American Fascism on Trial in Kenosha

Kyle Rittenhouse. Image: adwpadmin/Twitter.

Never forget the inspiring righteousness of the great George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and Jacob Blake Rebellion of 2020 – the popular uprising that sent the fascist president Donald Trump down into his bunker and helped undo his presidency. And never forget the sacrifice of the 14 martyrs who were murdered for participating in the uprising. Some of those martyred protesters were killed by cops. Two were killed by motorists. One was killed by a National Guardsman. One was killed by an active-duty US Army sergeant. Some were killed by small business owners claiming to protect their property.

Two of the martyrs, Anthony Huber and Joe Joe Rosenbaum, were killed by the cop-and Trump-worshipping teen vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2020. They died trying to prevent Rittenhouse from murdering people marching for Black lives and against the brutal and outrageous Kenosha police shooting of the 29-year-old Black man Jacob Blake.

Closing arguments in Rittenhouse’s murder trial are being made today (Monday, November 15th). Most legal experts following the trial expect Rittenhouse to escape conviction on the most serious charges. Contrary to what his defense team claims, Kyle Rittenhouse didn’t come to Kenosha with a fully loaded and illegally owned military assault rifle just to protect used car dealerships. He hooked up in Kenosha with the Boogaloo Bois, a neo-Nazi network that wants to spark a genocidal race war. He later partied and made white-supremacist hand signals with the Proud Boys.

Still, we can over-focus on this sad, if dangerous, teenager. Rittenhouse acted as a tool and expression of a fascist movement bigger and more organized than him. He did so with the encouragement and protection of the Kenosha Police, the Wisconsin National Guard, and the sick fascist 45th president of the United States.

There was an abundance of guilt to go around in the murder of Joe Joe Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber. Beyond the deranged adolescent shooter, there’s Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who sparked the Kenosha protests by needlessly and viciously shooting the 29-year-old old Black man Jacob Blake in the back seven times – this near the end of the long George Floyd summer.

There’s Kenosha County’s bumbling white Sheriff David Beth, who in 2018 said that Black shoplifters should be warehoused for life and prevented “from getting ten women pregnant.” Huber’s family has recently sued Beth, the city and county of Kenosha, former Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis, acting Kenosha Police Chief Eric Larsen, and various “John Doe” Kenosha police and sheriff’s officers. The lawsuit charges that local authorities conspired with white militia members, tacitly blessing the extra-legal fascists’ reckless and violent conduct. “Defendants’ open support of and coordination with the armed individuals in the minutes and hours before the shootings deprived Anthony Huber and the other protestors of the basic protections typically provided by police. It was a license for the armed individuals to wreak havoc and inflict injury,” the lawsuit observes. The lawsuit, in other words, charges classic fascist collaboration between government and private paramilitary terrorists.

Also meriting condemnation is the city and business class of Kenosha, which consigns its Black population to the poorest, least well served, and most heavily police-terrorized part of town.

Then there’s the Kenosha local and country police and National Guard, who responded to the Jacob Blake protests with rubber bullets and tear gas. The police thanked Rittenhouse and other lethally armed fascist vigilantes for helping suppress the Jacob Blake protests. They encouraged Rittenhouse and even gave him water while he criminally patrolled Kenosha with his military assault rifle.

There’s Kevin Mathewson, a fascist former city councilman, who had earlier responded to the May 2020 George Floyd protests by calling on Facebook for “patriots willing to take up arms” to be part of the “Kenosha Guard” – an impromptu fascist militia meant to menace protesters. As The New Yorker reported last August:

‘…on August 25th [2020], as the city braced for a third night of protests in the wake of Blake’s shooting, Mathewson, who is a private investigator, posted a call for “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property.” He invited “patriots” to meet him at the courthouse at 6 p.m., to defend Kenosha from “evil thugs… Mathewson’s post caught the attention of Kristan Harris, a streamer whose work included conspiracy content of the Pizzagate variety. All summer, he had been live-streaming protests, calling himself a “citizen journalist.” Harris wrote a blurb about the Kenosha Guard, which got picked up by Infowars. On Facebook, thousands of people indicated interest in joining Mathewson at the courthouse. Mathewson posted an open letter to Kenosha’s police chief, calling himself the “commander” of the Kenosha Guard and warning, “Do not have your officers tell us to go home under threat of arrest.” …Mathewson’s “Armed Citizens” post elicited such comments as “kill looters and rioters.” Facebook allowed the page to stand even after receiving well over four hundred complaints. A crowd was building when Mathewson, in a Chuck Norris T-shirt, showed up at the courthouse with a semi-automatic rifle.’ 

