This Isn’t a Court of Justice, This is a Court of Law: Unpacking the Rittenhouse Verdict

by Keaton Weiss

Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all five counts: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of reckless endangerment.

The verdict was met with predictable backlash from the Left, who are calling the trial a disgraceful miscarriage of justice, and another victory for the white supremacist Right. To them, this was more than a trial – it was a proxy for a larger political struggle in which privileged white men seem to win all too often. They rightfully point out that were the shoe on the other foot, and Rittenhouse was a black man showing up armed to a MAGA rally and killed two people, he’d have likely not lived to have his day in court.

The problem with this analysis is not that their assessment of the prevailing social dynamics or the aforementioned hypothetical result of an alternate scenario is wrong, but that such opinions cannot be relevant to the outcome of an individual’s criminal trial.

In a murder trial, only one thing matters: the guilt or innocence of the defendant based upon the law and the evidence. Period. A guilty verdict – the consequence of which is at least a decades-long prison sentence, at most, life in jail or execution – can only be rendered if the evidence proves the defendant’s criminality beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, it’s clear based on all the evidence that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. The first person he killed, Joseph Rosenbaum, had been starting a fire earlier that evening. When confronted over it, according to trial testimony, he said within earshot of Rittenhouse, “If I catch any of you guys alone tonight I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Later on, video clearly shows Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse through a parking lot, and Rittenhouse is seen running away. Only after Rosenbaum catches up to him and reaches for him does Rittenhouse open fire.

After this first violent incident, Rittenhouse ran towards the police, and was followed by a group who had seen the shooting and sought to disarm him themselves. This is when Aaron Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz attacked Rittenhouse, knocking him over. Huber struck him with his skateboard. Rittenhouse shot him, fatally wounding him. Grosskreutz then stopped and put his hands up. Rittenhouse held his fire. Grosskreutz then, gun in hand, lunged towards Rittenhouse, who fired one shot into his arm, injuring him (this is all captured on video, which can be seen by clicking here, viewer discretion is advised).

No one who has seen the video and even nominally followed the trial has disputed that Rittenhouse was indeed attacked by aggressors who he then shot. Therefore, the essential thrust of the argument that those who wanted a conviction are making is that Rittenhouse went to Kenosha that night looking for trouble, and that the very act of bringing an AR-15 into that situation was itself a reckless provocation, and a de facto forfeiture of any legitimate claim to self defense.

This assertion that Rittenhouse sought to provoke violent confrontation that evening is the linchpin of the argument for his conviction. This is where the case becomes much more complicated than many making this argument want to recognize.

First, I should say that personally, I feel that bringing an automatic weapon to a riot should be illegal, and should be itself considered an act of reckless endangerment. Were these laws on the books, Rittenhouse’s claim to self defense would be much less valid. In that case, it would be written in law that whether of not he felt he was there that night to do good and keep the peace, the society had, through the democratic process, deemed that his actions were inherently dangerous and destructive. Bringing his weapon to the protest, in that case, would have been a conscious act of defiance against such a consensus.

Unfortunately, the situation I just outlined does not accurately describe the circumstances under which these tragic events unfolded. There are no such laws stating it is illegal to patrol the streets with an AR-15 during a riot. In fact, as we all know, half the country idolizes this kind of vigilantism, and insists upon every individual’s right, and perhaps even an obligation, to defend themselves using force if necessary.

And so, given this lack of legal precedent and the social and political realities of the times, it then becomes necessary to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that Rittenhouse sought out violent confrontations in Kenosha that night, so much so that even if he didn’t technically initiate the conflict (which, again, video evidence shows he didn’t), he could still be blamed for igniting it.

This is a nearly impossible case to make. It’s made especially difficult by the fact that despite the corporate media’s insistence that he had no ties to Kenosha and that he “crossed state lines” specifically to go there and find trouble, that he lived just across the Illinois border, his father lived in Kenosha, and he had worked there in the past. The presumption that he had nefarious motives from the outset is further contradicted by photo evidence showing him cleaning graffiti off a school earlier that day, and video footage reviewed by The New York Times of him offering medical assistance to protestors.

