Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges. Despite killing two people and injuring a third, the jury found he acted in self-defense. It’s hard to overstate just how bad this precedent is in the face of a conservative movement increasingly willing to embrace its most violent fringe. In fact that violent fringe has become the mainstream of the party as evidenced by the embrace Kyle Rittenhouse has received from conservative figures and conservative media.
Who this emboldens in the future, in an age of protest and counter protest, is the truly important question. Who else will show up at protests with an AR-15? Ostensibly there to keep the peace and protect property? Maybe even with the plausible deniability of acting as a medic. Kyle Rittenhouse has provided a framework for conservatives to follow if they want to live out their parapolice fantasies, up to the point of gunning people down in the street, and get away with it.
Kyle Rittenhouse is a Conservative Hero
It was clear the conservative movement embraced what happened almost from the moment Kyle Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, when Rittenhouse was easily able to crowdfund his $2 million dollar bail. As the trial approached and then throughout conservative politicians and media figures were quick to embrace Kyle Rittenhouse, painting a narrative of a civic-minded young man who was stepping up and filling in for law enforcement as lawless rioters and looters ransacked the city. Obviously that’s far from the truth but that’s the narrative that has given Kyle Rittenhouse folk hero status for some on the right.
Conservative politicians like Madison Cawthorn and Matt Gaetz have literally offered Rittenhouse jobs. Far right social media bubbles are abuzz with posts of victory, many seeing this as a direct invitation to show up and “police” protests themselves. The right knows for sure what was already obvious before, the criminal system will uphold white supremacy and property ownership above all else. Those acting in furtherance of those systems have many legal protections while doing so. That’s true of police officers gunning down Jacob Blake, causing the protests which Kyle Rittenhouse played cop at to begin with. And it’s true of Kyle Rittenhouse himself who was playing the same role but had to wait until the end of his trial for the state to sanction it.
That is the effect of this verdict though. Kyle Rittenhouse was given after the fact approval to kill people. There are all sorts of complaints to be had with the trial and the process that got us here, but now that we’re here the most important question is how this influences people in the future and whether or not this makes similar killings more likely. The answer is almost certainly yes, it does. Especially given the conservatives embrace of Rittenhouse’s actions and the separate embrace of a narrative that paints all protests as lawless riots and all protestors as potential looters. I’ve defended actual riots and looting in the past, but the fact is the conservative movement paints almost all action in the streets as de facto rioting and looting. Which means in their mind every protest needs policing.
Both the police and random conservatives with guns now have free range to protect themselves or even worse property, with deadly force. Kyle Rittenhouse’s case makes it clear that violence against protestors is incredibly easy to justify in the eyes of the law. It seems almost inevitable that another Rittenhouse like situation will lead to more needless death, maybe even in response to his verdict, which will surely spark protest. Hopefully not, but that is the situation this precedent invites.