There’s the Wisconsin fascist leader Ryan Balch, part of the Boogaloo Movement, a white supremacist network that advocates a genocidal race war targeting Black people. Balch and his “boogaloo boys” gave Rittenhouse and his fellow teen fascist Dominick Black protection and direction before the shooting.

There’s the wannabe fascist dictator Donald Trump, who encouraged fascist vigilante violence and terrorism during his 2015-16 campaign and across his noxious, pandemo-fascist presidency. Trump, Rittenhouse’s hero, responded to the George Floyd protests by calling for police to shoot “looters” and for the military to exercise “total domination” in the streets. Trump defended Rittenhouse after the murders of Rosenbaum and Huber. Trump would make a special point of coming to Kenosha on the last night of the 2020 campaign, an ominous signal of his support for armed vigilantism.

That campaign stop wasn’t about getting more votes; it was about signaling his readiness to activate yet more violence to “Stop the Steal” and stay in power. He was there to give his blessing to vigilante and police violence against Black people and “the radical Left.” As Chicago Refuse fascism activist Jay Becker notes, “We now know he was actively planning even then to take any extra-legal means needed, including armed assault on the Capitol, to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.”

Beneath all the madness in Kenosha lay the underlying system of capitalism-imperialism. This system, born in Black slavery, has stripped livable wage jobs from Kenosha. It has continued its long and intimate connection to racial oppression. It has flooded the nation with deadly weapons, glorified sociopathic violence, set people of different colors against each other, concentrated more and more wealth and power in ever fewer hands, and built up a giant and ever more militarized police and prison state to discipline and control the masses it cannot serve. And now it has generated a large and menacing fascist movement – a movement of which Kyle Rittenhouse was/is one small part.

Here we are fifteen months after the Jacob Blake protests. Rittenhouse’s multi-million-dollar right-wing defense team has mounted an absurd but expertly crafted “self-defense” case, presenting the cold-blooded, safety-off-AR-15-wielding teen killer as a tragic, teary-eyed teddy bear who was assaulted by a leftist mob while he was innocently trying to “protect property”

The trial has been steered towards exoneration by the openly demented right-wing white man Bruce Schroeder. This reactionary laughingstock of a judge made a pretrial ruling that the people Rittenhouse killed could not be referred to as “victims,” but could be referred to as “arsonists” or “looters.” Schroeder conducted a selection process that yielded a jury with just one Black member. The jurors seated include whites who had bought into the absurd claim that the Jacob Blake protesters meant to “burn down the suburbs” – this even as the judge dismissed a potential juror who said her bi-racial granddaughter had participated in the protests, and another who asked why Rittenhouse didn’t stay in his own city after the Blake shooting.

During a circus-like trial, the unbalanced Trumpist Schroeder has repeatedly interrupted the state attorney’s cross-examination of Rittenhouse with wild temper tantrums aimed at preventing the prosecution from demonstrating Rittenhouse’s racist and murderous motivations. Schroeder has denied the prosecution’s request to show evidence of Rittenhouse’s violence in the days and weeks prior to August 25, all out of concern not to “prejudice” the jury against him. But Schroeder is happy to let the evidence be presented suggesting that one of Rittenhouse’s victims was predisposed to violence. Schroeder has shown himself ready to help Rittenhouse out of tight spots when under cross-examination. Schroeder has blocked the prosecution from telling the jury that one of the defense witnesses works for the white nationalist (fascist) One America News Network. The ringtone on Schroeder’s personal telephone, which went off during the trial last Wednesday, is from Donald Trump’s favorite campaign theme song.

