Policing in America, Politics, Race in America, Second Amendment, Trump

Rittenhouse I: A false patriot

If I needed an example of the cartoonish absurdity to which many hard-line conservatives have descended, perhaps no better examples exist than the effusive endorsements some of them have given to teenage shooter Kyle Rittenhouse. With impossibly straight faces, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Tucker Carlson praised the amateur, untrained, unskilled, self-appointed policeman, lauding his oafishly deadly actions as those of a vaunted patriot.

The gulf between the trio’s heartfelt statements of affirmation — Coulter actually gushed that she wanted Rittenhouse to be her president — and the reality that Rittenhouse acted as a dangerous fool is almost imponderable. Do they not realize how disconnected such support appears? How forced and artificial? How utterly unreal? Or, let’s face it, how ridiculous?

Can a person’s desire to score political points completely displace his or her basic common sense and even dignity? I know the answer and I don’t like it.

Let’s get one thing straight: Kyle Rittenhouse is a moron. This is not to say that — his current legal and moral state notwithstanding — Rittenhouse might somehow, some day turn out to be a fine and moral man. I do not care what Rittenhouse might one day become but right now, Rittenhouse is just a stupid kid who inserted himself into a situation that was way over his head. The adults who encouraged him to do this must share some of the blame for Rittenhouse’s choices.

The nation’s attention went to Kenosha, Wisconsin back in August 2020 when Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. Blake, a Black man, reportedly refused to drop a knife he was holding as he reached into an automobile. The officer’s actions were later cleared by the district attorney and Blake suffered a life-altering paralysis as a result of the shooting. But in the meantime, with the shooting occurring just months after the killing of George Floyd in neighboring Minnesota, protests erupted in Kenosha.

Fifteen miles away in Antioch, Illinois, Kyle Rittenhouse headed to Kenosha to join the action. The 17-year-old’s AR-15-style assault rifle was stored in Kenosha because, as an under-age Illinois resident, Rittenhouse did not have the necessary state firearm owner identification card. In Kenosha, Rittenhouse met up with his 19-year-old friend, Dominick Black, who had illegally purchased the rifle for Rittenhouse three months earlier. Conveniently, Black had been storing the weapon for his younger friend since, after all, it was illegal for Rittenhouse to buy the gun. Even more conveniently, Black claims the owner of a Kenosha automobile dealership requested his armed presence to guard the business from looters and marauders. Naturally, the owner of the dealership denies ever making that request.

Violating curfew and heavily armed, the two white teenagers set out to save Kenosha.

During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, many business owners took up arms to defend their property from looters. While not an ideal situation, such extreme action could be understandable in extreme crises. In Kenosha, the militia organizer who used social media to summon his armed minions admits no business owners asked him or his people to step in to defend property. Kevin Mathewson, administrator of a Facebook group called the Kenosha Guard, summoned a bunch of men — overwhelmingly white — to take up arms and defend Kenosha from protesters.

Mathewson’s trumpeting brought a whole lot of heavily armed white guys together but nobody bothered to organize the “militiamen” into groups or implement a command structure or any sort of organization — who needs order when you have a bunch of gung-ho patriots exercising their Second Amendment rights by bearing all kinds of arms?

Ryan Balch of Milwaukee, a military veteran who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, joined the motley group. Balch has a well-documented history of supporting white supremacist people and causes, which he now vehemently denies. Paradoxically, the 31-year-old Balch is one of the few people captured on tape seeming to urge a little restraint.

But the ragtag gang now includes the heavily armed teenagers, Rittenhouse and Black, who have no military training, no combat experience, no adult maturity — they hold semi-automatic weapons with all the disciplined restraint you might expect from two teenage males. By any sane measure, this is a situation just begging to become a disaster.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told NBC News that armed citizens were patrolling the streets during the unrest, some going so far as to ask the sheriff to deputize them.

“Oh, hell, no,” Beth said was his initial reaction. If he did that, noted Beth, they become a liability to the sheriff himself, to Kenosha county and to the state of Wisconsin. “There’s no way I would deputize people,” said Beth.

Beth told NBC that such groups do not help law enforcement. “Part of the problem with this group is they create confrontation,” said Beth.

