For $30, you can buy a white T-shirt on eBay that says “Don’t make me RITTENHOUSE your ass!!!” on the back, from a seller named Gabby in Anson, Texas. The sleeves are adorned with stencilled semi-automatic rifles, a skull and “2A,” for the Second Amendment. It’s one of dozens of shirts just like it. When 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse used a semi-automatic rifle that had allegedly been purchased illegally to shoot and kill two men and wound a third during Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last August, he became a hero to a large swathe of the right-wing, someone to wear your support for on your chest, or between your shoulder blades. There are now corners of the internet full of merchandise in his honor . . . . The most common slogan, across dozens of shirts and multiple sites, is simple: Free Kyle.
Last month Rittenhouse, who has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, was released from jail after posting his $2 million bail, much of it raised through crowdfunding by his supporters. More than 13,000 donors donated nearly $600,000 for his legal defense on GiveSendGo, which bills itself as the “#1 Christian Free Crowdfunding Site.”
Months of mythmaking had led to this point. His insistence that he was acting in self-defense, and his self-appointed mission to cross state lines from Illinois to “protect” Kenosha businesses, as he told a Daily Caller reporter that night, was almost immediately taken up by figures across the right. Among Rittenhouse’s many defenders were President Donald Trump, who claimed the shooter “would have been killed”; Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie, who told a West Virginia radio station that Rittenhouse had shown “incredible self-restraint,” and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. . . . it would seem, with Rittenhouse, that the recruits into a deadly culture war now extend to a pool of civilian foot-soldiers for white supremacy — no matter how young, or how far outside the law.
A more recent move to embrace vigilante violence, however, suggests a self-deputization en masse. The right-wing is no longer content to leave the power of violence in the hands of the state, no matter how eagerly and often that power is used. This narrative was seeded in popular right-wing support for George Zimmerman, who killed unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. He then later sold the gun he used in an online auction for a quarter-million dollars.
There’s a strong parallel between support for Zimmerman and Rittenhouse, rooted deep in American racism — Zimmerman was acquitted of killing a Black teen outright, while Rittenhouse set out to quell an uprising for Black rights. Zimmerman’s actions were also framed as self-defense — despite the fact that, against the advice of a 911 dispatcher, he stalked Martin through his neighborhood, gun at the ready.
By contrast, Rittenhouse’s actions feel more warlike, part of an offensive charge: crossing state lines into a sea of people, gun drawn, a soldier entering enemy territory. The right-wing mindset in the era of Rittenhouse has ripened into one of total war, propped up by the vocal support of key figures in the Republican Party and silence in the remainder of its upper echelons.
In the minds of those who laud a gun-wielding teenage killer, who perhaps harbor arsenals and fantasies of their own, a decayed, degenerate social order can only be restored with shed blood. There is “order” in the act of killing, as long as the killer is white and the victim is a perceived political enemy. In the right-wing authoritarian imagination, “order” does not equate with justice, nor with the equal application of the law. It means enforcing a hierarchy of racial caste, of gender-based submission, of a Christian-centric polity. There is laudability in violence, even extrajudicial violence, that works to achieve these ends.
The embrace of Rittenhouse on the right has played out in a kind of parallel to the results of the 2020 presidential election. You could call it evidence of an epistemological crisis — if killing is morally just when it is done to maintain “order,” to thwart one’s political opponents, what else can be justified under that framework?
As the path to a Trump victory becomes vanishingly narrow, the rhetoric and behavior of the president’s supporters has become more threatening. A member of Trump’s legal team called for the official in charge of the 2020 election’s cybersecurity to be “taken out at dawn and shot.” . . . . After certifying the results of the 2020 election, Michigan’s secretary of state had armed protesters surround her home. Such bile shows no signs of dissipating. The Proud Boys, having successfully swept through D.C. in November with little opposition, plan to return later this week.
A retreat into mirrored realities — in which a killer is a hero, an election was compromised — happens in pieces. It happens in viewers’ descent from Fox News to Newsmax to One America News Network, searching for the dream of a Trumpian United States. It happens in the growing spread of militia groups, whose recruitment has ballooned in recent weeks, and in the armed protests moving through city streets, anyone in the way serving as potential collateral damage.
Cornered by the loss of an election, and with it a figurehead in which tens of millions have invested much of their identities, the right has been consumed by a bunker paranoia. A retrenchment into an apocalyptic worldview and a readiness to defend its tenets is happening all around us. Such a world needs people like Kyle Rittenhouse to keep itself spinning.
Sunday, December 13, 2020
The Right Wants the Culture War to Turn Deadly
New York Magazine looks at the frightening situation. Here are excerpt: