The Rittenhouse Verdict Was An Exercise in Power and Ideology that Underscores the Need to Advance Socialist Struggle in the U.S.
On Friday last week, a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts related to his murder trial, after the self-proclaimed right wing nationalist traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the summer of 2020 intent on shooting anti-racist protesters.
Rittenhouse made it clear before traveling to the epicenter of the people’s struggle in Kenosha that he intended to use an AR-15 against the “rioters” – a fact struck from the case by Judge Bruce Schroeder, who made every effort to impede the prosecution in favor of Rittenhouse’s defense and to create a farce of a trial in a kangaroo court. Such moves included pretrial rulings that barred prosecutors from presenting evidence of Rittenhouse’s ideological affiliations with the ultra-nationalist Proud Boys, that he attacked a woman months before the shootings or calling the people Rittenhouse shot “victims.”
Setting aside for a moment Schroeder’s clear bias in favor of the defense that drew national attention and his record of handing down draconian verdicts for Black defendants spanning his career and racist remarks during the case, there is a wider context to consider here. And it has nothing to do with self defense.
Rittenhouse, a self-proclaimed nationalist, was not convicted largely due to the simple fact that the capitalist state and its institutions have always taken a weak stance against right-wing violence, which historically has acted in its interests, and a heavy-handed approach to quelling any and all people’s movements against capitalism, racism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. Over the decades, anti-war movements, various radical leftist organizations and anti-racist movements actually built from a legitimate need for self defense against racist terror from within and outside of the state such as Black Panthers, have all been treated as dissidents due to their left wing ideology. Many are still political prisoners rotting away in prisons and subject to torture to this day.
Some of the first restrictions against open carrying were spearheaded by the very types of conservatives who now defend Rittenhouse – enacted specifically to disarm groups like the Black Panthers. Most recently, Black militias that formed during recent years of unrest related to Black Lives Matter protests, dubbed “Black Identity Extremists” by the state, have been targeted by the FBI for surveillance and even punished for social media posts, despite groups like the KKK receiving police protection at events nationwide. And the nationalist militias that Rittenhouse marched with receive little scrutiny from the state, since their political and ideological interests align with that of the police departments whose ranks are infested with nationalists that openly despise the left and are in some cases, supporters of those groups.
For the white supremacist capitalist state and its most loyal actors, Rittenhouse is an agent of order, whereas his victims are considered anarchists, terrorists, and agents of chaos that threaten to tear at the fabric of a social order they want to preserve.
Rittenhouse came to act as an extension of a racist state’s paramilitary police, while 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, of Kenosha, and 26-year-old Anthony Huber, of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, were engaged in a movement that defiantly combatted and challenged it.
All capitalist states’ armed institutions have been fueled by right wing nationalist ideologues, from their police to their militaries. In the US, the armed wings of the state are made up largely of people that act as willing servants of imperialism, who believe that the occupation of imperialized and colonized peoples is necessary in an effort to maintain domestic and global order, and who accept the price of their legitimized violence called “collateral” – in other words, dead non-white peoples at home and abroad which serve as sacrificial lambs to preserve American “democracy.” The similarities in how the US conservative and alt-right movement paints groups like the Proud Boys is eerily similar to how the liberal bourgeoisie, conservatives and even some social democrats viewed fascist gangs as allies against bolshevism and anarchism in pre-WWII Europe.
Despite so much showing that Rittenhouse represents a small part of a history of right wing violence against people’s movements, much of the progressive left has been tricked into doing what it has done for years in the wake of most injustices – it has reacted. And this time, much of it has opted not to point out the ideological context, but to argue against the basis of the defense and legalities of whether Rittenhouse is considered a criminal or not. None of this really matters given the ideological context of the case, and how capitalism and racism has maintained itself over the decades through force and state sanctioned violence. Over and over again, the US public absurdly finds itself relying on the same legal institutions and juries that maintain that system to right wrongs such as this.
Derek Chauvin, convicted of killing George Floyd earlier this year, was an anomaly among dozens of recent cases where state actors were put on trial (or tried at all) for carrying out extrajudicial murder, and he was arguably only convicted as a result of the pressure created by uprisings like the ones that happened in Kenosha.
Sadly, many victims of police and right wing racist violence, from Trayvon Martin to the communists and anti-racists slain by the KKK in Greensboro, NC, in 1979, have not been vindicated yet. There’s a reason for this, and the reason is simple. The system was designed this way, and the US revolutionary left has not organized itself into a cohesive force able to do much aside from sporadic protests in reaction to its mechanisms.
Instead of arguing with the dedicated ideologues who defend people like Rittenhouse and Chauvin, who defended George Zimmerman, and who always jump to the defense of state violence, it is the duty of communists and socialists to proactively build people’s movements that can grow to take power. These militant movements will be built town by town, in efforts to raise class consciousness whenever possible.
We must use the unrest that takes place in the wake of the Rittenhouse verdict as an opportunity to organize the most advanced workers – as well the most exploited and oppressed strata among them – to create revolutionaries dedicated to a new social order. Not just protesters, not just debaters, but a force built city by city, made up of people willing and able to dismantle the capitalist system that has a symbiotic relationship with white supremacy.