A handful of militia members claim they were deputized and that they were working in concert with the police. While some law enforcement officers were captured on video thanking militia members and even offering them water, I remain astonished that anyone with even the dullest level of intelligence could think it was a good idea to have white teenagers with high-powered rifles and no training patrolling a heated racial demonstration.

Predictably, bad stuff happened.

Now Rittenhouse faces six criminal counts including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. The homicide charges are equivalent to murder charges in other states — they carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Rittenhouse’s trial starts today.

If you look closely at any protest gathering or riot mob, it’s easy to find people who just shouldn’t be there, for any number of reasons. People like Rittenhouse. People like Rittenhouse’s first victim — oops, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder doesn’t like that word. Because Rittenhouse is claiming self-defense, said Schroeder, the men Rittenhouse shot should not be referred to as victims but instead as “complaining witnesses” or “decedents,” depending on whether the potential victim is alive or dead. Schroeder said the jury can decide who is a victim.

Schroeder rightly claims victim is a loaded word but he approved the terms arsonist, looter and rioter — this bizarre disconnect will clearly support a defensive strategy that puts the victims on trial with Rittenhouse giving them exactly what they deserved. Why a long-serving jurist like Schroeder gives a nod like this to the amateur teenage policeman eludes me.

Back to Rittenhouse’s first target, Joseph Rosenbaum. The 36-year-old Rosenbaum was another person who probably shouldn’t have participated in the protest. According to the Washington Post, Rosenbaum had just been released from a Milwaukee hospital after his second suicide attempt in two months. He was deposited on the streets of Kenosha, where he found himself in the middle of the demonstration — he even carried the plastic bag in which the hospital had placed his belongings. A sex offender with bipolar disorder, Rosenbaum was reportedly homeless and deeply depressed. He’d spent much of his adult life in prison. He had nowhere to go.

About 15 minutes after police praised the militiamen and gave them water, various videos show a group of protesters rushing toward Rittenhouse, who ran from them. An unknown gunman fired a single shot into the air for unknown reasons. The sound of the shot caused Rittenhouse to turn, and he saw the unarmed Rosenbaum lunging toward him. Rosenbaum tried to throw the hospital bag at Rittenhouse but Rittenhouse fired four shots, appearing to shoot into Rosenbaum’s head. Rosenbaum dropped, dead.

Evidently panicking, Rittenhouse attempted to make a call on his cell phone as he fled the scene of the killing. Several people followed him, shouting for him to stop, and telling police he was the shooter. Moments later, Rittenhouse stumbled, falling to the ground. He turned as his pursuers approached, firing at least four shots into them as 26-year-old Anthony Huber hit Rittenhouse’s shoulder with his skateboard. Huber was the next to fall from Rittenhouse’s fatal fire. I know Rittenhouse’s attorneys will push the self-defense narrative but an AR-15 versus a skateboard or a plastic bag with hospital stuff in it just seems lopsided to me.

Rittenhouse’s third target was armed. Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, had been functioning as a field medic during the demonstration but had chased Rittenhouse after Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum. Grosskreutz had drawn his sidearm to defend against Rittenhouse but he exercised more restraint than the teenager, never firing — but, then, Rittenhouse shot him in the right arm, anyway, so the defense will have a bit of fun with that detail.

Kyle Rittenhouse is not a hero. He is not a savior. He’s not even a patriot who stood up for a noble cause — a patriot could prioritize the needs of his country over his own desires, recognizing that inserting himself into an already volatile and unstable situation could not be properly serving his country. Kyle Rittenhouse is just a stupid kid who illegally and clumsily barged into a chaotic situation that wasn’t his battle to fight. He had no business in Kenosha. He made a bad situation worse when his inexperience and immaturity combined to react in what should’ve been a pathetically predictable manner.

Even worse than Rittenhouse’s self-imposed legal limbo is the artificial martyrdom with which quasi-intelligent right-side leaders have mantled him. Once again, the Republican Party has adopted a moral mess as a cause célèbre, painting a train wreck as both a grievance and a tragic, heroic figure.

None of them — not even people as smart as Michelle Malkin — can see the dark absurdity of their cartoonish position.

Oh, how far the once-G.O.P. has fallen.

Photocomposite © Bermix Studio via Unsplash; Hubert de Thé via Pixabay