The overlapping trials in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Brunswick, Georgia invited a lot of comparisons between the two. And to be fair, there were some similarities between Kyle Rittenhouse and the three men accused (and convicted) of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. In both cases the defendants said that they were acting in self-defense. Both cases involved the shooting of unarmed individuals (though in Rittenhouse’s case there was also the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz, who had a pistol in his hand and had pointed it at the teen when he was shot).
I believe another similarity between the two cases is that the jury reached the proper conclusion based on the evidence presented. To many on the Left, however, the Rittenhouse verdict is an example of injustice in the justice system, while the murder convictions of Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan was an example of the system working as it should.
One big difference between the two cases, however, was the fact that there were a lot of voices on the Right expressing sympathy and support for Kyle Rittenhouse, while support for the McMichaels was a lot harder to find. College professor Elwood Watson thinks he knows why that was the case.
Admittedly, while the Rittenhouse trial left open the argument for self defense as it related to the fracas that occurred that summer knight in Kenosha, the Arbery trial left no such degree of ambiguity. The video clearly depicted three crazed, unhinged vigilantes who took it upon themselves to chase, run down and aggressively shoot a young Black man who was simply out for a Sunday afternoon jog. Their racial profiling cost him his life. As a result, it would be difficult for all but the most hardcore bigot to justify such sadistic antics.
Watson could have stopped right there, because I think that is at least close to accurately explaining why most on the Right, including many Second Amendment supporters like myself, weren’t upset about the convictions in the Arbery case. Just as the evidence led us to conclude that Kyle Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense, the evidence in the Arbery case pointed to the idea that the McMichaels and Bryan were not doing so, and were in fact the initial aggressors.
But Watson thinks there was another, more nefarious reason why the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery weren’t adopted as folk heroes by the Right.
Moreover, the father-son duo of Gregory and Travis McMichael, along with their dastardly neighbor, William Bryan, were hardly telegenic. All three men looked unkempt, were overweight, had the charisma of a teaspoon and looked drably and dumpy. Remember when the defense attorney stated he wanted more “bubbas and Joe six packs” on the jury? The reason was obvious. These men epitomized such a less than stellar image.
On the contrary, Rittenhouse, with his preppy suits, well groomed, clean cut image (while he was on trial at least) was able to successfully play to the sensibilities of white conservatives, particularly those in higher tax brackets. When Rittenhouse broke down on the stand midway through the trial huffing, puffing, and gasping for air as tears poured down his clean shaven face, he came across to many of his supporters as someone who could easily be their son, nephew, or other relative.
No offense to Watson, but this argument doesn’t make any sense to me. At all. I mean, as a white, rural, gun-loving, overweight American who isn’t exactly known for his fashion sense, I should have been among the biggest supporters of the three defendants in the Arbery killing.. at least if I was basing my opinion on appearances. And yet from the moment Arbery’s death made national headlines, I was not on board with the self-defense arguments of the McMichaels and Bryan. Neither were most gun owners I know. But Watson is insistent that the appearance of the defendants in both trials played a major role in how conservatives viewed the two cases.
Rittenhouse personified the boy next door who was being persecuted, making it easy for defenders to line up behind him, angered by their perception of an unjust situation. He became the poster boy for White empathy.
The defendants in the Arbery trial elicited no such level of empathy. They were viewed as menacing, overbearing, arrogant culprits who took it upon themselves to chase down a young Black man and act as judge, jury and executioner. They represented vigilantism at its worst.
This argument just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. After all, for more than a year we heard a steady stream of commentary from the Left that Rittenhouse was a vigilante, a white supremacist, a racist militia member who went to Kenosha last August with the intention of inflicting violence on protesters. And yet, according to Watson the reason why the Right didn’t buy in to the Left’s narrative is because he was like the boy next door? Give me a break.
The reason why the Right viewed these defendants differently is because of the difference in their cases. In the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the evidence supported his claim of self-defense. In the case of the McMichaels and Bryan, the evidence supported the prosecution’s claim of murder. It’s pretty simple, but the facts don’t give Watson much of an opportunity to smear conservatives, so he has to make up a motive for why the McMichaels and Bryan weren’t viewed as sympathetically as Kyle Rittenhouse instead. Consider me less than impressed by Watson’s argument.. and his conclusions.