Given the abundance of evidence that contradicts the condemnation of Rittenhouse as a hotheaded angry white supremacist looking to hunt down Black Lives Matter protestors, it is not reasonable to expect a conviction from a jury legally obliged to acquit unless they can honestly determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assumptions about Rittenhouse’s politics, value judgments about his privilege as a white person, and indignation about how marginalized groups – people of color, battered spouses, Muslims, immigrants – are rarely given the same benefit of the doubt when they act violently in self defense, are all valid thoughts and feelings. But none of them have anything to do with the only pertinent question material to the case, which is, once again, based on the law and the evidence, is Kyle Rittenhouse guilty or not?

Harvard law professor Thomas Reid Powell is known for the quote, “If you can think about something that is related to something else without thinking about the thing to which it is related, then you have a legal mind.” This applies perfectly to evaluating the Rittenhouse verdict. Of course, negative feelings about who Rittenhouse is and the sociopolitical forces he represents are perfectly valid. That such feelings would influence one’s attitudes about the outcome of his trial is a natural and understandable impulse. However, a core principle of our legal system is that such opinions must be held in check when determining his guilt or innocence based on the evidence and facts of the case.

It is simply impossible to maintain a functioning judicial system in a pluralistic society without adhering to this principle. Perhaps a more accessible quote describing a similar dynamic is a lyric by the great Leftist songwriter Billy Bragg that goes, “This isn’t a court of justice, son. This is a court of law.”

Struggles for political and social justice exist in the streets and, theoretically at least, at the ballot box. The courts are a separate branch of government precisely because they are meant to uphold and enforce the law, not to shape them in the image of political actors. Yes, in a sane society, there would have been laws on the books prohibiting Kyle Rittenhouse from showing up armed to the gills in Kenosha that night. In such a society, he would be guilty of reckless endangerment the second he stepped onto the scene, and likely would have been apprehended by police before anyone got hurt. This is the society that, in my view, we should all strive to create. But that isn’t the society in which we currently live.

The society in which we currently live is one embedded with wild west vigilantism and frontier paranoia, where use of force in self defense is celebrated, if not outright romanticized as “heroic masculinity.” These unfortunate social dynamics were certainly at work on August 25, 2020, and anger and frustration about how they affected the events of that night are completely justified.

But once again, a jury is legally and constitutionally bound to prevent such emotions from affecting their verdict in a murder trial. All that matters in such an arena is the defendant’s guilt or innocence based on current law and existing evidence, not based on what they feel a just society might look like, and what their verdict would be under those hypothetical circumstances. Based on the appropriate criteria, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was impossible to establish in this case, and so the jury made the correct decision in acquitting Kyle Rittenhouse.

We discuss the trial and the verdict in further detail in episode 127 of the Due Dissidence podcast. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and Subscribe to our podcast and listen on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

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The Devolution Will Be Televised: Rittenhouse’s Trial is a Symptom of Our Social Collapse

by Keaton Weiss

Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial is the latest in a continuing series of high profile court proceedings to be televised for all to see. Yesterday, Rittenhouse burst into tears when recounting the events leading up to the moment he shot three men, killing two.

His outburst quickly went viral online. Those on the Right rushed to his defense:

And of course, the Left’s response was far less charitable. Many accused Rittenhouse of faking his tears altogether, and expressed their feelings for him in rather uncompromising language:

Meidas Touch, a popular online #resistance liberal opinion outlet, called Rittenhouse’s meltdown an “Oscar-worthy performance” in their YouTube video retweeted over 3,000 times at this writing:

Perhaps nothing symbolizes how this case has enflamed the already raging culture wars more than how both political camps drew parallels between the Rittenhouse trial and the infamous Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings of 2018:

The Right and Left’s predictably disparate reactions to this incident are among the latest and most palpable examples of our deteriorating social fabric. When the whole country can watch the same tape and respond this differently, it certainly creates the impression that the gulf between us is irreconcilable.

