You should expect, in the very near future, to see photos of a beaming Kyle Rittenhouse again holding court in a Wisconsin bar — surrounded by Proud Boys, white nationalists and other fascist fanboys — while flashing white power signs and wearing the same “Free as Fuck” t-shirt he wore the last time he went carousing, just hours after he’d pleaded not guilty in court.
In the coming months, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz might really follow through on his talk about giving Rittenhouse a congressional internship so that he can continue what Gaetz describes as “helping the country in additional ways,” having already killed two anti-racist protesters and wounded a third. Or maybe Madison Cawthorne and Paul Gosar will do it first.
There are too many GOP speaking gigs in Rittenhouse’s future to predict from there, including at packed CPAC events and at Republican National Conventions. Rittenhouse is basically guaranteed to win office as a Republican, and he’s already gotten glowing endorsements for Congress and the presidency from the likes of Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini and Ann Coulter, respectively. Or maybe he’ll forgo politics and become the cop he has reportedly dreamed of being since he was a little kid, which will allow him to continue killing with impunity and without the performative formality of another jury trial.
I’m rage-joking, except not really, because while my specifics might be off, there is no question that Rittenhouse’s stature as a hero among racists will continue to grow. And if you are expecting that history will judge him or some other fantastical idea, I suggest checking how things have gone for other folks who proved their racist mettle with violence. George Zimmerman, made $250,000 auctioning off the gun he used to murder a 17-year-old black child, and hands out signed bags of Skittles to people who high-five him for a job well done. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the white couple who waved war-grade guns at anti-racist protesters passing by their St. Louis home, were featured speaking guests at the 2020 RNC and showed up outside of Rittenhouse’s trial. Even garden variety racists like Crystal Clanton — who declared “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE” back in 2017 — was recently granted a distinguished position clerking for right-wing federal appeals court judge William Pryor.
That Rittenhouse’s future looks bright should surprise none of us, just like few of us were truly surprised by him getting off scot-free. Judge Bruce Schroeder — who, let the record show, has been overseeing trials longer than any other circuit jurist in Wisconsin — demonstrated a level of hostility toward the prosecution that would’ve veered into satire were the bereaved families of those killed by Rittenhouse not further harmed by it. Schroeder prohibited Rittenhouse’s victims from actually being called “victims,” declaring the term a “loaded, loaded word," but allowed them to be maligned as "arsonists" and "looters.” Rittenhouse was permitted to pull the names of jurors in his case out of a rotating tumbler, lottery-style, because Schroeder stated “people feel better when they have control."
As the homicide case against him proceeded, Rittenhouse at one point was allowed to hover “behind the seated judge...and peered over him to review evidence.” There were other clues — Schroeder’s “God Bless the USA” ringtone, his weird joke about “Asian food,” his insistence that the entire courtroom applaud a veteran who was also a defense witness. It was obvious the Rittenhouse team had a supporter working from the bench.
But this trial, and this verdict, was actually about much more than just Judge “A black, The Black, The Only Black" Schroeder. Rittenhouse chose to show up at an anti-racist protest in a state that wasn’t his home with a semi-automatic gun — a weapon manufactured solely to snuff out human life. Whatever his professed intent, his actual motive was found in that action. He murdered two people, grievously harmed another, and white Americans’ fear of black liberatory movements was held up as justification for that violence. What his trial ultimately proved beyond a reasonable doubt is that white supremacy is the only law that truly matters, the one organizing principle of American society that provides grounds for any action taken in its name.
And while it’s true that this is a greenlight for white terrorists to literally weaponize their anger in murderous ways, it was only a reminder. They’ve long understood this. (The anti-protest bills being passed at a clip by conservative legislatures — which include laws that permit people to run over protesters with their cars — around the country help further convey the message.) Rittenhouse was only 17, and already he had internalized this as his fundamental right.
Beyond that horrible message, a reiteration of what I’ve also long known, I suspect I’ll always remember the 30 seconds Rittenhouse spent sputtering and blubbering on the stand — red-faced and blinking hard, like an actor hoping to will tears to his eyes, but lacking an emotional connection to the script — and blatantly looking at the jury to see how his performance was being received.
I’ll think about how even without a single teardrop, Rittenhouse’s defenders described that scene through sympathetic eyes, but were unmoved by the recorded cries of Trayvon Martin, another teen boy, but black, desperately pleading for his life. Of how Elijah McClain sobbed and vomited as he begged the cops who killed him to let him go. Of George Floyd crying out for his mother a gut-wrenching 27 times as ex-cop Derek Chauvin knelt on his kneck and three other police accomplices impassively watched the life drain from his body. Of the 4-year-old girl who was placed in the back of a squad car with her mother, girlfriend of Philando Castile, after watching police shoot him dead. And of that little girl begging her mother to be quiet: “I don’t want you to get shooted.”
And I’ll think about how this country tells me again and again who its systems are for. And reminds me that I, and so many folks who look like me or are trying to help Black folks get free, are not among them.