donald Trump justifying his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Republican members of Congress threatening their colleagues, or Fox News hosts praising Rittenhouse for “doing what the government should have done,” the desire to kill your political opponents is a sentiment no longer confined to the dark corners of the internet. The principle that canonizes Rittenhouse as a saint for defending his city from rioters, and the mob that stormed the Capitol as martyrs, is the principle that the slaughter of the right’s enemies is no crime.
“At this point, we’re living under corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny,” said an attendee at an event held by the conservative group Turning Point USA in October. “When do we get to use the guns?” The audience responded with applause. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” Most of this is idle bluster from keyboard gangsters on social media. But the more it is encouraged by mainstream political leadership, the less likely it is to remain mere talk.
Rittenhouse’s trial was a matter of law, and the outcome should not have been dependent on the political questions raised by the events that led to his indictment. But his acquittal will be seen by some on the militant right as a validation of the sentiment that someday, perhaps soon, they will get to kill all “these people.” No one they would listen to will tell them otherwise.
Post a comment on “Of Course Kyle Rittenhouse Was Acquitted”
It’s embarrassing that you have published an ideological defense of the Rittenhouse prosecution, where three members of the same family–the Mayor, the DA, and the Detective–appear to have conspired against Kyle to deny his legal rights.
Kyle took a citizen’s commitment to defend property and human rights more seriously than the Kenosha police, who stood down while looting and rioting was taking place. He sought to provide medical assistance for which he was attacked.
A meticulous legal analysis by Andrew Branca provides a thorough and detailed exoneration on every count. That’s why the prosecution now wants to include lesser charges: they know they have no case!
Kyle was kicked in the face by one rioter. Another tried to break his neck with a skateboard. A third admitted he had a handgun and was pointing it at Kyle, who shot him in the arm. They, not Kyle, were the aggressors.
It’s insulting for anyone to suggest that he was acting as a “vigilante” and patrolling with “illegally obtained guns”, neither of which appears to be the case. On the contrary, Kyle’s actions were heroic.
His father lives in Kenosha, where he worked as a lifeguard. He had been invited to help to defend a car dealership. He was not looking for trouble and each of the thugs he shot were trying to kill him.
As a former Marine Corps officer who supervised 15 DIs and 300 recruits through basic training, his performance was admirable. The attacks were imminent and deadly. His actions were reasonable.
The media and its allies must attack Kyle because his example of self-defense is inspiring. And he showed the world why an AR-15 might make a difference for the public good. He deserves our admiration.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
I imagine that you approve, as well, of Dylan Roof, a disciplined and well trained shooter defending against the impending slave revolt, or what about the determined and resourceful Steven Paddock who stood his ground against country music.
Apparently, you trained men who went into the jungles and deserts and caves of the peasant peoples of the world and took target practice on them and called it defending freedom. Not surprising that you laud Cryin’ Kyle.
We have been told, we have been sold, the idea that this sort of asymmetrical violence protects our freedom. We have lived with this lie for all of our lives. No wonder we cannot see what is laid right in front of us so plainly. And that is this; an active shooter went on a rampage, killed 2 and wounded another. Instead you are blabbering about self-defense. If only it was just you, if only! But, in fact, an enormous number of Americans are right there with you, drooling like Pavlov’s dogs, incapable of thinking their way past the insane idea that roaming far from home to take target practice on distant people is justifiable defense.
Well, when you can’t deal with the question, change the subject! Remarkable example here of someone who wants to pretend he has answers when he has no idea what he’s talking about. In relation to Dylan Roof, who is said to have shot up a church in Charleston, SC, the video of his entry at 0800 means it was shot at 8 AM, when the shooting took place around 8 PM. And the first thing the cops did when they arrested him was take him to Burger King for a Whopper!
The Las Vegas situation, where Stephen Paddock is alleged to have shot and killed 60 (by the Wiki narrative), was something else again. They used a prerecorded sound track and special visual effects to create the impression of a mass shooting. But it was a movie! Nobody died with the possible exception of the purported shooter. I have laid it out in detail in one of my presentations with Brian Ruhe, https://153news.net/watch_video.php?v=HX7MN2B91HBK
Now I don’t claim to be infallible, so if you can find something wrong, let me know. I have my email address in all but my first post here. But come to grips with the evidence! I taught logic, critical thinking, and scientific reasoning for 35 years before my retirement as a professor of philosophy in 2006. I see no indications of any of the above in the article I am critiquing or the comments that have been posted. You have to do better to understand what’s going on here.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
Your attitude IS the problem.
