Yesterday began the jury selection in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse came to prominence last year when on August 25th he went to Kenosha during the Black Lives Matter riots that began after the police shooting of Jacob Blake when he resisted arrest. Although Rittenhouse lived in neighboring Antioch, Illinois, he worked and was well-acquainted with Kenosha. So armed with a first-aid kit and an AR-15-style rifle he went there “to help protect property from the riots, looting, and arson.”
He became involved in an altercation with some rioters who were attempting to burn down a used car lot, and Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum when Rosenbaum approached Rittenhouse from behind and allegedly tried to grab his rifle. Rittenhouse immediately called the police, but a crowd gathered around and fearing for his life, he ran away from the scene but towards the police. With a crowd chasing him, he tripped and fell, and was struck by Anthony Huber with a skateboard. Rittenhouse shot him through the chest, and when Gaige Grosskreutz, an "off-duty" paramedic (apparently the first one I've heard of packing heat), approached the now-sitting Rittenhouse with a pistol, Rittenhouse shot him and essentially obliterated his forearm.
Rittenhouse has been charged with three first-degree felonies of intentional homicide, reckless homicide, and attempted intentional homicide, as well as two counts of reckless endangerment and a misdemeanor charge of weapons possession by a minor. He has pleaded not-guilty and is claiming self-defense, while the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, is expected to make the case that Rittenhouse was an unsupervised teenager, who “traveled to Kenosha seeking out conflict.”
A Conflict of Worldviews Where We Can’t Handle the Truth
The Rittenhouse trial will no doubt reopen all of the ideological animosities and recriminations that caused Kenosha to, both metaphorically and literally, go up in flames. The media maelstrom that turned the Kenosha riots (which was one of many that happened last year) into another flashpoint in the ongoing culture wars, will once again go into overdrive to paint Ritenhouse as a MAGA, J6 white-supremacist (as Joe Biden called him last year) who checks all of the right boxes of the race-tinted fantasies they have about America.
The event and now the trial perfectly encapsulates the inverted world we live in, where there exists a continuous rift between what we see happening and what we are told is happening. And rarely do these two points of view coincide with each other. This was clearly seen in the pre-trial hearings when Binger tried to “frame the argument” upon which the whole trial will be debated, by quibbling with the presiding judge, Bruce Schroeder, on whether the men shot by Rittenhouse could be referred to as “victims.” Binger did himself no favors in making his case however, when for some strange reason he blurted out that they were in fact “victims" because they were just engaged in arson and “protesting” when Rittenhouse shot them. The judge would have none of it.
And yet this is what we are going to be inundated with for the next two weeks as the trial will once again, as in the Derek Chauvin trial, regress into a conflict not of the facts of the case but of competing worldviews. Because apparently when it comes to the truth in these matters, we are living in a fictional storyline where we can’t handle the truth. Case in point, right now you can read a very thorough breakdown of the event, the facts surrounding the case, the official court documents, and yes even an analysis of Rittenhouse’s chances of being acquitted or convicted over at the website Legal Insurrection. Meanwhile, over at CNN, little is said of the event or the known facts of the case, and even less about Rittenhouse. But you will find three very lengthy and practically fawning eulogies on the three people who were shot by Rittenhouse that coyly glosses over their extensive criminal histories and their actions on the night in question.
From a legal standpoint Rittenhouse has a strong case going for him. While the riots and looting of last year encouraged a lot of bored and aimless youths to jump on the riot bandwagon for a little excitement, it should not come as a surprise that there would be idealistic youths that would also rise to the occasion but in support of the police and their communities. In fact, in videos taken of Rittenhouse before night fell, he can be seen talking with police officers, who thanked him for being there. Furthermore, he was attempting to put out a fire when he was first confronted by Rosenbaum, so it was clear that he was not part of the mayhem in Kenosha that went on that night.
