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USA: Right-wing vigilante found not guilty of murdering two anti-racist protestors

Sunday 21 November 2021, by siawi3


Right-wing vigilante found not guilty of murdering two anti-racist protestors

The most closely-watched murder trial in recent memory exemplifies the standard of cops and racists having a right to kill in the US

November 20, 2021

by Monica Cruz

Kyle Rittenhouse before shooting three men, killing two, in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2021. Photo: Twitter @StandForBetter

After four days of deliberations, a jury acquitted 18-year old Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges related to his killing of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020. That night, thousands had hit the streets to protest the August 23rd police shooting of Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed after being shot in the back seven times by Kenosha city police officers. Rittenhouse traveled from his home state of Illinois to join a right-wing militia at the protest.

Rittenhouse was charged with five felonies including first degree intentional homicide. He argued that he acted in self-defense when he fired his semi-automatic rifle, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and injuring Gaige Grusskreutz.

The court proceedings were riddled with unusual moves on the part of Judge Bruce Schroeder, who had Rittenhouse draw the names of jurors to be designated as alternates in a game show-style raffle tumbler. Schroeder granted the defense’s request to ban the use of the word “victims” in reference to the three men Rittenhouse shot, while allowing the defense to call them “looters,” “rioters,” and “arsonists.”

The judge made his bias in favor of the defense clear, validating it’s claims that the prosecution “distorted” video of the shootings by using a zoomed in version of the high quality video and screaming at the lead prosecutor for it. He called for a 10 minute break so Rittenhouse could “collect himself” after he broke down during his testimony.

Verdict speaks to state-backed right-wing violence

Armed right-wingers showed up at dozens of protests during the anti-racist uprising in the US in 2020, claiming to be there to defend property. These fascistic groups have been emboldened by Trump and his pro-police rhetoric as the nation faced a reckoning with its systemic racism. Right-wing militias have a long history in the US, often galvanized by people’s movements against racism and for workers rights.

Speaking at a press conference following the verdict announcement, Jacob Blake’s uncle exclaimed, “Racism runs from the courtroom to the police station to the mayor’s office. They all have blood on their hands.”

All-in all, the Rittenhouse verdict sets a dangerous precedent on how right-wing vigilantism is handled in the United States. It signals to the right-wing that shooting and killing anti-racist protesters is a crime that can go unpunished. Regardless of the specific arguments and intricacies of the case itself, the verdict exemplifies why the 2020 anti-racist uprising was set off in the first place and why mass resurgance of this movement is inevitable.

In a statement, the Party for Socialism and Liberation wrote, “The verdict is an infuriating reminder of the fundamentally white supremacist nature of the capitalist legal system in the United States … But the movement against racism will not be terrorized into passivity. In Kenosha and throughout the country, protesters are now hitting the streets to show that they will not be silenced by this grave affront to justice.”

Monica Cruz is a reporter with US-based media outlet Breakthrough News.



The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse: A judicial travesty

Tom Carter

20.11.21 a day ago

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

Photo: Rittenhouse displays a white supremacist hand gesture while meeting with members of the Proud Boys

Rittenhouse, 17 at the time of the shootings, had traveled to Kenosha from Illinois to join a far-right “patriot” vigilante militia calling itself the “Kenosha Guard,” which had been mobilized to “defend property” and assist the police with crushing the protests that had erupted two days earlier following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake was shot seven times in the back at point-blank range in front of his children, leaving him paralyzed.

The Kenosha shootings occurred in the midst of the reverberations of the largest demonstrations in American history, during which an estimated 15 to 26 million people took to the streets following the murder of George Floyd to protest the epidemic of police killings and official cover-ups.

During these protests, armed far-right vigilante militias, which had been mobilized months earlier in opposition to measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, were brought forward to assist the police in the brutal nationwide crackdown orchestrated by the Trump administration. The Kenosha shootings, which occurred on the eve of the Republican National Convention, were embraced by Trump and the Republicans in the period leading up to the violent coup attempt on January 6, during which the Proud Boys and other paramilitary groups constituted the shock troops for the assault on the Capitol.

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

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

Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder did not permit the jury to hear that after Rittenhouse posted bail, he celebrated the killings at a pub with top Proud Boys members, where he flashed “white power” signs, belted out the Proud Boys anthem and grinned for selfies with other Proud Boys members.

