For the past several weeks, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha Wisconsin has riveted a lot of the country, with millions of people having watched portions of the trial on livestream. Rittenhouse, part of a larger mob of armed fascist vigilantes, killed two people protesting police brutality on the night of August 25, 2020 and wounded a third. The people had been protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake, seven times in the back, for supposedly ignoring their orders while he put his children in the car on a Sunday afternoon. The two protestors Rittenhouse murdered were Joseph “Jojo” Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber; the wounded man is Gaige Grosskreutz.
What Is at Stake
This trial goes on in a climate in which fanatical fascists are invading every sphere of civil society, or public life, attempting to terrorize people who don’t go along with them. Public health officials are bullied by mobs, and told “we know where you live!” Election officials across the country report threats and harassment, including armed protesters in their backyards, for not going along with Trump’s “Stolen Election” lies. One in three report feeling “unsafe” in their job. At school boards, the fascists are coming up with lists of books to ban and even demanding book burnings. We are increasingly in a situation where it takes real courage to stand up for what is right, and this situation is getting worse with every passing day.
And now, in this trial, fascists are fighting for a judicial stamp of approval on their “right” to bring high-powered weapons to protests, brandish them at progressive demonstrators, kill people they deem “violent rioters,” and anybody who dares try to disarm them, and with all this, on their domination of the “public square.”
The Beautiful Rising and the Fascist Drive to Crush It
But now think back just 16 months. In response to video of the May 25, 2020 torture-murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops, a Beautiful Rising against police murder and white supremacy shook this country, from the most remote rural areas in Alaska, Idaho, and Texas to the biggest cities, and everyplace in between. It is estimated that over the next few months, 14 million people, especially youth of all nationalities, took part in protests against police murder of Black and Brown people and against systemic racism. This uprising shattered the façade of “the land of the free,” led millions to question the current reality, history and even the basic nature of America, and to search for real solutions to a situation they now found intolerable.
After a brief period in which pigs and fascists around the country were thrown off balance by the upheaval, even pretending to be horrified by the death of George Floyd, they began to unfold a mounting wave of violence against these protests. This involved both the police, and, increasingly, open fascist forces like the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, Patriot Prayer and others—many of the same forces that would later spearhead the bloody attempted coup at the Capitol on January 6.
Fascist-in-Chief Trump was at the forefront, rallying both the official and unofficial forces of repression. Just a week after Floyd was killed, on June 1, Trump directed a violent assault by DC and federal forces on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park. He repeatedly called on the pigs to “get tough,” and sent Homeland Security agents around the country to crush “hot spots”—places where people would continue to protest in the face of severe repression. That same day, a protester in Las Vegas, Jorge Gomez, 25 was shot dead by four cops at a George Floyd protest. On June 3, Robert Forbes, 55, was run down while kneeling in protest by a middle-aged white driver with his lights off in Bakersfield, California.
The “unofficial” fascists—who had already begun staging armed “protests” at state capitols against COVID health measures—were hearing the call. On June 28, Mark and Patricia McCloskey confronted protesters with a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol as they marched peacefully past the McCloskey’s huge house. Fascist media and politicians immediately made heroes out of them—they were invited to speak at the Republican National Convention!
More killings followed: On July 25 in Austin, Texas, a reactionary killed 28-year-old Garrett Foster, who was pushing his fiancée, Whitney Mitchell, a quadruple amputee, in her wheelchair during a protest. Fascists also ran wild in the intense struggle that summer in Portland, Oregon, often de facto working with “Homeland Security” forces sent by Trump to that city against the governor’s wishes.
Then on August 25, Kyle Rittenhouse—a white suburban youth from Illinois—traveled to Kenosha and shot three men, becoming another fascist media hero.
