The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse: a judicial parody

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On Friday, after four days of deliberation, a Kenosha jury returned a verdict of “not guilty on all counts” against Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse had been accused of wrongly killing two people, injuring a third and nearly hitting a fourth with an AR-15 rifle during protests against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25 last year.

Rittenhouse displays white supremacist hand gesture during meeting with members of the Proud Boys

Rittenhouse, 17 at the time of the shooting, had traveled to Kenosha from Illinois to join a far-right ‘patriotic’ self-defense militia calling itself the ‘Kenosha Guard’, which had been mobilized for ‘ defend property ”and help police crush protests that had erupted two days earlier following the police shooting against Jacob Blake. Blake was shot seven times in the back at close range in front of his wife and children, leaving him paralyzed.

The Kenosha shootings came amid reverberations from the biggest protests in American history, in which an estimated 15-26 million people took to the streets after the murder of George Floyd to protest the murder epidemic police and official cover-ups.

During the protests, far-right armed self-defense militias, which had been mobilized months earlier to oppose measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, were brought forward to assist police in the Brutal nationwide crackdown orchestrated by the Trump administration. The Kenosha shootings, which took place on the eve of the Republican National Convention, were embraced by Trump and Republicans in the lead-up to the violent Jan.6 coup attempt, in which the Prouds Boys and other paramilitary groups formed the shock troops for the assault on the Capitol.

Rittenhouse’s verdict will embolden those violent paramilitary forces that have been cultivated in the orbit of Trump and the Republican Party.

Rittenhouse’s acquittal follows a parody of a trial in which a right-wing judge systematically undermined the charge by excluding all evidence that would have refuted Rittenhouse’s claim that he was acting in “self-defense.”

Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder did not allow the jury to hear that after Rittenhouse posted bail he celebrated the murders in a pub with the best members of the Proud Boys , where he flashed “white power” signs, sang the Proud Boys anthem and smiled for selfies with other Proud Boys members.

The judge also did not allow the jury to hear that prior to the shooting, Rittenhouse had been taped saying he wanted to shoot people he thought were shoplifting. “Brother, I wish I had my fucking AR,” he said. “I would start shooting them. “

The judge ruled that prosecutors should not be allowed to label the men shot by Rittenhouse as “victims” or even “alleged victims.” At the same time, defense attorneys for Rittenhouse have had carte blanche to label the victims “arsonists”, “looters” and “rioters”.

That double standard was on full display during closing arguments earlier this week. While prosecutors were warned not to make the case “political,” Rittenhouse’s lawyer was allowed to deliver a full-throated fascist rant.

Halfway through his pleadings, Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards, effectively gave up the fiction of “self-defense” and suggested that the Rittenhouse victims brought him in because “they were rioters. “.

While prosecutors couldn’t mention that Rittenhouse was affiliated with the Proud Boys, Richards specifically pointed out that Gaige Grosskreutz, a volunteer doctor from Rittenhouse with an injured arm, was affiliated with “People’s Revolution”.

Richards went out of his way to dehumanize the people Rittenhouse killed. “I’m glad he shot him,” Richards said, referring to the mentally ill Joseph Rosenbaum as “crazy.”

The trial was a right-wing spectacle from start to finish. At one point, the judge, wearing an American flag tie, led the jury to applaud one of Rittenhouse’s experts on the grounds that he was a “veteran” who “served his country.” At another point, the judge’s cell phone rang with a Trump rally ringtone. At the end of the trial, he let Rittenhouse choose the names of the jurors from a goblet as if it were a circus raffle.

The argument that Rittenhouse was acting in “self-defense” turns reality upside down. If anyone had the right to self-defense, it was the protesters who collectively clashed with a right-wing vigilante who appeared during their protest pointing a loaded military-style rifle at them.

When Rittenhouse opened fire, Gaige Grosskreutz and other protesters believed he was an “active shooter”. Like a soldier hopping on a grenade to save his comrades, Anthony Huber pushed his girlfriend aside and charged Rittenhouse, armed only with a skateboard in an effort to protect the other protesters. Rittenhouse shot him down.

“We are heartbroken and angry,” Huber’s parents wrote in a statement after the verdict. “Today’s verdict means that there is no responsibility for the person who murdered our son. This sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any city, incite violence, and then use the danger they created to justify shooting people in the streets.

The “self-defense” framework in which Rittenhouse’s actions were presented was a mechanism to airbrush all political content and context from the image. It was a way of dissolving all the broader political and historical questions involved in the sole question of the correctness of Rittenhouse’s conduct as an individual in the fraction of a second in which he decided to press the trigger.

Even on his own terms, the “self-defense” argument was illegitimate, since it was Rittenhouse who recklessly provoked the confrontation by carrying his rifle into a hostile demonstration as a member of a self-defense militia. far right.

Where the law was clearly against Rittenhouse, the judge simply moved the goalposts. As countless left-wing protesters came under heavy attack and threatened arrest by police for breaking the curfew in Kenosha, the judge dismissed the curfew charge against Rittenhouse on a technicality of fragile proof. While Wisconsin law prohibits minors from carrying firearms, the judge dismissed the minor firearms charge based on laws that allow minors to go hunting.

After the verdict was announced, Trump immediately issued a statement congratulating Rittenhouse. The violent and fascist elements around him joined the chorus. “Today is a great day for the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense,” tweeted Republican Representative and Jan. 6 conspirator Lauren Boebert. “Glory to God!”

Biden, meanwhile, set the tone for the Democrats’ response by solemnly declaring that “the jury system works” – a remarkable statement given the legal parody that had just unfolded in broad daylight on live television.

A collection of pseudo-left and libertarian figures like Glenn Greenwald and Jimmy Dore, who worked throughout the trial to present Rittenhouse as a sympathetic figure, join the open fascists in their celebrations of the verdict.

Unlike those who seek to blind the population to the political issues involved, the World Socialist Website warned that the campaign around Rittenhouse is an effort to normalize and legitimize far-right self-defense terror.

The aim of this campaign is to create conditions under which the Proud Boys and other far-right vigilante groups can participate in future left-wing protests and wield loaded weapons. Unchecked and undeterred, they will come to strikes, university conferences and socialist political meetings. They will brandish weapons in the faces of journalists and school board officials. And if anyone tries to disarm them or kick them out, they’ll open fire and scream “self-defense,” knowing that there are cops and judges out there who will bend and twist the law to protect them.

The Proud Boys and other violent far-right militias are brought to the fore not because American capitalism is in a position of strength but because it is in a position of weakness.

These forces are raised under specific conditions: in the midst of a pandemic in which millions of people have died due to policies that prioritized profits over human life and in the midst of a social, economic crisis. and policy to which capitalism has no other solution than war and repression.

As the American political establishment moves further to the right, embracing mass death in the COVID-19 pandemic and legitimizing fascist violence, the broad mass of the population moves to the left, amidst a major upsurge in the struggle of the working class.

Against this background, Rittenhouse’s acquittal will only further discredit the entire American political system in the eyes of millions.

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