Rittenhouse Acquitted On Friday. New York Times Casually Normalizes Violent Right-Wing Militias By Sunday.
It's been a couple weeks since the New York Times published a total “what the fuck?" article, but in the aftermath of Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal, the paper of record did not disappoint:
So yeah, “paramilitary groups" (or translated from Caucasian, “thuggish gangs") feel “vindicated" that a jury gave the thumbs up to a vigilante kill spree dressed up as self defense. That's not a shock, but the Times reports this as if it's perfectly sane and rational.
The first sign of trouble is this tweet from the Times account: "Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal has reinvigorated support on the right for armed responses to racial justice protests." Someone not huffing the “both sides" paint fumes might instead write: “Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal has emboldened rightwingers to show up at peaceful protests with assault rifles."
During his interview with Tucker Carlson, Rittenhouse reportedly claimed he supported peaceful protesting, but just drew the line at criminal activities such as rioting, looting, and minors toting AR-15s — oh wait, just kidding, we guess he was OK with that last one. However, the Times abandons this distinction and directly equates “racial justice protests" with “riots." Let's just sit with that tweet for a moment: The Times casually states that paramilitary groups plan to show up armed to the teeth at any protest they dislike. This would have an obviously chilling effect on people who wish to safely exercise their right to peacefully assemble.
The Times article opens with a man named Kevin Mathewson. After Rittenhouse was acquitted, Mathewson declared like a 1980s pop song, “I'm walking on sunshine." Mathewson formed the armed vigilante group Kenosha Guard just days after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. He posted on Facebook the group's intent to "to deter rioting/looting" during any racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That's kind of what cops are for. After a cop shot Jacob Blake in the back last summer, Mathewson encouraged Kenoshans to “take to the streets with guns to defend the city." He did this on the Guard's Facebook page and the message went viral, "drawing thousands of RSVPs and comments threatening violence."
Thank you, Mr. Zuckerberg.
Dozens of mostly white armed
paramilitaries gangs confronted demonstrators in downtown Kenosha, which only made the situation worse. Mathewson claims he never met or coordinated with Rittenhouse. He was later banned from Facebook as part of the platform's apparently too-little-too-late policy.
Now that Mr. Rittenhouse had been acquitted, Mr. Mathewson felt cleared by association. "It vindicates Kyle," Mr. Mathewson said. "I felt vindicated by it." And, he went on, "It vindicates people that say, 'Look, no one's coming to help, we have to help ourselves.'"
This sentiment is more overtly anti-cop that most Black Lives Matter rhetoric, which is mostly “please don't kill or paralyze us." These white gangs seem to think the police are useless. There's also no compelling evidence that Rittenhouse accomplished anything that night other than killing two human beings and permanently disabling a third. He didn't actually effectively defend innocent car dealerships. He broke a lot of eggs without serving a single omelette.
The Times does acknowledge that “white vigilante groups, some of them openly white supremacist, responded violently to unrest in Black communities in multiple cities in the late 1960s, often with the acquiescence or active support of local police." Of course, the Times hedges its bets and suggests that only some of the white vigilante groups were openly white supremacist. The article doesn't mention how white vigilante groups have terrorized Black communities since Reconstruction. It just hops back to 2020.
In some cases, the armed groups and individuals were openly opposed to, and antagonistic toward, [racial justice] demonstrators. In others, they presented themselves as a volunteer security presence for private or government buildings, or even as neutral peacekeepers, though they were rarely welcomed as such by demonstrators.
Sure, Jan at the New York Times, the demonstrators unreasonably fail to acknowledge the authority of white vigilantes who claim they are a “volunteer security presence" or “neutral peacekeepers." God, this is eerily reminiscent of Lost Cause narratives that romanticized the Klu Klux Klan as "modern knights errant, taking the only means at hand to right wrongs" and maintain law and order.
The Times says the vigilante gangs are "not without precedent," yet focuses only on the post-Ferguson backlash. The words “Ku Klux Klan" or “KKK" don't appear in this article.
The armed groups that materialized in Kenosha appeared to span a range of motivations. Some were highly ideological, including members of the anarchic far-right Boogaloo movement, who could be seen in footage from several nights placing themselves between demonstrators and the police and guarding private property. Others saw themselves as simply defending local businesses or providing a sort of heavily armed neighborhood watch in the absence of an overstretched police department.
Jesus Christ, the Times actually paints the far-right Boogaloo movement in a positive light. Even the FBI has marked them as an extremist group that craves a second Civil War. The shameless spin about these vigilantes volunteering to help an “overstretched police department" gives cover for cops to step aside and let thugs take over. That's the lawless dystopia cops are supposed to oppose.
The Times also subtly promotes the notion that Rittenhouse's killings weren't technically racist or racially motivated because his victims were white. This ignores the documented history of racists executing white Civil Rights activists. Cars have been set on fire during riots after sporting events. That didn't compel armed white vigilantes to action.
There's an obvious story here but the Times apparently isn't interested in telling it.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."