The Rittenhouse Trial: An Escalation of the Fascist Offensive
The Rittenhouse “trial” and its “surroundings” has so far been an escalation of that offensive, an effort to legitimize fascist terror and murder. In the Kenosha courtroom, reality was turned on its head—murderous vigilantes became “responsible citizens,” protesters for justice became “rioters,” and an armed white youth who had just killed a man and still threatened others became an innocent “victim” of the people who tried to disarm him—one of whom paid with his life, and the other with much of his right arm.
The presiding judge, Bruce Schroeder, maintains that “this is not a political trial.” In this context, this has meant that fascist politics have objectively dominated. Some examples, including from Schroeder’s rulings and behavior:
- Schroeder told a racist joke about Asian food; instructed the entire courtroom to applaud a key Defense witness because he was a U.S. military veteran; and publicly yelled at and berated the Prosecution. Even the ringtone on Schroeder’s phone—that went off in the court in the presence of the jury--sent a clear message: Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be An American,” the opening theme song for many a Trump rally!
- Schroeder oversaw the selection of 20 jurors/alternates that was 95% white.
- In pre-trial hearings, Schroeder ruled that Grosskreutz, Huber and Rosenbaum could not be referred to as “victims” because that was a “loaded term” that would prejudice the jurors against Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim. On its own this is an unusual but not unheard of ruling. But at the same time, Schroeder ruled that the dead men could be referred to as “rioters,” “arsonists,” and “looters” if the defense produced “evidence” that they were. The defense did not produce such evidence, and so did not by name refer to the dead and injured men with these terms. But the defense attorney and their witnesses were allowed to routinely refer to everyone at the protest as “rioters,” “looters,” a “mob.” One defense witness used “the violent rioters” nearly every time he wanted to refer to protesters. Since the men Rittenhouse shot were all demonstrators, obviously this terminology included them and prejudiced the jury.
All of this engulfed the jurors—and news media and viewers—in an entirely false narrative in which protesters were criminals spreading terror, and armed vigilantes were good guys bringing order. And it was all allowed by the judge.
Testimony: A Parade of Lying Fascists Denounce Protests, Distort Events Around the Murders
With only one witness called who was a demonstrator, the other witnesses have shaped the dominant impressions of the jurors of what went on that night. But what became clear through their testimony was that many were outright fascist witnesses1—people who were openly hostile to the Jacob Blake protests and to protests against police murder generally.2 These witnesses painted a ludicrous story of being “just folks” who saw some problems in Kenosha and wanted to help out… and somehow all ended up at the same car dealership, on the same night, mostly armed with AR-15s.
One after another these witnesses painted a lurid picture of the criminality of the demonstrators, keying in especially on Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse’s first victim. They said that Rosenbaum pushed a flaming dumpster into occupied police cars, that the vigilantes were being attacked by “gas bombs,” pelted by chunks of concrete, and so on. Ryan Balch3 and Rittenhouse swore that Rosenbaum screamed that he would kill Rittenhouse.
Oddly, although multiple videos of the night’s events were shown, none of the above acts were caught on tape. Rather, video mostly showed protesters milling around in the streets, chanting “Black Lives Matter,” and at times demanding that armed vigilantes stay on the property they claimed to be protecting and not come into the street. Small numbers of people at different points set dumpsters afire or broke car windows. Protesters were not seen physically attacking or endangering anyone. None of the vigilantes reported any significant injuries.
A particularly damaging role was played by Richie McGinnis, who followed Rittenhouse and Rosenbaum into the car lot where Rosenbaum—completely unarmed—was killed. McGinnis is a professional video journalist for the fascist Daily Caller website.4 He videotaped everything before and after the shooting, but “somehow” didn’t have video of the period during which the shooting took place. He offered no explanation for that gap, which left him as the only surviving witness (besides Rittenhouse) of that first murder.
- The coroner testified that Rittenhouse’s first shot broke Rosenbaum’s pelvis, so it is likely that he was falling, not “lunging.”
- The third and (fatal) fourth shots hit Rosenbaum in the back of the head and in the back.