Glenn I. Henricksen, BS, STB, ThM, PhD
Glad you have the balls to sign your name. What are you implying? That respect for the law and evidence is wrong? If you think I have something wrong, then S-P-E-L-L I-T O-U-T. What do I have wrong and how do you know? I am open to and welcome serious criticism. Be specific.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
We don’t need vigilantes running around with AR15s. We have police – and if citizens believe the police aren’t doing an adequate job then a reasonable citizen encourages their politicians to provide better police.
Glad you rose to the occasion. He was not a “vigilante”, though you and the author here might like to portray him as such. He was a civic-minded young man who was willing to shoulder responsibilities that the Mayor had not, where he even appears to have order the Kenosha police to stand down.
The Democratic Party has been on the wrong side of a series of issues that have eroded confidence of the American people. “Defunding the Police!”, for example, was an incredibly stupid platform, where now many cities, including Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York, are reversing course.
That prominent figures such as Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, and even Nancy Pelosi were publicly encouraging the rioting, looting, and arson across the nation did not improve the party’s image. And discrediting the conscientious efforts of the jury in the Rittenhouse case damages your image.
It’s not just that you are siding with three goons with lengthy criminal records (including convictions for pedophilia, child rape, domestic abuse and burglary) but that the prosecution filed unwarranted charges, suborned perjury, and withheld evidence in violation of its obligations to judicial systems.
They were pursuing Kyle; he was not pursuing them. He was trying to evade them, but they would not let him get away and aggressively assaulted him. Joesph Rosenbaum, 39, for example, had threatened to kill him if he got him alone and ambushed him in the car lot, where Kyle was boxed in.
You might think Rosenbaum was unarmed, but more parties are killed in the US by being beaten or strangled to death than die from gun shot wounds, where the overwhelming who are shot are shot by handguns, not by rifles. And most murders in America are blacks killed by other blacks, not by whites.
Anthony Huber, 26, repeatedly assaulted Kyle with a skateboard, which was a deadly weapon. And, in case you are unaware, Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, admitted under oath that Kyle did not shoot him when his hands were up but only when he points his pistol at Kyle’s head. Do you know that?
There are five elements to self-defense, namely: (1) innocence; (2) imminence; (3) proportionality; (4) avoidance; and (5) reasonableness. The jury had to determine whether his plea of self-defense was or was not applicable to each of the five felony charged against him. They found that they did.
So the suggestion that we should not be surprised by his acquittal because the gun lobby exercises influence simply does not apply here. They took four days to ascertain whether, in each instance, Kyle was exonerated by satisfying those five criteria with respect to the charges brought against him.
There seems to be a tendency by Democrats to believe their own propaganda. Terry McAuliffe went down to defeat because he could not appreciate parents concern about what their children were being taught in the public schools, while Glenn Youngkin understood and appreciated their concerns.
All McAuliffe had to offer was (vague) allegations of racism and attacks on Donald Trump, who was not on the ballot. Indeed, one might have thought Democrats would celebrate the election of a black woman as Lt. Governor and of an Hispanic as Attorney General. But they were of the wrong party!
Americans see though the hypocrisy. I myself voted for Bill Clinton (twice) and for Barack Obama (twice), but when the choice was between a woman with a history of corruption and a popular guy who was not part of the Washington establishment, it was an easy call. Actually, a “no brainer”!
The party appears to be in denial about what happened in Virginia and New Jersey, but I guarantee that it’s going to happen again and again. And disenchantment with how Biden/Harris are handling the pandemic with mandates are not strengthening your cause. Even the Courts are rejecting them.
Preoccupation with race and gender is unAmerican and divisive. Removing statues and renaming schools who were honoring some of the greatest figures of American history are mind-boggling to those of us who understand what’s going on. And trying to take our guns is an entirely lost cause.
Didn’t you realize that, if you defund the police, there will be less police and the public will realize that, if we cannot defend ourselves, we are lost? It appears to many that Democrats have become ideologues and zealots completely disconnect from the realities of lives. You have lost your way.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
Is the problem that people have the right to self defense and to possess the means to do so, or the fact that the laws are unequally and subjectively applied so that some people do and some don’t? Do we want anyone except a few select people to have the right to defend themselves, or only a select few to have that right? On what basis is the decision made and who gets to make it?