Nor did the judge permit the jury to hear that before the shooting, Rittenhouse was recorded saying that he wanted to shoot people he thought were shoplifting. “Bro, I wish I had my f—ing AR,” he said. “I’d start shooting rounds at them.”

The judge ordered that prosecutors would not be allowed to refer to the men shot by Rittenhouse as “victims” or even “alleged victims.” At the same time, Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys were given free rein to refer to the victims as “arsonists,” “looters” and “rioters.”

This double-standard was on full display during closing arguments earlier this week. While the prosecutors were admonished not to make the case “political,” Rittenhouse’s attorney was permitted to deliver a full-throated fascistic diatribe.

Midway through his closing arguments, Rittenhouse’s attorney Mark Richards effectively dispensed with the fiction of “self-defense” and suggested that Rittenhouse’s victims had it coming because “they were rioters.”

While prosecutors could not mention that Rittenhouse was affiliated with the Proud Boys, Richards specifically emphasized that Gaige Grosskreutz, a volunteer medic Rittenhouse shot in the arm, was affiliated with “People’s Revolution.”

Richards made every effort to dehumanize the people whom Rittenhouse killed. “I’m glad he shot him,” Richards declared, referring to Joseph Rosenbaum, who was mentally ill, as “a crazy person.”

The trial was a right-wing spectacle from beginning to end. At one point the judge, wearing an American flag tie, led the jury in a round of applause for one of Rittenhouse’s experts on the grounds that he was a “veteran” who “served our country.” At another point the judge’s cellphone rang with a Trump rally ring tone. At the end of the trial, he let Rittenhouse pick the jurors’ names out of a tumbler like it was a circus raffle.

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

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

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

The “self-defense” framework within which Rittenhouse’s actions were presented was a mechanism for airbrushing all of the political content and context out of the picture. It was a way of dissolving all of the broader political and historical questions involved into the sole question of the propriety of Rittenhouse’s conduct as an individual in the split-second during which he allegedly decided to pull the trigger.

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

Where the law was clearly against Rittenhouse, the judge simply moved the goal posts. While countless left-wing protesters were subjected to violent attacks and the threat of arrests by police for violating the curfew in Kenosha, the judge threw out the curfew charge against Rittenhouse on a flimsy evidentiary technicality. While Wisconsin law prohibits juveniles from carrying firearms, the judge threw out the underage firearms charge on the basis of laws that permit juveniles to go hunting.

After the verdict was announced, Trump immediately issued a statement congratulating Rittenhouse. The violent and fascistic 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 January 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 travesty that had just unfolded in broad daylight on live television.

Joining the open fascists in their celebrations of the verdict are 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.

In contrast to those seeking to blind the population to the political issues involved, the World Socialist Web Site warned that the campaign around Rittenhouse is an effort to normalize and legitimize far-right vigilante terror.

The aim of this campaign is to create conditions where Proud Boys and other far-right vigilante groups can march into future left-wing demonstrations and brandish loaded guns. Unchecked and undeterred, they will come to strikes, to lectures at universities and to socialist political meetings. They will wave guns in the faces of journalists and school board officials. And if anyone tries to disarm or evict them, they will open fire and yell “self-defense,” knowing that there are cops and judges who will bend and twist the law to shield them.

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

These forces are being elevated under specific conditions: In the midst of a pandemic in which millions of people have died as a result of policies that have prioritized profits over human life and amid a social, economic and political crisis to which capitalism has no solution except war and repression.

While the US political establishment is moving ever further to the right, embracing mass death in the COVID-19 pandemic and legitimizing fascist violence, the great mass of the population is moving to the left, amid a major upsurge of working-class struggle.

In that context, the acquittal of Rittenhouse will only serve to further discredit the whole American political system in the eyes of millions of people.
more on this topic

Read more: The political issues in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, 12 November 2021




When Everything Is “Self-Defense”
And everyone gets a gun.

