WDeciding on their suits and ties, the two men give the camera smiles and thumbs up. One of them is Donald Trump, the former president of the United States. The other is Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two people in an anti-racism protest. Behind them is a framed photo of Trump meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
mesmerizing painting I walked out of former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida earlier this week. It was, in fact, Rittenhouse’s coronation as the future star of the right-wing media, the Republican Party, and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement in their crusade against liberalism.
“Kyle Rittenhouse has become the poster child for a general feeling among some in this country that white America is under siege,” NSDede Glodd, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, wrote in the Washington Post. “This argument goes that Rittenhouse defended himself, and white America should do the same.”
Rittenhouse was 17 last year when he traveled 20 miles from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where racial justice protests have been staged since a white police officer shot black man Jacob Blake.
Rittenhouse joined others who said they wanted to protect private property. Armed with an AR semi-automatic rifle, he shot and killed two people and wounded a third. He said in court that he shot in self-defense after being attacked, fearing for his life.
When a jury acquitted Rittenhouse of all charges earlier this month, he urged progressive activists to have a fresh discussion about gun safety and vigilance. But the Republican congressmen wasted no time in making Rittenhouse a victim turned hero.
Madison Cawthorne of North Carolina, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Paul Gosar of Arizona floated the idea of displaying Rittenhouse training in their offices on Capitol Hill. They were overtaken by Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia by sponsoring a bill in the House of Representatives to award Rittenhouse a gold medal in Congress to protect the Kenosha community.
Not to be outdone, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared as a potential 2024 presidential candidate: “Kyle Rittenhouse did what citizens should do in such a situation: step forward to defend the community against mob violence.”
And in light of Rittenhouse’s meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, it wouldn’t be surprising if the 18-year-old was given a place to speak at next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) or the future Republican National Convention. (RNC).
Kurt BardellaOne DNC advisor said, “It’s very clear they are trying to make it their mascot. Anytime your mascot is someone who thinks it’s an acceptable form of protest to show up at a political event with an AR-15, that glorifies violence. And that’s dangerous. To support and promote it.”
In the week of Rittenhouse’s acquittal, all but two of the House Republicans refused to reprimand Gosar for publishing an animated video depicting him killing Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Biden.
Bardella, a former Republican congressional aide and spokesperson for the right-wing Breitbart News, added: “It’s a pattern. These are not isolated incidents. One follows the other and it’s not a coincidence and it’s not a coincidence. It’s a deliberate strategy.”
Rittenhouse’s reverence, filmed in a bar before his trial with apparent members of the far-right Proud Boys, fits the tried and trusted playbook. Mark and Patricia McCluskey, a white couple in St. Louis who pointed guns at black protesters marching in front of their house, addressed the RNC last year the day before Rittenhouse opened fire in Kenosha.
Mark McCluskey is now running for the US Senate in Missouri and has welcomed Rittenhouse’s acquittal by saying: “Liberals want to defend the police and prevent you from defending yourself, your family, your home, and your business. I would never stand up for that. I defended Kyle Rittenhouse and his right to self-defense.”
Nicholas Sandman, a high school student from Kentucky who sued the media for depicting his interaction — wearing a maga hat — with a Native American activist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, also came to embody the grievances on the right.
And the pro-Trump mob who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 in an effort to prevent the ratification of Joe Biden’s election also received similar treatment. Taylor Green visited accused staunch offenders in what she called the “national wing” of a Washington prison, and denounced her conditions when she tweeted: “I’ve never seen human suffering like I witnessed last night.”
Trump himself praised Ashley Babbitt, the Capitol rioter who was shot by police, calling her a “really amazing person” and recorded a video celebrating her 36th birthday in what many saw as an attempt to turn her into a martyr.
Every Celebrity cause is usually amplified by conservative media. On Monday, more than 5 million viewers watched an interview with Rittenhouse by Tucker Carlson, the largest audience for a Fox News opinion host since the night of the January 6 attack.
Carlson told viewers: “During our long conversation, Kyle Rittenhouse struck us as a smart, decent, loyal, devoted, hard-working person… which is exactly the kind of person you would want more of in your country. He’s not particularly political. He never wanted to be an icon for any Thing “. He also described Rittenhouse as a “nice kid”.
In the interview, Rittenhouse claimed he was “severely defamed” during the case, prompting speculation that he would take legal action against the media and politicians. Urging him to do so, Sandman wrote in the Daily Mail: “It is impossible not to draw parallels between me and Kyle Rittenhouse…the attacks on Kyle came from the national news media, just as they came from me.”
Other Fox News presenters have enjoyed the opportunity to “own libs.” Laura Ingraham chirp: “The Left Turns Wild. Enjoy” before the caption: “Kyle and the Liberal Mind.” Interviewed by Sean Hannity, Trump, after meeting Brittenhouse, made a provocative claim: “He shouldn’t have had to suffer through the trial. He should never have.”
Comments like this point to resisting a left-wing tyranny that infringes on individual rights, such as the right to bear arms. “This is where the energy in the party is,” said Dan Cassino, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of Fox News and American Politics: How One Channel Shapes American Politics and Society.
“If you ask people on the Right or look at the right-wing media, they will tell you that all the people Kyle Rittenhouse called were criminals, they were terrible, they were going to kill everyone and these people are heroes for standing up, especially for using their Second Amendment rights.
“That’s a big part of this novel, that having guns allows you to stand up to chaos and it’s something that’s necessary to do in order to protect your community. It’s not Kyle Rittenhouse himself: he’s been protecting his community, and that’s what the Second Amendment is about in regards to them.”“
But the normalization of violence exemplified by Trump’s remarks at rallies and Gosar’s tweet and Rittenhouse’s appraisal is likely to be politically polarizing, leading to the Maja base shooting and stopping some constituencies in the election.
“The challenge for Republicans vying for competitive seats is, is that what you want? He is a man who is not welcomed by many people, including suburban women and better-educated women,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota. People running with automatic weapons in the street? That doesn’t really excite them.
“I would expect the Tramps to grab him, take him out, make him smile and wave and say some things. But I think the candidates might be more selective.”