A reasonable question, but the suppression of the Anthony Weiner laptop to keep it from harming Hillary by James Comey and of the Hunter Biden laptop to protect Joe Biden by Christopher Wray are such stupendous illustrations of bias on behalf of Democrats that no one has any doubt about who is and who is not bending the law for politics. Hint: It’s not the GOP!
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
Basic training? This was a real circumstance, with real, and devastating outcomes. How is anyone to tell who is a “good guy,” and who is a “bad guy” with a gun? In this case, either the harmed and dead citizens could be called good guys, and acting as if under threat–because they were. The initial person this adolescent shot was declared a harmless nutcase by another “good guy with a gun” prior to his encounter with Rittenhouse; some years and some experience further would likely have resulted in “Kyle” acting the same way he did By the way, I also have a Ph.D., but feel little need to add it to my name to enhance any opinions I may spout.
Look, I was an artillery officer in the Marine Corps but served as a Series Commander at USMC Recruit Depot in San Diego. I don’t quite get what you think you are talking about, but the point I was making is that I have familiarity with weapons and training. That this 17 year old could handle himself so well under those circumstances was very impressive. I don’t like smug or arrogant, where you exemplify both. You are a perfect example of one of these zealous Democrats who think they know everything and have nothing to learn. Kyle Rittenhouse set an example that (non-ideological) Americans found inspiring. You can trash him and discount what happened here at your peril. And I notice you do not give your name or your email address, which suggests you are too embarrassed to admit it. If I were in your shoes, I might do the same. You demonstrate why your party is going down.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
Glad you had the sense to vote for Clinton and Obama. Not glad that you think it is okay for 17 year olds to show up to protests with AR15s.
Don’t make this into something political. If the evidence supports acquittal then that is fine. It is justice. Don’t promote the solution is for snot nosed kids showing up at high stress environments with semi automatic weapons. A little common sense Marine.
My comments are in response to an incredibly politically slated piece suggesting why the Rittenhouse case should be viewed as political, when it was a case of self-defense. That Democrats are still trying to sell their gun control agenda when they are defunding the police and supporting riots, looting, and arson may explain why they are going to be wiped out in 2022–assuming they don’t steal the election as they did in 2020. And look at what Biden/Harris have done for American in less than a year? The border is out of control, inflation is soaring, the economy is a mess, we are energy dependent again! If you thin the American people like any of this, think again; Biden at 38% Harris at 28%. And dropping.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
Here’s an excellent video record of what happened in Kenosha that night with Kyle & Company: https://www.sovren.media/video/new-kyle-rittenhouse-footage-36.html Compare this account with the commentary published by RSN and the other comments here. Just think it through.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
What happened to the old ‘equal force’ bit? Did the dead men have guns?
Are you reading my posts or just shooting from the hip with whatever pops into your mind. I wrote:
“They were pursuing Kyle; he was not pursuing them. He was trying to evade them, but they would not let him get away and aggressively assaulted him. Joesph Rosenbaum, 39, for example, had threatened to kill him if he got him alone and ambushed him in the car lot, where Kyle was boxed in.
“You might think Rosenbaum was unarmed, but more parties are killed in the US by being beaten or strangled to death than die from gun shot wounds, where the overwhelming who are shot are shot by handguns, not by rifles. And most murders in America are blacks killed by other blacks, not by whites.
“Anthony Huber, 26, repeatedly assaulted Kyle with a skateboard, which was a deadly weapon. And, in case you are unaware, Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, admitted under oath that Kyle did not shoot him when his hands were up but only when he points his pistol at Kyle’s head. Do you know that?
“There are five elements to self-defense, namely: (1) innocence; (2) imminence; (3) proportionality; (4) avoidance; and (5) reasonableness. The jury had to determine whether his plea of self-defense was or was not applicable to each of the five felony charged against him. They found that they did.”
I just don’t get it. None of you seem to be thinking things through. You are embarrassing yourselves.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
The attitude that “self defense” justifies killing anybody you disagree with has made our country a most dangerous place to live.
This, like other recent comments, is just dumb. He was taken to court and prosecuted. If he had not acted within the law by defending himself from imminent threats to his life, which he did his best to avoid, he would have been convicted. Study the law, He did nothing wrong. But childish remarks like yours and others here which reflect a puerile approach to a serious issue are discrediting each of you.
James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.