- The Chicago Tribune pointed out, “Rosenbaum’s DNA and fingerprints were not found on the gun. Rittenhouse did not mention anyone trying to steal his gun when he offered his self-defense explanation to Antioch [Illinois] police roughly two hours later.”
So the jury will be weighing the testimony of the killer and of a fascist supporter of the killer, in the absence of other witnesses or clear video evidence, and in contradiction to the coroner’s report. But because of the way the trial has unfolded, with the normalization of the vigilantes and demonization of his victims, the nearly all-white jury may well go for this.
This then casts the other shootings in a different light. If jurors believe Rittenhouse was justified in shooting Rosenbaum, then they’re also primed to believe that the people who tried to disarm him using minimal force (e.g., Anthony Huber tried to hit him with his skateboard; according to police, Rittenhouse suffered no significant injuries) were a bloodthirsty mob. So shooting at those people can also appear “justifiable.”
Even as the trial concludes, awaiting closing arguments from defense and prosecution, jury instructions from the judge, and then deliberations, the repressive offensive continues in word and deed. Media reports that “While Kenosha has not seen any protests or demonstrations as the trial has gone on, the state isn't taking any chances. Gov. Tony Evers [a Democrat] sent in about 500 members of the Wisconsin National Guard for active duty to help local law enforcement.” Even while the outcome is not yet determined, one possible way to interpret this is that any protests are already being cast as unlawful and potentially violent. And the subtext is clear: that it would be much better for everyone if people expressed their outrage at a potential Rittenhouse acquittal in their own living rooms, not the streets.
In fact, it has to be bluntly said that one big problem so far with this case is precisely that “Kenosha has not seen any protests or demonstrations as the trial has gone on.” Most afternoons, Justin Blake—the uncle of Jacob Blake, the original victim of the police shooting which caused the righteous rebellion in Kenosha—has been conducting a lone vigil at the courthouse. On Wednesday, sixty people, including members of the Revolution Club from Chicago—the revcoms—and people from Refuse Fascism joined him, and there is a vigil planned for Tuesday afternoon, when the jury is expected to go out.
But aside from those expressions, the indifference, passivity and/or fear from way too many other people and political forces represents a big problem—again, whatever the outcome of the trial. Doing nothing when unarmed protestors are killed… doing nothing when a fascist movement lionizes their killer… doing nothing when, to listen to interviews and read the tweets, many of the people following the trial believe that an outrageous acquittal is about to go down… all this paves the way for something even more monstrous than the business-as-usual of this murderous white supremacist system, a much more severely repressive and openly white supremacist, misogynist and chauvinist (belief that “Americans are better than everyone else”) regime.
Courage is needed, yes. And in addition, for this struggle to go where it needs to go, something more than that: an orientation, analysis and leadership—and a revolutionary force—that organizes people to politically take on the fascists and defend the people under attack, and does so as part of getting rid of the system that arose and thrives on white supremacy and that has now nurtured and unleashed these fascists!
That analysis, that orientation, that leadership exists in Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader and author of the new communism. The core of that revolutionary force exists in the revcoms. But this must grow, rapidly.
This situation demands that decent people reflect, and act, on these words from “A Declaration, A Call To Get Organized Now For A Real Revolution”:
These days there is a lot of talk about another civil war, especially from fascists, in government and the broader society, who think they could just carry out a one-sided slaughter of those they hate, including Black people and other people of color, “illegal immigrants,” “uppity women” and those who don’t conform to “traditional” sexual and gender relations and “norms.” This situation needs to be radically changed, to where there are masses of people prepared to defeat these fascists and to do so as part of getting rid of this whole system, which has bred these fascists, along with all the other horrors it continually perpetrates.
What we need is “repolarization for revolution”—making real revolution an active and increasingly powerful force of first thousands, and then millions, of people organized to work for and win more and more people to this revolution—radically changing the “terrain” on which the revolution will be fought.