Only in America.
There are certainly other countries where a young man known to hang out with a fascist gang but not a member of any “well-regulated militia” could drive 20 miles across state lines in the direction of unrest, walk around in the midst of it openly carrying a AR-15-style rifle, end up shooting and killing other humans, and walk away a-ok.
Yet, much like those with whom we compare these days in world health-care system rankings or our use of the death penalty, they’re not countries the world’s oldest sorta-still-going democracy should be proud to join on those lists. (“Hey, what’s the problem? We’re handling these things just like Lithuania and Colombia!”).
The point is that what happened with Kyle Rittenhouse doesn’t happen in any other high-income liberal democracy—and one that has gotten quite drunk on referring to itself as the leader of the free world and a beacon of opportunity might really wanna, at this point, check itself before it wrecks itself.
By the end of the trial, Strom Thurmondesque Judge Bruce Schroeder only surprised me by not offering Kyle a horsey ride on his knee and free NRA lifetime membership. If Schroeder seemed like a cartoon character out of Bugs Bunny or an extra from The Dukes of Hazzard, that’s because it’s pretty much what he is.
It hasn’t stopped him from getting elected again and again and again to be a judge in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There’s a reason Innocence Projects across the land have freed thousands of wrongly convicted men and women. You saw just a little bit of it on live TV this past week.
I will mention one ruling that was germane not only to this trial, but to this whole dreadful episode, and by that I don’t mean just Kyle Rittenhouse. I mean the past 20 years of right-wing zealots and death profiteers’ attacking gun laws in this country to where they’re now beyond recognition if one applies any reason to their intent. In this case, Judge Schroeder used what can only be called a purposeful misinterpretation to let Kyle Rittenhouse skate on a gun charge.
Before the creation of the military style assault weapon in the mid 20th century, rifles and shotguns were the “long guns” (since our founding) our gun laws were meant to regulate. They were for hunting, and far less lethal than handguns. Kyle Rittenhouse’s possession of an assault rifle, far more lethal than a handgun, should have meant stricter laws meant to curb gun violence would be applied. A 17-year-old Rittenhouse was clearly not meant to possess a weapon of war.
Yet, Schroeder chose to apply a law created with a wholly different intent—to allow kids to hunt certain animals during the proper season with their families—to absolve Rittenhouse of illegally carrying a firearm explicitly created to hunt a very different species: Humans.
Whatever happened on the street that led Rittenhouse to shoot and kill other human beings just doesn’t matter. Because, in every functioning democracy, a 17 year old choosing to place himself there with a weapon meant to kill would be considered outrageous, as it is, and he would’ve gone to prison for it. He created the confrontation by being there with that weapon, and then claimed self defense when it didn’t—or perhaps did—go the way he planned.
The very idea of self defense here is full of more bullshit than the Dutton Yellowstone Ranch.
But over the past 20 years, even before the GOP became a wholly owned subsidiary of a racist real-estate debtor, the NRA was paving the way for white nationalism—encouraging vigilante violence, launching scurrilous attacks on law enforcement and propagandizing with blatantly racist material. They’ve put their every waking hour into creating an America where Kyle Rittenhouse could claim self defense even when being somewhere he shouldn’t be, with a weapon he should never possess.
Through Stand Your Ground Laws, Castle Laws and the like, they’ve worked to transform us from a responsible citizenry where people retreated or avoided these situations when at all possible to a country where as long as you’re white, there’s no culpability as long as you can claim to have had an iota of an inkling that perhaps someone might have harmed you had you not shot them first. Right-wing media, Donald Trump, and a thousand baby Trumps have finished the job the NRA started. And so we’re here.
And the signal this trial sends—much like the trial of George Zimmerman and those of numerous cops who shot first and asked questions later in recent years including the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back, which led to the protest where Rittenhouse decided his presence was necessary—is that lives matter. White lives, that is.
We’ve now lost our guaranteed First Amendment right to peacefully assemble to a half-cocked, cocaine-cowboy version of the Second Amendment. Mix that together with a witch’s brew of right-wing propaganda and white power, and the result is that any time you march for your rights you have to accept that any dimestore Kyle Rittenhouse can point a weapon of war at you and pull the trigger.
Only in America.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to remove a phrase that said Rittenhouse crossed state lines while “toting a gun illegally.”