Lastly, while no information has surfaced about Rittenhouse having any formal crisis or combat training, there is one issue that seems to have been left out of all discussions about this case and that is how accurate and careful Rittenhouse was with his rifle. Although, one of the charges against him is First Degree Reckless Endangerment, it was based only on the testimony of a reporter who briefly interviewed Rittenhouse. According to the reporter, Richard McGinnis, he told police “that he did not think that Kyle was handing his rifle safely.” It is not known what McGinnis meant by his comment or whether he was knowledgeable enough about firearm safety to accurately assess the situation. Nevertheless, it is remarkable at how, unlike the truly reckless and endangering shooting that is normally associated with urban gang conflicts, Rittenhouse exercised an extreme degree of self-control when it came to discharging his rifle. With a standard magazine for his rifle, he had plenty of ammo to spare, and yet for scared 17-year old he held his fire until absolutely necessary.
The Trial is About More than Just Kyle
As the trial begins, the question of everyone’s mind is of course whether Rittenhouse will get a fair trial? Whatever one’s view of the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial was, taking into consideration the doxing of jurors, the activist tendencies of certain witnesses, or having the jurors through riots and razor-wire fencing each day to court, it's hard to see how the trial was not a fair one. Then again, in a social media-saturated world, is there any way that Chauvin, and now Rittenhouse can get a fair trial? Or are we going to have to invert the world still more and come up with a new and gaslight-able definition of “fair”? As noted above, there is a lot going for Ritenhouse in his defense, but that does not mean that the prosecution's case is unwinable.
To be fair, while it is clear Ritenhouse was caught up in the moment and wanted to be part of the solution rather then being a menace to society, it should not be taken as a given that it was prudent for him to have inserted himself into the situation. For instance, while I understand that Wisconsin is an open carry state, and there were plenty of times during last year’s riots when an armed presence would’ve done more to keep the violent tendencies of the rioters in check, I just don't think having a lone 17-year old taking that task upon himself, is something that should be encouraged. Did he not have friends or family that could’ve gone with him or even tempered his youthful exuberance to find another way to be helpful. Of course there is the question of what his parents knew about his plans that night, and until the case is over that information will not be released, but where was his father or an uncle or someone older who could’ve told him to cool it or offer to go with him? After all, the one event that led him to where he is now, was the first shooting of Rosenbaum, and that happened because he was alone and seen as an easy target to surround and intimidate.
All of these questions are not insignificant given that the city of Kenosha is being sued by the one person who survived being shot by Rittenhouse, Gaige Grosskruetz, who is “alleging that police enabled the violence by allowing an armed militia to have free reign of the city's streets during the protest, according to ABC News.” Thus, the outcome of the trial is now larger than whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense or not, and it is going to be a benchmark about how civil unrest will be treated in the future. Needless to say this argument will be portrayed in the most polarized and jaundiced way possible between the Second Amendment and the right to defend oneself, and someone’s First Amendment rights to protest and peacefully assemble. Already the first shot in that battle has been fired by a Kenosha Lutheran pastor, the rev. Jonathan Barker, who says that if Rittenhouse is not convicted “it will set a dangerous precedent for people’s rights to free speech and assembly”
In the end though, what the Rittenhouse trial will (or at least should) bring to light is the fractured state that our nation is in, and the complete inability or unwillingness of local law enforcement, or even the National Guard, to deal with the unrest that occurred last year. To say nothing of any unrest that will occur in the future. Too many people watched the pandemonium rage through cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, as Antifa and other organized mobs engaged in rioting, looting, arson, and even murder, while the police stood by and did nothing.
And rest assured, if Rittenhouse is acquitted, there is a very strong probably that we will see a repeat of the bedlam of last year. In this way, the trial is more than just a case about personal self-defense, it is in essence a trial (as in an "ordeal") about the defense of one vision of America over another. This trial will highlight the ever-widening gap between these conflicting worldviews in our culture and nation. We will be faced with the question of which of thse visions is or isn’t worth defending? When is or isn’t it prudent to use force, especially deadly force, to preserve that vision of America? Or whether we should just allow our way of life to be looted and burned up? And finally, when it comes down to it, when a verdict is handed down, what then? Will, the disappointed side leave well enough alone, or will they redouble their efforts to muster enough force to bend the culture’s will to their demands? Will might make them right?
Well, in two weeks we will find out.