COMMENTARY - My mind keeps going back to the gloves on Rittenhouse’s hands, glowing blue in the streetlight, as this strange kid marched from block to block down Kenosha’s tear-gassed streets, with a goofy look on his face, like he was moving from one kill level to another in a video game for the damned.
What do the gloves mean? Were they meant to keep his fingerprints off the AK-15 strapped so awkwardly across his chest? Were they a measure of self-defense? A thin layer of latex to protect him from the virus so many of his fellow patriots contented was a hoax. Or were they an essential part of the costume for the role he was playing that night of the helpful paramilitary, the vigilante medic with the first-aid kit dangling from his belt. He announced he was there to help. He told anyone who would listen he was an EMT. “If you’re injured,” he shouted. “Come to me.”
Rittenhouse was there to help. But to help whom? From what? Rittenhouse came to the civil rights protests in Kenosha that night expecting to be needed. Expecting to be wanted. Expecting to be welcome. He also came expecting violence. What kind of violence? Perpetrated by whom? Not by the police. Rittenhouse felt safe where many others fear to tread–jaywalking down a street carrying a rifle in front of police, police who kill an average of three people a day for lesser offenses, safe enough to joke with them. He was one of them. Sort of. A junior police cadet back in Grayslake, Illinois. He didn’t fear them, even though the police had fired thousands of rounds of plastic bullets into dense crowds of protesters. Rittenhouse didn’t fear the Kenosha Guard, a militia group also armed to the teeth that night, whose geared-up members pointed laser-sighted guns at the crowd, hoping to incite a panic.
Fear was in the air that night in Kenosha. And some found it intoxicating, including the pudgy kid in the Army green t-shirt, combat boots and ballcap, who came to Kenosha with an assault rifle and medical kit to help. He’d use one, but not the other. Did he also come to spread fear? To instigate the carnage, he planned to treat? “If there’s somebody’s hurt,” he said. “I’m running into harm’s way.” It turns out: He was going to hurt somebody. Hewas harm’s way running.
Three people were shot that night in Kenosha. All by the boy who said he was there to help. The boy with the gloves. Did he expect to get blood on his hands that night?
Was Rittenhouse afraid when he fired his first shot, the moment he stepped out of the virtual and into the real? Certainly. But not as scared as the man he shot. Four times. And then stood over, as Joseph Rosenbaum bled from wounds in his head, arm, groin and back. He didn’t reach for his medical kit or call 9/11. He ran off into the night and called a friend, “I’ve just shot someone.” He kept going, harm on the run, shooting two more people, one in the heart and nearly blowing another’s arm off, before he was allowed by Kenosha cops to just slip away, back across the state line, to the safety of home in Antioch, Illinois.
Fear pulled the trigger. Fear spread fear. Fear was the killer. Fear was his friend.
How is it that the most armed society the world has ever known is also the most afraid? With every gun sold, the fear index rises, and not only, or even mainly, among the unarmed.
Rittenhouse wanted to help. But he was afraid. So he took the gun he’d stashed with a friend in Kenosha and went out on the street. Did the gun make him feel safe? If it did, it was only to instill fear in others. And their fear became his excuse to kill.
Kyle Rittenhouse standing his ground on someone else’s street with three bodies writhing at his feet, two of whom would bleed out. He only came to help. Is there a more American image? Isn’t this a snapshot of the humanitarian interventionism that has dominated US foreign policy for the last forty years? In Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Niger. Piles of bodies, stacked up by the world’s most militarized nation, all killed in the name of security and freedom, in an escalating vortex of violence and fear.
Violence becomes the instrument of its own exoneration. We come to help, but you make us kill. Your fear of our presence threatens our safety and we have come to make it safe. Secure. Irrational fear and self-defense have become the rationale for global slaughter.
All the while we put on our own surgical gloves to prove the sincerity of our intentions, as we rush into harm’s way. Blood may be spilled, but only out of fear. Don’t be afraid of our weapons, look at our gloves. We are here to help. But don’t make us prove it.
So we celebrate death. Not the dead. But the making of them. The acts of killing. The killer becomes the celebrity. Like Achilles dragging Hector’s corpse around the walls of Troy, Rittenhouse the avenger makes the rounds, telling his story of righteous wrath to the likes of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump. Republicans have dutifully introduced a resolution in the House calling for Shooter to be bestowed his victory laurels, the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.
Biology recapitulates phylogeny, Freud wrote (rephrasing Ernst Haeckel) in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Is it any surprise that children reenact the proclivities of the culture that reared them? And there’s no question that Kyle Rittenhouse is America’s progeny. One of many sons, raised on the forever wars, eager to help, one shot at a time.
(Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: [email protected] or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3. )