By Dahlia Lithwick

Nov 16, 20212:14 PM

Photo: Rittenhouse in a T-shirt holding an AR-style rifle walks with Balch in a bulletproof vest also holding an AR-style rifle at night. Behind them are a black SUV and a large crowd of people.
Kyle Rittenhouse, at left in backward cap, walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with former Army infantryman Ryan Balch on Aug. 25, 2020. Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP

The jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has begun its deliberations. As we wait, it is worth acknowledging that this trial has come to stand for what may well be the future of criminal defense law in America. Put aside the tactical errors of the prosecutors and the trial antics of a flamboyant judge and even the radicalization of the vigilante right—what is left is a snapshot of what will happen every time jurors contemplate how guns, protests, and hair-trigger self-defense combine in public spaces. And it looks very much like passing judgment over a shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Each of the three trials dominating the news this month features armed citizens taking up weapons to travel to public spaces where they believed themselves to be under threat. As the New York Times’ Shaila Dewan traced this past weekend, in the trial of the three killers of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the Rittenhouse trial in Wisconsin, the defendants claim that they were justified in their use of violence when they killed unarmed people in self-defense. In both prosecutions, she writes, “the defendants claim they were entitled to start shooting because the victims were trying to take their guns.” White supremacists currently facing a civil trial in Charlottesville, Virginia, for harming others at a Nazi-style rally in 2017 are offering similar defenses, claiming that they too armed themselves and attacked peaceful counterprotesters out of a fear for their own safety. Dewan quotes Kimberly Kessler Ferzan, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, arguing in the Texas Law Review that “the problem is that with a citizenry armed with guns, we have blurred every line.”

Indeed, once everyone in public spaces is armed and operating under a sprawling regime of “stand your ground” and citizen’s arrest statutes plus a mushrooming mistrust of law enforcement, how will courts ever sort out who instigated and who responded? As Ferzan put it in her law review article: “What is defense? What is reasonable? When may one stand one’s ground and when must one retreat? And, when is a citizen entitled to step in as an aggressor in the name of the state?” If you can arm yourself because you have declared yourself a substitute for law enforcement and then you claim people were grabbing for your weapon so you killed them with it, are you always justified? Must we always assume that the dead victim, who cannot testify, was the aggressor?

Some of the key testimony from the Rittenhouse trial to bear in mind, which helps paint the picture of just how armed everyone was and how those facts complicate things for the trial:

• Officer Pep Moretti of the Kenosha Police Department testified that he didn’t arrest Rittenhouse after he shot three people and approached Moretti with his hands up because he didn’t interpret Rittenhouse’s actions as a surrender. Why? Because so many people in the crowd were carrying guns and weapons—“there was probably more people armed with weapons than not throughout the entire course of the civil unrest”—that it was not unusual for someone to approach officers with their hands raised. “So seeing someone with an AR-15 wouldn’t necessarily mean much to you at that point?” asked James Kraus, a prosecutor. “At that point in time that night, no,” Moretti said.

• John Black, the defense’s use-of-force expert, testified last week that Rittenhouse shot all three men within 1 minute and 20 seconds.

• Gaige Grosskreutz, the one surviving victim of the shooting, testified that he was carrying a loaded Glock pistol, and that he had approached Rittenhouse from several feet away, pointing his gun. By that point he perceived Rittenhouse as an active shooter, as he had already shot two other people.

• Rittenhouse was carrying body armor in the trunk of his car—claiming that it had been “issued” to him by the local police department as part of a cadet mentorship program. (The Chicago Tribune fact-checked this claim and reported it as untrue.)

• Prosecutors showed video of Rittenhouse running toward the police after shooting Joseph Rosenbaum, as a bystander shouted, “Why you shoot him?” The prosecutor reminded Rittenhouse that his response at the time, as captured by the video, was “he had a gun.” When questioned about this (neither man that Rittenhouse killed had a gun), Rittenhouse said: “At the time, I was a little dazed.” He added that he was thinking of another protester with a gun, who had fired his pistol into the air as a warning seconds before. Prosecutors then asked: “So you shot Mr. Rosenbaum because Mr. Ziminski had a pistol?”

What happens in situations like the one described above is that a jury tasked with figuring out what happened is almost guaranteed to conclude that since everyone seemed to be armed, everyone was reasonably in fear for their life. Everyone with a gun could also reasonably be said to fear that his own weapon could be used to kill him, as Rittenhouse himself testified at trial about his AR-style weapon. As philosopher Renee Jorgensen told the New York Times of these competing claims in the Rittenhouse trial that everyone shot to defend their own lives, “The way that I would treat that case is that neither wrongs the other, and neither is wronged by the other—a kind of a Wild West situation where it’s not unlike armed combatants in war.” This transcends the question of whether Rittenhouse can claim self-defense with respect to each of the three shootings individually. It instead raises the question of whether more guns will always mean more self-defense and less culpability.

