Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old boy who crossed state lines to defend private property from destruction in Kenosha, Wisconsin. To do this, he brought an illegally owned rifle. He killed two people and injured a third. After the shooting, he attempted to surrender himself to the police, but they just told him to leave. Suppressing the protestors is obviously a much more important job than apprehending an active shooter.
Obviously, Rittenhouse comitted murder, and his actions should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. However, there are more important questions here: Why would a child decide that a far away town’s property is so worthy of defending that he must drive across state lines to do it? Why would he bring a gun to do this? What was so important to him about protecting buildings that he would use deadly force to do so?
To answer these questions, we need to take a closer look into who this boy is and where his motivations came from. Rittenhouse is a supporter of Trump and has often expressed support for the Blue Lives Matter movement on social media. These ideological forces have created a dire outlook on American security in recent months. Their message to people like Rittenhouse is that America is ostensibly under attack by antifa and will fall into anarchy if no one steps in to oppose them. Rittenhouse is also a high school dropout. His one prospect for a decent future, both financially and morally, was to become a police officer. Cops were always portrayed to him as heroes and brave warriors, so he naturally aspired to become one.
Rittenhouse felt like he could be a brave defender of America. After the murders, many prominent right-wing entertainers went out of their way to paint him as this defender. Laura Ingraham described Rittenhouse as a “law-abiding American” trying to “protect their property.” President Trump refused to condemn Rittenhouse’s actions and called them self defense. The Conservative media has no problem with justifying murder to maintain their view of an America collapsing under violent anarchist rioters.
The right wing has to do this because they know their supporters not only see no fault in Rittenhouse’s actions, they wish they could have done them themselves. Since they project all of their problems with America onto these protestors, violence is absolutely justified to quell them. To the right wing, vigilante justice and armed civilian militias are the solution to chaos and destruction, even though they really only add more of it. An honest consideration of protesters’ grievances and how they could be addressed is completely off the table.
By drawing these connections, I am in no way trying to excuse Rittenhouse’s actions or shift the blame away from him. I also don’t claim to know exactly what was going through his head when he travelled to Kenosha with a rifle. However, it’s impossible not to see his actions through the lens of the torrential right-wing propaganda to which he was subject. Not only does the continuation of this rhetoric risk similar incidents in the future, it perpetuates a dangerous view of the world. Rioting is a symptom, not a root issue. If you are upset with the chaos in America, you should be trying to fix what ultimately causes the chaos. Violently suppressing chaotic political movements can only lead to more chaos.