There are a lot of pro-gun people who support Kyle Rittenhouse. After all, we saw the video. We saw what he was up against. From someone in a violent mob trying to take his rifle–something I guarantee you would make you fear for your life–to multiple attackers coming after him, including at least one with a firearm, it’s not difficult to see that the kid was defending himself.
Yet there are a ton of people who don’t see it that way.
Honestly, that’s fair. While I think they’re wrong, people are free to make up their own minds.
What they’re not entitled to, though, are their own facts. That includes making up crap about what the support for Rittenhouse is really about.
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: T-shirts adorned with drawn portraits of him pointing his rifle with slogans like “Don’t Tread On Me” and “I Stand With Rittenhouse.” A photo of the teen in a Captain America mask as “Captain Rittenhouse.” 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.” “Kyle Rittenhouse just defended himself from a brutal attack by multiple members of the far-leftist group ANTIFA — the experience was undoubtedly a brutal one, as he was forced to take two lives to defend his own,” the page reads. “Let’s give back to someone who bravely tried to defend his community.” 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, who said the shooting happened because authorities had stood back and “let Kenosha burn.” The right-wing media apparatus has made heroes of killers before — cops being the primary beneficiaries — creating the figures they need to sustain the notion of a nation under siege. But 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. Still, Zimmerman, his supporters, and the jury saw what he did as “standing his ground” — making him into the neighborhood watchman, the beat cop, defending one’s home turf from a dangerous other, encountered by chance, turned by a malevolent imagination into a looming threat. 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.
For all the talk about the right wanting to make the culture war deadly–it’s right in the headline, after all–they spend a lot of time vilifying people who acted in self-defense.
They completely misrepresent both Zimmerman and Rittenhouse because, frankly, that’s what sells to their readers. The left doesn’t want to hear that Rittenhouse likely had no choice except shoot or be killed. They still don’t want to hear that about Zimmerman, even going so far as to play the “stand your ground” canard that wasn’t even brought up during Zimmerman’s trial.
While claiming the right wants to turn the culture war deadly, they forget the people killed during riots. That “uprising for Black rights” had a body count as well, to say nothing of the millions of dollars in damage and destroyed livelihoods. That “uprising for Black rights” was destroying property and business, something that wasn’t even remotely necessary to get a point across.
People don’t support Rittenhouse because he supposedly gunned down innocent protestors. They support him because they know if they were in his shoes, they’d have acted similarly. That’s it.
Now, a 17-year-old kid is on trial for murder and we all know that it could be us.