OPINION: Rittenhouse is a vigilante, not a political icon

Conservatives hailing Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero following his acquittal is a dangerous glorification of political violence. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who shot three men with an assault-style weapon at a police brutality protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year, was acquitted of all charges Nov. 20.

Rittenhouse should not be hailed as a hero. He arrived in Kenosha with the intent to intimidate — if not harm — and vigilante justice shouldn’t be idolized.

During the trial, Rittenhouse claimed on the stand that he was asked to go downtown by the owner of Car Source, a business that endured damage during the Kenosha demonstrations..

Even if Rittenhouse had not planned to commit violence as he claimed, his intent was to intimidate protesters with a loaded assault weapon — a crime that resulted in the death of two unarmed men and the maiming of another. 

The defense team and Rittenhouse’s supporters argue that he was first attacked by the protesters, resulting in the firing of his weapon. 

He entered a crowd, brandishing an assault weapon, similar to the kind used in mass shootings. Protesters had every reason to assume that violence was his intention.

As a citizen, not a police officer nor a dispatch of the state, Rittenhouse had no right to take the action he did. Counter-protest is one thing, and is his political right. No one has a right to intimidation or violence, political or otherwise.

Vigilante justice is a crime. The waiving of any repercussions is a dangerous precedent that encourages political violence.

Some conservatives are celebrating Rittenhouse as a champion of the Second Amendment, with three GOP lawmakers including Rep. Madison Cawthorn falling over each other to offer him White House internships.

Far-right groups have also claimed Rittenhouse. The Proud Boys, an organization with a history of armed violence, took to the streets to celebrate his acquittal. 

Following the Rittenhouse ruling, popular right-wing social media site GAB sent a Nov. 19 email to users to commit violence, according to Media Matters researcher Alex Kaplan.

“We need to buy firearms and form Christian militias as the Bible and our Constitution allows,” the email said. This follows months after GAB CEO Andrew Torba urged insurrectionists to storm the Senate.

The lauding of political violence by conservative legislators is irresponsible and indicative of how pervasive violent extremism has become in politics. If they want to truly preserve this country, Republican leaders need to call out against violence, not encourage it.

Two people died as a result of Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions. He is not a hero. He is not a symbol for patriotism. He embodies the dark turn the U.S. has taken and the hold violent politics have on young white men.