All of this is terrific news if one thinks every public gathering, indeed every public space, is enhanced by the presence of more guns. As the majority of the Supreme Court seems to have confirmed in this month’s oral arguments for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, such a world is A-OK by them. Justice Samuel Alito, for example, demonstrated his boundless concern for, as he put it, “law-abiding citizens” in New York City who are forced to “commute home by subway, maybe by bus,” and are unable to carry guns to protect themselves in a shootout, which would presumably occur on a crowded train or platform. Yes, this is the world the current court seems likely to create, and it will leave the details of who intended to kill and who was just defending himself and who merely killed someone out of fear his gun would be wrested from him to any number of future juries. (In case you were looking for predictions, I’m betting the data will hold and that white people will claim self-defense and their Black victims will be dead and thus unable to testify.)

This possible future is one of the reasons we should pay particular attention to the Rittenhouse trial and consider it a preview for things to come. Just as the Charlottesville Nazis have attempted to blame their own acts of violence on police failures, so too is the gravamen of the Rittenhouse defense becoming that if the police had better managed the crowds at the Jacob Blake protests, nobody would have been shot. But in a world in which everyone is carrying a weapon, it becomes increasingly impossible for the police to sort aggressors from self-defenders. Indeed, as vigilantism becomes the norm, policing becomes ever more difficult. When police have mere seconds to determine, in the dark, in a crowd, who the active shooter is and who’s the good guy with a gun, they may decide that everyone is the latter: precisely what they thought of Kyle Rittenhouse, and precisely what his jurors may affirm.

Meanwhile, it should not escape us that at oral arguments in the 2008 Heller case, the court’s “bad guys” were home intruders. But listening to argument in Bruen this fall, the implication was that the bad guys more than 10 years later are state licensing agents, the ones who, according to Alito, grant gun licenses to “celebrities and state judges and retired police officers,” but not to “the kind of ordinary people who have a real felt need to carry a gun to protect themselves.” In other words, the bad guys now are the state, as it attempts to determine who needs a gun and who doesn’t. Only by allowing equal and unfettered access to weapons of war can we all be free to protect ourselves. If the plan after Bruen is to level the playing field—or, better, killing field—such that everyone can assert a right to defend themselves in public with lethal force, the presence and actions of police aren’t just immaterial; they are a part of the problem. The cops won’t have much to do except keep getting in the way of all the self-defending.

It is worth it to remember here that Florida’s first-in-the-nation “stand your ground” law, passed in 2005, didn’t explicitly lead to George Zimmerman’s acquittal after he killed an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in 2012. Zimmerman didn’t invoke it. But as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote at the time, the law was in the ether; it was intended partly to stop police from harassing lawful gun owners going about their business in public, and at least one juror understood herself to be bound by “stand your ground.” Twenty-seven states have now passed similar laws. We have moved from castle doctrine protections that allow you to defend yourself in your home to laws that allow you to shoot in self-defense anywhere you feel unsafe. Once we are there—or, rather, here—your gun both protects and endangers you, because you need lethal force to protect against those who would use your own lethal force against you. The “good guy with a gun” can reasonably assume everyone else is bad, or at least could be trying to kill them. The analytical circle is complete, and that circle is closing in on us all.

This week, jurors in Wisconsin will be tasked with applying Wisconsin’s self-defense law to Rittenhouse. That law allows the use of deadly force if a defendant “reasonably believed that the force used was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.” As Barbara McQuade has argued, partly because of a quirk of Wisconsin law, “in this case, Rittenhouse can argue that even if he provoked others to attack him by openly carrying his semi-automatic rifle at a mob scene, he was still able to use deadly force under Wisconsin law because he reasonably believed he had no other alternatives at those moments to avoid death or great bodily harm.” That means the jury is tasked with trying to imagine what they would do at a mobbed public protest in which so many people were brandishing weapons that the cops, trying to maintain order, stopped taking weapons to mean anything.

The Rittenhouse jury should not be held responsible for the ways in which gun owners may be emboldened to vigilantism by the outcome of this trial. You can provoke violence and reasonably be afraid of violence at the same time. The jury should not be held responsible for the potential proliferation of armed citizens taking it upon themselves to enforce the law, or the defenses those citizens will increasingly feel entitled to use to explain their actions once things go wrong. The jury must confine itself to the facts of this case. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is poised to ensure that in the future, juries will be asked, again and again and again, to decide how things should go when everyone had a gun, everyone else wanted to use it, everyone knew their intentions were good, but suspected everyone else was a danger. How do we act as a society when absolutely everyone is always in fear of their life? Welcome to the future. It’s already here.