By Paul Street |
This week, I’m returning to Kenosha along with others from the Chicago chapter of Refuse Fascism during the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. I go there not merely to condemn Kyle Rittenhouse but more importantly to convict the racist and fascist politics and the underlying system of oppression that produced Rittenhouse’s crimes.
There’s a lot of guilt to go around in this drama. There is of course the demented Trumpist teenager Rittenhouse, who came to Kenosha in late August of 2020 to put down civil rights protesters with an illegally owned AR-15 assault rifle fully loaded with full metal jacket bullets – ammunition specifically designed to kill.
There’s Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, who in 2018 called for Black shoplifters to be “warehoused” for life and prevented from having children.
There’s Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who sparked the Kenosha protests by 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 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.
There’s the Kenosha 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, the racist former city councilman, who responded to the Jacob Blake 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.
There’s the 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 nation’s then-president Donald Trump, Kyle Rittenhouse’s hero, who 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 JoJo Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber.
Trump came to Kenosha in the not-so hidden name of white power on the last night of the 2020 presidential campaign. It wasn’t an election stop to “find more votes.” He was there to give his blessing to vigilante and police violence against Black people. 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 this there is the underlying system of capitalism-imperialism. This system, born in Black slavery, has stripped many thousands of 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 is one small part.
Here we are fifteen months after the Jacob Blake protests. Rittenhouse’s multi-million-dollar defense has been funded by right-wing white supremacists across the nation. It has mounted an expertly crafted “self-defense” case, presenting the cold-blooded teen killer as a tragic and teary-eyed teddy bear who was just innocently trying to “protect property.”
The trial has been steered towards exoneration by the clearly demented old white man Bruce Schroeder, a judge long known to be a racist. This right-wing 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 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. 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 the revcoms’ website notes, what Rittenhouse did on the deadly night of August 25th “was an extension of what more organized fascists were doing in the summer of 2020. He was directed and emboldened by fascists forces (including the police and sheriffs themselves),” who allowed him to wield an illegally owned military-style assault weapon at a civil rights protest. The problem in Kenosha wasn’t one “Trump-addled 17-year-old,” it was a concerted fascist, government-sanctioned assault on civil rights protest.
This is a trial with enormous stakes. The Rittenhouse defense is glorification of lawlessness in the name of law and order – a key fascist calling card. It is part of the continuing attempt to turn reality on its head, to paint protesters against police murder and white supremacy in this country as “violent,” and heavily armed vigilantes as “protectors of the [white] community.” This is glorification of marauding militias using lethal force to terrorize protesters for Black Lives, for women’s rights, for any of the people targeted by fascism.
In fact, the heroes that night were the people marching for justice in the face of police tear gas and rubber bullets. The heroes were Anthony Huber and JoJo Rosenbaum trying to stop an active shooter aiming his semi-automatic weapon at protesters. They and at least 12 others died as martyrs in the struggle against racist terror and Trumpian fascism in the summer of 2020.
A Not Guilty verdict in the Rittenhouse trial will be a green light to 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. A Not Guilty verdict will amount to a declaration of a state-sanctioned fascist thug war on human rights and racial and social justice advocates from coast to coast. Kyle Rittenhouse must NOT be permitted to get away with fascist murder.
No justice, no peace.