To make matters worse, both sides seem oblivious to this broader dynamic, as both are too staunchly committed to their respective positions to realize the hopelessness of the larger situation. They’re too close to the particulars to realize the tragic arc of the overall timeline; too convinced of their own righteousness to reckon with the fact that the war they’re fighting is unwinnable, because the society they’re fighting for is unsalvageable.

Televising the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse only exacerbates this problem. It draws everyone’s attention to one person, which serves to exonerate the real culprit in this story: the system as a whole.

To even express an opinion on Kyle Rittenhouse himself is to miss the forest for the trees. Whatever Rittenhouse may or may not be – to the Left, a murderous white supremacist vigilante, or, to the Right, a noble defender of law and order – we know for sure that he was just a 17-year-old kid at the time of the killing in question.

At such an age, no one is anything but a product of their environment. Kyle Rittenhouse is an output of the same system that murdered George Floyd; the same system that sparked the Black Lives Matter uprisings against it; the same system that allowed him to get his hands on that Smith & Wesson M&P 15 and flaunt it through the streets of Kenosha that fateful August night.

As emotionally satisfying as it may be for some to liken Kyle Rittenhouse to Brett Kavanaugh, this is of course a ludicrous comparison. Kavanaugh is arguably one of the 100 most powerful people on earth, an architect of the status quo that produces thousands of angry young boys like Kyle Rittenhouse, who are simply byproducts of a decaying social infrastructure. It’s no surprise that such a distinction would be lost on a movement of critical race theory proponents who see Kavanaugh and Rittenhouse as indistinguishable because they share a particular skin color. In a world where all whites are oppressors and non-whites victims, Brett Kavanaugh and Kyle Rittenhouse are the same. This is a world in which all other power imbalances are glossed over, such as the glaringly obvious one between a Supreme Court Justice and a brainwashed adolescent.

Here in reality, Kyle Rittenhouse is nothing more than a pawn in the game. He’s a moving part, a cog in the machine built by the likes of Kavanaugh and other elite actors. He’s today’s fall guy for the same rotten system that produced Derek Chauvin, whose guilty verdict was a source of much rejoice on the Left just a few months back.

Both the Chauvin trial, and now the Rittenhouse trial, give people the mistaken impression that to bring these men “to justice” is itself significant progress in the struggle to ameliorate the social ills that created them in the first place. If anything, the obsession with Chauvin and Rittenhouse as individuals only provides cover for the malevolent social circumstances out of which they arose. To celebrate their comeuppance is to revel in the same spirit of vengeance and retribution that undergirds our entire system of “criminal justice,” one that has victimized generations of black men using the exact same pretexts.

Instead, this justified anger is better directed at the structures and institutions that allowed for the killing of George Floyd. Of course, such systemic critiques are outside the bounds of what the establishment considers acceptable. This is why the corporate media was happy to serve up Derek Chauvin on a platter, but balks at any suggestion of defunding the police.

They’ll allow you your Two Minutes Hate against the villains du jour, but direct that same indignation at the machinery that spat them out, and you’ll quickly find yourself on the wrong side of the same media apparatus that riled you up about Chauvin, Rittenhouse, and whoever the next hapless stooge happens to be.

And so, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse is just another symptom of a nation in decline and a society coming apart at the seams. Its warring factions are both too enraged to notice that the society over which they’re fighting has already been lost, and its architects will never legitimize any serious attempt to course correct.

All we’re left with are back-and-forth deliberations over individual people with little to no power, and heated debates about their “privilege” and how to hold them “accountable.”

However accountable Kyle Rittenhouse is for his actions, it’s apparent to any clear-eyed observer that our system of brutal capitalism enforced by militarized policing is the guiltiest party in all of this. As long as this societal arrangement is unchangeable through democratic means, none of these judgments for or against individual actors like Chauvin and Rittenhouse will make much difference. Instead, what appears as two opposing sides in a struggle for the future of the country is really just the collective and cacophonous dying scream of a doomed American experiment.

If you enjoyed this content, please consider helping us create more of it by making a secure donation via Venmo (@duedissidence) or PayPal, or by becoming a member at Patreon. Thank you for your supporting independent media.

