Why Are Right-Wing Pundits Celebrating the Kenosha Shooter?

Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter and other right-wing commentators have elevated alleged Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero. It's rhetoric that normalizes extremist violence. (Fox News/YouTube)

Since the most recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests began in late May, a prevalent media narrative has been that they are violent. In reality, protesters have mostly held peaceful marches, drawing hundreds of thousands of people of all ethnicities and ages in support of civil rights for Black Americans. It’s true that some factions of protesters have smashed windows and graffitied buildings, but we need to be careful about word choice here: this is damage against property—not human beings.

Yet the same loud voices that seem to be appalled by this so-called violence against inanimate objects are now praising the murders of two people, and the severe maiming of another.

On Tuesday night, protesters gathered in Kenosha, Wisconsin to demand justice for Jacob Blake, who was shot by a police officer seven times in the back at point-blank range and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old with an AR-15, traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin to join an armed brigade of vigilantes attempting to protect the city from riots; a now-removed Facebook page organizing the group used racially coded language, referring to the protesters as “evil thugs.”

Rittenhouse has now been arrested for the murder of 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, who, according to eye witnesses, was shot after he threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse. Anthony Huber, 26, was killed when he attempted to disarm the shooter, and a third person, volunteer medic Gaige Grosskreutz, was shot in the arm and is currently recovering from nearly losing his limb.

It’s abundantly clear that this—not a smashed window at a chain store—is actual violence, and must be condemned by all sides of the political spectrum.

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But, presumably because this shooter is white, and a staunch supporter of law enforcement and President Trump, right-wing pundits have praised his actions and elevated him as a hero. On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson told his prime-time Fox News viewers that Rittenhouse “decided [he] had to maintain order when no one else would.” Ann Coulter tweeted to her 2.2 million followers that she wants Rittenhouse “as my president.” (The post has now been deleted.) Former San Francisco Giants player Aubrey Huff called Rittenhouse a “national treasure.”

These comments are part of a disturbing pattern of normalizing white supremacist domestic terrorism and vigilante violence—a message amplified by the country’s biggest platforms and loudest megaphones. It’s the natural extension of President Trump’s “fine people on both sides” comment after the neo-Nazi Charlottesville rally in 2017, where a white supremacist drove a car into a counter-protester and killed her—or his tweets about shooting “looters,” another racially coded term, after the George Floyd protests. At the Republican National Convention on Monday, Trump handed that megaphone to Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who pointed a pistol and semi-automatic rifle at Black Lives Matter protesters who passed by their house during a march.

The McClokseys and other speakers at the Republican National Convention painted a picture of a nation gripped with violence and chaos at the hands of anti-fascists and left-wing extremists. But the looting that’s taken place at some Black Lives Matter protests pales in comparison to the spate of white supremacist violence, against human beings, that has seen a sharp rise over the last four years.

According to the country’s top terrorism experts, far-right, white supremacist extremism is the biggest threat in the United States. A former F.B.I. agent recently cited two decades’ worth of collected evidence that white supremacists have infiltrated police departments across the country, giving credence to the popular protest chant “Cops and Klan go hand in hand.” Of course, this is mostly news to white people; Black and brown communities that have dealt with decades of police brutality and a racist criminal justice system have known for much longer. The rest of us are just now waking up.

It’s no surprise, then, that Kenosha police didn’t apprehend Rittenhouse when they drove past him after the shooting, even when witnesses identified him as the assailant. And it’s no surprise that, before the shooting, police thanked the vigilantes and made sure they were hydrated.

There is no doubt that a culture that normalizes white supremacist violence, and a president that stokes hate, emboldened Rittenhouse. Media commentary that lionizes him is having a similar effect; on Facebook, memes, tributes and even fundraisers for him are being shared by millions of people.

As we saw in Charlottesville and Kenosha, this type of rhetoric has already incited senseless bloodshed. It needs to be condemned by all sides and shut down immediately, before it happens again.