The Rittenhouse Trial and Two Sides in Contention: A Beautiful Rising or Rising Fascism

Kyle Rittenhouse is a fascist youth who joined an armed militia on a self-appointed patrol of a protest for Black lives. What is being fought out in his trial for murder is not self-defense as he so tearfully claims but the green-lighting of extra-legal fascist violence – for the “right” of armed white supremacists to surveil, harass, intimidate, assault, and yes, murder protesters in service of a whole fascist program. The two men whose lives he took, (a fact which is not under dispute), were his victims, and heroes who were standing up for justice.           

On the evening of August 25, 2020, the Trump-loving 17-year old carried an illegally obtained AR-15 across state lines to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he shot three protesters, killing two of them. He immediately became a hero to the fascist movement led by Trump. Not only did fascists quickly raise $2 million for Rittenhouse’s defense, he was photographed after his release hanging out with Proud Boys wearing a tee-shirt that said “Free as Fuck”. All this was backed by Trump, who said Rittenhouse was in “very big trouble” that night and probably would have been killed. The Trump regime even released talking points to federal law enforcement on how to sympathetically frame Rittenhouse’s murders, and championed other racist vigilantes at the full-on fascist Republican National Convention. 

The protests in Kenosha were a righteous response to an incident two days earlier in which police shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back at close range seven times, leaving him partially paralyzed. This was at the end of a summer that saw massive protests against the torturous police murder of George Floyd. This beautiful rising filled the streets across the country, bringing together Black people who’d had enough of the knee of white supremacy on their necks and people from different races and backgrounds who refused to stand on the sidelines. The uprising became a repudiation and rejection of the deep-rooted white supremacy of America, and was a real crisis for the Trump regime. After almost four years of a president who came to power on the basis of his racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, these months of protest opened up and reset the terms of debate on race in this country. For much of that summer, the fascists were on the defensive. Confederate statues were being torn down, Trump hid in his bunker, and even the amped-up repression brought down on protesters by the National Guard and a Gestapo-like force of secret federal agents could not contain the protests. People all over the country, and all over the world, saw and felt our power in the streets.

The fascists had to regroup. Doubling down on open white supremacy and barely-veiled calls for violence, Trump re-launched his lynch mob rallies on Juneteenth weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the sight of horrific white supremacist violence in 1921. Then, at Mount Rushmore on July 4th, he delivered an unhinged rant celebrating a history of genocide, slavery, and war. He railed against Black Lives Matter and Antifa and whipped up the rhetoric that would solidify into the Big Lie of a stolen election. Emboldened by Trump, organized groups of fascists started going into Black Lives Matter protests to surround, intimidate, and attack protesters. Then they kept going, marauding through the streets in big truck caravans – one that nearly ran a Biden-Harris campaign bus off the road in Texas – and then rallying to DC several times after the election to “fight for Trump,” culminating in the January 6th assault on the Capitol. In this way, and with great effort, the fascists re-seized the public square and continue to dominate the streets even with Trump out of power.[1]

Now we are in a situation where the GOP is not retreating from but demanding total allegiance to the Big Lie, laying the framework to overturn elections that don’t go their way while coordinating a brazen assault on voting rights so that elections are bound to go their way. Invoking and rehearsing the violent ethos of January 6th, fascist mobs send death threats to election officials and descend on school boards to ban books and oppose mask mandate. This is the stage upon which Rittenhouse is being tried, in the courtroom of a sympathetic judge whose cell phone ringtone is Trump’s campaign song. If Rittenhouse walks, it will give even more backing to the vigilante violence of the fascist base, further degrade the rule of law, and seriously threaten the right and ability to protest and dissent. To stop this, we must see it with our eyes wide open and recognize it for what it is, a virulent 21st century fascism that will not be restrained by the normal channels.

But this trial also reminds us that in Kenosha on August 25th, 2020, there were two sides in contention. While Rittenhouse was recruited and emboldened by an organized fascist movement, the protests that rocked Kenosha were an extension of the beautiful rising after George Floyd’s murder. Whatever verdict comes down in this courtroom, we must be clear on the righteousness and heroism of standing up for Black lives and against this fascism. Kyle Rittenhouse’s victims showed selfless courage, both in protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake and in confronting an armed vigilante thug. All people with a heart for humanity should summon this kind of courage, joining together and standing shoulder to shoulder to stop the fascism threatening to engulf us.

[1] It’s worth noting that around this same time, a coalition of progressive groups and Democratic Party strategists was actively keeping their base – which could have been a powerful opposing force to stop Trump’s rolling coup – off the streets, essentially ceding the public square to fascists.

Coco Das is a member of the editorial collective of Follow her on twitter @coco_das.