The right-wing narrative around Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Illinois teen who shot three people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August—two fatally—has constructed an image of a crowd of violent rioters threatening a frightened boy who was only motivated by patriotic values and defended himself rightfully. Even the Department of Homeland Security has pushed this narrative by directing public comments by its officials to follow this storyline with prearranged talking points.
However, a thorough and balanced investigation of the tragedy by Robert Klemko and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post reveals the truth, which as always is far more complex and troubling in what it reveals about the rush to condemn the victims and exonerate Rittenhouse: The teenager had no business carrying a semiautomatic rifle in Kenosha, and only after he had shot and killed two people was he ever threatened with lethal force.
The ardent defense of Rittenhouse—who faces murder charges in the shootings—has been generated and widely spread on both mainstream right-wing media such as Fox News, as well as on right-wing social media, where the claim that he acted purely in self-defense is a foregone conclusion. Trump himself has reflected this narrative in his public remarks.
“That was an interesting situation,” he told a rally in Kenosha. “You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been—probably would have been killed, but it’s under investigation."
The praise for Rittenhouse has become fulsome—and, as Shane Burley at NBC News points out, it’s become an official GOP talking point, with consequences for the 2020 election. In Waukesha County, Wisconsin, a gathering of Republicans gave his mother a standing ovation. At Arizona State University in Tempe, a Republican student group held a fundraiser for his legal defense. Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky praised Rittenhouse: “He also exhibited incredible restraint and presence and situational awareness. He didn’t empty a magazine into a crowd. There were people around him who could have caused him harm, but as soon as they showed any sign of retreat or nonaggression, he did not shoot them. He exhibited more restraint than a lot of the police videos I’ve seen.”
“He’s a patriot, he was protecting people," said a Trump supporter who attended the rally in Kenosha on September 1. "The people out there are trying to make him look bad. He shot some people—that’s bad. He killed two people, that’s bad, I understand that. But that’s our right as American people, to protect ourselves, right?”
NBC News’ Julia Ainsley reported late last week that DHS officials were given talking points instructing them to support this narrative in their public comments, notably the claim that Rittenhouse "took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners."
Wisconsin law prohibits people younger than 18 from carrying semiautomatic rifles or having them transferred to them. Moreover, not only was Rittenhouse not from Kenosha and knew none of the businessmen there whose property he ostensibly was protecting, but according to the complaint filed by Kenosha County prosecutors in the case, the gun used by Rittenhouse was not his own but had been obtained from an acquaintance in Wisconsin.
The DHS document suggests that department officials note that Rittenhouse "took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners." If officials are asked about Rittenhouse, it recommends they first decline comment on an ongoing investigation, with the addendum that “what I will say is that Rittenhouse, just like everyone else in America, is innocent until proven guilty and deserves a fair trial based on all the facts, not just the ones that support a certain narrative. This is why we try the accused in the court of law, not the star chamber of public opinion.”
Other talking points:
- "Kyle was seen being chased and attacked by rioters before allegedly shooting three of them, killing two."
- "Subsequent video has emerged reportedly showing that there were 'multiple gunmen' involved, which would lend more credence to the self-defense claims."
The purpose of this simplistic—and factually wrong or distorted—narrative is to promote the larger right-wing narrative creating a bogeyman of a supposed “violent left” comprised of Black Lives Matter and antifa, while erasing the reality of a growing army of violent right-wing thugs directing their heavily armed ire at these concocted enemies. And it falls apart in the context of the reality of the tragedy—with its complications and nuances, along with the cold hard facts of Rittenhouse’s rampage—as the Washington Post piece explores in sobering detail.
The first reality check involves Rittenhouse’s first victim, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, widely reviled on right-wing social media—including the Twitter account of pseudo-journalist Andy Ngo, who immediately broadcast his prison record and status as a sex offender—as apparently worthy of death because of his long prison record and his convictions at age 18 for molesting children.
However, Rosenbaum was not connected in any way to either Black Lives Matter or antifa. In reality, he was a mentally ill man who had only been released two hours beforehand from the hospital on mental-health orders after a suicide attempt. No one has any clear idea why he wandered over to the protest and began harassing militia members, including Rittenhouse, and then followed him down the street, shouting.
Nor did Rosenbaum hurl a Molotov cocktail at Rittenhouse, as the latter’s defenders initially claimed. In fact, as their confrontation reached its climax, Rosenbaum had thrown a clear plastic bag containing a deodorant stick, underwear and socks at Rittenhouse, missing him, and then reached for his gun in an attempt to disarm him. Rittenhouse responded by shooting him three times, killing him.
The second victim, Anthony Huber, 26, similarly had no connections to BLM or antifa, and was attending only his second protest. When Rittenhouse stumbled and fell to the ground as he was fleeing the scene of the first shooting, Huber tried to disarm him by using his skateboard as a weapon, swinging at Rittenhouse’s shoulder while reaching for the gun. However, Rittenhouse was able to recover first and shot him with a single lethal round to the chest.
The only victim who posed a lethal threat to Rittenhouse was the third man, 26-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz, who had participated in multiple protests and was carrying both a medic’s kit and a handgun—which he had out as he was approaching Rittenhouse still on the ground and fending off Huber. Rittenhouse turned to Grosskreutz and shot him in the right arm.
There was nothing heroic about Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions that night, no matter how desperate the American right has become to spin its eliminationist narrative, one justifying the murder of protesters and leftists. This is a story the right keeps telling in one new version after the other, and will no doubt keep doing so as the body count piles up.
Posted with permission from Daily Kos.