As of today (Monday, November 15, 2021), Schroeder has struck down the weapons charge on Rittenhouse on preposterous grounds and badly flubbed the jury instruction prior to the presentation of the prosecution’s closing (and compelling) argument.

This is a trial with enormous stakes. The Rittenhouse defense is the glorification of lawlessness in the name of law and order – a key fascist calling card. It is part of what Becker calls “the continuing war on truth, portraying those who protest police murder and white supremacy as ‘violent,’ and heavily armed vigilantes as ‘protectors of the [white] community.’” It has included a transparently coached and faked meltdown in which Rittenhouse pretended to have been in fear for his life on the night he murdered Rosenbaum and Huber. Paul Butler is one of the few mainstream commentators to comment on this nauseating gambit:

‘Kyle Rittenhouse, the man charged with homicide in the deaths of two anti-police brutality demonstrators, seems to have spent much more time at the gun range than in acting classes…While testifying about the moment he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, one of the protesters, Rittenhouse sniffled, quivered, contorted his face, bloated his cheeks and did just about everything else you’d expect of a novice actor attempting to convey sorrow. Pictures even showed him peeking around the courtroom as he worked himself into a lather. Though photos captured a single tear streaming down his face, I couldn’t tell whether it was from actually crying, or if he’d merely worked up a sweat from trying… It was a Razzie-worthy performance in my view, but I’m not the target audience for this sick show. The Rittenhouse murder trial is being prosecuted in front of a nearly all-white jury, before a white judge who uses conservative lingo to describe protesters, in a country where white vigilantism is often excused, if not worshipped. In that context, Rittenhouse’s tears, real or not, have tremendous value…There’s a type of person who is vulnerable to emotional appeals from violent white men, and Rittenhouse’s attorneys only need one of 12 jurors to fit the profile to win this case.’

The video the prosecution has shown (again) today of Rittenhouse killing Rosenbaum is evidence of murder. Rittenhouse is shown pursuing Rosenbaum and making his first or four shots far from arm’s length. A Not Guilty verdict in the murder of Rosenbaum will be a travesty.

The video the prosecution has shown (again) today of Rittenhouse killing Huber is evidence of murder. It shows Anthony Huber heroically trying to intervene against an active shooter. A Not Guilty verdict in the murder of Anthony Huber will be a travesty.

The video the prosecution has shown (again) today of Rittenhouse shooting Gaige Grosskreutz is evidence of attempted murder. A Not Guilty in the shooting of Grosskreutz will be a travesty.

The whole world is watching judge Bruce Schroeder’s racist circus with bated breath because we know that a Not Guilty verdict will be a green light to fascist terror and racist vigilantism from coast to coast. A Not Guilty verdict in the Rittenhouse trial will be an open season declaration for the continuation and escalation of that assault in a time when white nationalist fascism is ascending, with the right-wing Supreme Court poised to unleash a gun slaughter coast to coast.

The same goes, by the way, for the federal civil prosecution currently underway against the openly fascist white supremacists who instigated bloody and murderous assaults (also defended by then-president Donald Trump) on civil rights protesters marching against the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017. Also currently on trial are three white vigilantes who stalked and murdered the young Black man Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia in February of 2020.

Along with January 6 and the weak prosecution of the fascist Capitol marauders, along with the racist voter suppression and election nullification measures that are being set in place in dozens of states, along with the war on teaching historical truth, along with the violent threats being made against the school board and public health officials, and along with the right-wing legal campaign against abortion rights and gun control, a not guilty verdict in this terrible case will be yet another step on the path to a fascist America.

As we are seeing very clearly under Joe Biden, voting for Democrats once every 2 or 4 years won’t stop the racist, sexist, and authoritarian juggernaut. Only the power of the people united in a mass movement in the streets and public squares can do the job. It must be a movement dedicated to what Dr. Martin Luther King called near the end of his life “the real issue to be faced, the radical and democratic reconstruction of society itself.”

The only alternative to that reconstruction, the only alternative that revolution, King warned, would be a racist and fascist police state.

We have the power if we choose to use it, to bring that reconstruction about. We began to show that in 2020. We can and must show it again and on a much bigger scale before it’s too late.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).