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Judas and the Black Messiah is Essential Viewing for the Modern Left

“The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security,” proclaims Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover at the beginning of the new film, Judas and the Black Messiah, “Our counter-intelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black Messiah from among their midst – one with the potential to unite the Communist, the anti-war, and the New Left movements.”

He then cues up a video of Fred Hampton reciting his famous quote, “We ain’t gonna fight capitalism with Black capitalism – we’re gonna fight capitalism with socialism.”

The new film by Shaka King is worth watching for a number of reasons, but it’s essential viewing for the new “New Left” – especially the first half. The latter portion of the movie focuses more on the mechanics of the FBI’s mission to infiltrate and debilitate the Black Panthers through informant Bill O’Neal, and eventually, to murder Hampton. This makes for compelling cinema, and provokes the appropriate amount of righteous anger in the audience. However, it’s the film’s first hour, which establishes why the Black Panthers, and Hampton in particular, were deemed such a threat to begin with, that makes Judas and the Black Messiah such a must-see.

Hoover makes the point quite plainly in the film’s opening sequence: what made Hampton so dangerous to the status quo was his “potential to unite” disparate factions of the broader anti-capitalist movement. Hampton, in his efforts to build, strengthen, and expand mutual aid programs throughout Chicago, sought to form relationships with seemingly unnatural allies. The most notable example of this is depicted about 40 minutes into the film, when the Panthers appear at a meeting of the Young Patriots Organization, an activist group of poor whites who immigrated to Chicago from Appalachia, and were facing many of the same problems in their neighborhoods that the Panthers were in theirs.

The Young Patriots ended up forming an alliance with the Panthers and a Puerto Rican turf gang called the Young Lords, which became the original “Rainbow Coalition.”

As much as the modern Left talks about our goal of uniting poor and working class peopl across racial and ethnic lines, many self-described Leftists seem unwilling to even explore the possibility of forging the kinds of partnerships that Hampton and the Panthers found so necessary. Many on today’s Left would be quick to label a group like the YPO as “toxic,” “problematic,” and “fascistic,” and dismiss out of hand the prospect of any collaboration with them. They view such people as being obsessed with their own “whiteness,” and “afraid of losing their status and power” over people of color. Fred Hampton realized that despite their white skin, the Young Patriots didn’t have any meaningful status or power to lose, because they were poor. In spite of their disparate cultural attitudes, their material challenges and interests were sufficiently aligned to the point where they felt they could pursue a political partnership.

At first, Hampton even accepted their use of the Confederate flag as a symbol, understanding the power of such imagery and symbolism as a recruiting tool. In short time, the Young Patriots would wear Panther buttons and hide their Confederate flag imagery out of respect when the Panthers were present. Eventually, more and more YPO members retired the Confederate flag altogether, recognizing it as a symbol of oppression and slavery.

It’s almost impossible to imagine such evolution in 2021. Of course, the siloing of American politics in general is largely to blame for this, as the media landscape is such that people nowadays are rarely exposed to opposing viewpoints. But the tendency on the modern Left to deliberately narrow its ranks by sniffing out those who they deem impure and ostracizing them from the movement cannot be dismissed.

Many on today’s Left seem more interested in establishing their own bonafides as “true Leftists” than they are in growing a vast and powerful Left movement. They seek to bolster their status within an increasingly select group by figuring out ways to prove that their peers in the movement aren’t as “radical” or as “genuine” as they are. They fail to grasp what Fred Hampton understood, which is that the most radical act of all is the acquisition and wielding of power through mass politics. Hampton’s legacy is a testament to the power of class solidarity as an organizing tool, and his willingness to build coalitions with the unlikeliest of partners is what made him so threatening to the establishment that the FBI ordered his assassination. Judas and the Black Messiah is an indispensable document of Hampton’s vision, and a chilling reminder of the ruthless evil he was up against.

We discuss this and other topics on episode 107 of the Due Dissidence podcast. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below:

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Photo: Paul Sequeira