The Rittenhouse Effect

Published: December 3, 2021

By Jim Lichtman
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You have a right to defend yourself. Be armed, be dangerous, be moral. — Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC)

How can you equate morality with a vigilante who killed two people, Mr. Cawthorn?

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old Illinois teen who shot and killed two men and wounded a third at a Kenosha Wisconsin riot that followed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, has become the latest battlefield hero for gun-rights advocates and extremist groups.

The jury agreed that Rittenhouse was defending himself from those who threatened and caused harm to him. Within hours of the verdict, Rittenhouse flew to Florida, was interviewed by FOX host, Tucker Carlson, then whisked away for a photo-op with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago lair.

The Rittenhouse effect began as soon as he was arrested with T-shirts (#Free Kyle), and 2 million dollars in bail money raised by supporters. Since his acquittal, however, Rittenhouse has become the right’s latest celebrity-du-jour. It’s been reported that he might “easily secure a seven-figure book contract . . . [and] could monetize his brand and potentially make in the millions.” He might even snag “between $2,500 and $25,000 a speech.”

All this for an 18-year-old teen who left his home in Illinois, and traveled to Kenosha to protect locals from threats of violence by rioters only to cause the deaths of two people.

“When Kyle Rittenhouse walked the streets of Kenosha,” David French writes in The Atlantic, “in the midst of urban unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake holding a rifle in the ‘patrol carry’ or ‘low ready’ position, similar to the positions used by soldiers walking in towns and villages in war zones, without any meaningful training, he was engaged in remarkably dangerous and provocative conduct. But that dangerous and provocative conduct did not eliminate his right of self-defense, and that self-defense claim is the key issue of his trial, not the wisdom of his vigilante presence.

“An acquittal,” French adds, “does not make a foolish man a hero.”

But get ready for the next Rittenhouse, the next self-styled vigilante, self-defense claimant.

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene said in a tweet, “Those who help protect and defend are the good guys.”

Welcome back to the Wild West where the rules are out the window and he/she who has the most rationalizations for “defending,” wins. And by the way, Congresswoman Greene, with armed rioters and Rittenhouses roaming the same riot, how do you tell the good guys from the bad? And what do you say to the families of the unarmed rioters whom Rittenhouse killed? Does the sanctity of life mean anything to you?

However, when another school shooting was reported–32 school shootings were reported in September and 32 more in October–Democratic Senator Chris Murphy became outraged.

“Driving home tonight,” Murphy posted on Twitter, “I thought about Republicans’ floor speeches today on the ‘sanctity of life,’ and how this concern for ‘life’ apparently doesn’t extend to the kids who were shot today in a school in Michigan. So, I turned the car around, and went to the Senate floor. pic.twitter.com/yJ8FthS0nE — Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 1, 2021

Murphy was referencing “Numerous Republican lawmakers [who] gave speeches condemning abortion in anticipation of the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Murphy offered the best argument of Republican hypocrisy.

“I understand that my Republican colleagues have very strong views on issues related to abortion. But I listened to my Republican colleagues come down here one after another today and talk about the sanctity of life, the very moment that moms and dads in Michigan were being told their kids weren’t coming home because they were shot at school due to a country that is accepted gun violence due to Republicans fealty to the gun lobby,” Murphy said.

“It happens here in America because we choose to let it happen. We’re not unlucky. This is purposeful This is a choice made by the United States Senate to sit on our hands and do nothing,’ he continued, saying that lawmakers were sending ‘a silent message of endorsement” to potentially dangerous individuals by not acting to prevent gun violence.”

Before a final plea, Murphy pointed to the fact that a majority of the country—both Republicans and Democrats–support banning assault-style rifles and making background checks mandatory for all gun purchases.

“Please, I beg my colleagues,” Murphy said, “if you’re going to come down here and talk about the sanctity of life, explain to the American people why the gun lobby matters more than the safety of our children who are walking into school every day fearing for their life.”

While the drumbeat from far-right activists only grows louder, Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions and those who applaud his celebrity can best be summed up by Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

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