Category Archives: guns

Patriot or Martyr

 

I understand that the jury has still not rendered its verdict in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse and will resume deliberations tomorrow.  Yesterday I posted about why I thought there was a good chance he would be acquitted and made a hero.  Today I want to talk about the less likely  chance that he will be convicted and made a martyr. If he is a patriot for his actions as his supporters allege and many on the right believe to be the case, then if he is convicted  he will be hailed as a martyr. Which is it?

Personally, I don’t think a young man who travels from out of state carrying an automatic AR-15 style rifle  to an area of heated dispute   that some call riots and others protests, depending on which side of the great divide in America (and Canada) they lie, is a hero so should not be welcomed as a hero if successful  or a martyr if not.  Instead, he was a foolish young man who took a dangerous chance while endangering the lives of many others that led in fact to the deaths of 2 Americans while injuring a third.  He was not trained for this job and took it upon himself as a vigilante to “help” the police to do their job. He made things much worse as the trail of devastation behind him made clear. It is part of their belief that “the system” cannot be trusted and only private vigilantes or warriors can be trusted.

I realize that many young American men have been raised in the Marvel FantasyLand where such actions are encouraged. They think they can stand up to the evils of a corrupt or inept system that fails to protect American citizens.

Rittenhouse should not be valorized. He was hardly a peacemaker. No one should encourage other young American men (and they are largely men who do this) to take such foolhardy and dangerous actions. Such actions are not helpful. They are pouring fuel onto an already raging fire.

Rittenhouse may or may not be guilty of murder or the other crimes he was charged with, but he is neither a hero nor a martyr.  And he might be much worse.

 

Heroic Vigilantes

At the time I am writing this blog I don’t know if Kyle Rittenhouse has been found guilty of any the charges against him. I suspect he will be acquitted.  The reason is that self-defense in the US is a pretty robust defence. Added to that, the United States has a rich history of vigilantism, particularly on the border with Mexico, but really everywhere. This is particularly true where white vigilantes are defending the country against non-white threats. Vigilantes are part of American mythology. The country was built on this and frankly I think it is baked into the American DNA. As a result, I will be shocked if Rittenhouse is convicted.

If he is acquitted, I think many Americans, particularly on the right, will immediately make Rittenhouse out to be a hero. I think that would be a bigly mistake. Rittenhouse is no hero. David French wrote a fine essay on the subject in The Atlantic.  He pointed out that “For millions he’s become a positive symbol, a young man of action who stepped up when the police (allegedly) stepped aside.” This is precisely the point.  Millions of Americans don’t trust authority.  The pandemic should have by now made that clear to pretty well everybody.

In America there is a strong distrust of government and pretty well everyone in authority except a few perceived renegades, like the previous president. That distrust is the essence of vigilantism and anti-vaccism. Vigilantes are only needed because we can’t trust the authorities to do the right thing and protect us from harm. That is exactly why millions refused to get vaccinated. They refuse because the authorities tell us that is what we should do. For millions of people no more needs to be said to persuade us not to be vaccinated.

A willingness to dissent from authority can be charming. I often endorse exactly that myself. But as I have said before, it is charming only if the dissent is rational. It must be grounded on good reasons and evidence, not your uncle Ernie’s research on the internet.

Personally, I agree with French that “the Trumpist right is wrongly creating a folk hero out of Rittenhouse.” That does not mean he should be convicted.  I have been trying to follow the case in the newspapers and online. Frankly, I find the evidence mixed. There is significant evidence that Rittenhouse was asking for trouble. He went to Kenosha carrying an AR-15 style automatic rifle to defend American businesses from left wing rioters. So he thought. Then in defence of those businesses he was chased by at least 3 and maybe 4 protesters (or rioters if you like) one of whom had a gun and one of whom assaulted him with a skateboard. He may have legitimately feared for his life even though he had been immensely foolish to go to a riot (as he perceived it, not entirely without justification) with a rifle and basically without being trained to do so.

There are many cases of Americans doing very foolish and even dangerous things and getting shot at as a result, who nonetheless had a reasonable case for claiming self-defence. Remember the police officers who barged into the home of Breanna Taylor without knocking and unsurprisingly were met with gunfire in return from the occupant of her house?  The police fired back and were successful with their claim of self-defence to a murder charge even though they killed her boyfriend in his home. The police initiated the entire incident and were in my opinion entirely at fault, yet they were acquitted.

 

I think the same thing might happen to Rittenhouse. He was white and shot at 4 white men not a black man, so he will have a harder time making the defence work, but it certainly could. Added to that, he was defending white citizens from a perceived black mob. I don’t think he was justified in going to the city with a gun, but I think that defence might work. The American mythology might save him.

None of this makes Rittenhouse hero material. In much of white America though a young man carrying an automatic rifle to defend whites is automatically hero material. As French said,

“Most of the right-wing leaders voicing their admiration for Rittenhouse are simply adopting a pose. On Twitter, talk radio, and Fox News, hosts and right-wing personalities express admiration for Rittenhouse but know he was being foolish. They would never hand a rifle to their own children and tell them to walk into a riot. They would never do it themselves.”

 

That will not stop them from broadcasting their hypocritical support for Kyle Rittenhouse. And if Rittenhouse is made into an American folk hero, as I expect he will be, this will be a dangerous precedent for the next foolish young white man who steps into the next fray to defend his country from the perceived ravages of the next black militant.

As French explained,

“But these public poses still matter. When you turn a foolish young man into a hero, you’ll see more foolish young men try to emulate his example. And although the state should not permit rioters to run rampant in America’s streets, random groups of armed Americans are utterly incapable of imposing order themselves, and any effort to do so can lead to greater death and carnage. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in Rittenhouse’s case. He didn’t impose order. He didn’t stop a riot. He left a trail of bodies on the ground, and two of the people he shot were acting on the belief that Rittenhouse himself was an active shooter. He had, after all, just killed a man.”

Americans who encourage young white men to become vigilantes will have a lot on their conscience when the next young man, whether a white vigilante, or a black victim of vigilantism, is killed.

As French said,

“If the jury acquits Rittenhouse, it will not be a miscarriage of justice. The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives. But an acquittal does not make a foolish man a hero. A political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence and encouraging more young men to recklessly brandish weapons in dangerous places, and that will spill more blood in America’s streets.”

 

I am very interested to see what justice comes out of this trial. it will tell us a lot about that country.  I fear the “justice” will be a pretty thin and toxic gruel. After all, vigilantes are rarely heroes.

The US coughs and Canada catches cold

 

Some ask why I talk so much about the United States. “What about Canada?” The fact is that the United States is a very important country. It is not just in economics that the claim “The United States coughs and Canada catches a cold,” is true. It is also, sadly, often true in social matters too. So I will continue to comment on what happens there, but never forgetting that usually Canada is in the same position, though as a junior partner.

Recently, on the August long weekend, 2 mass killings occurred in the United States. One in Dayton Ohio and the other in El Paso Texas. After the killings, Donald Trump uttered some fine words, clearly saying that racism and hatred were unacceptable. His words could not be faulted as in other cases, but were his words adequate for the moment? Democratic rival Cory Booker called them “bullshit soup.”

As Alexander Burns pointed out in the New York Times, “President Trump faced intense new criticism and scrutiny for the plain echoes of his rhetoric in the El Paso gunman’s anti-immigrant manifesto.” According to Burns, “Democratic challengers blamed him explicitly for giving succor to extremists.” The leading Democratic contender at the time, Joe Biden, said Trump was guilty of trying “to encourage and embolden white supremacy.” Another contender, Elizabeth Warren, captured the situation well when she said that Trump had repeatedly been “amplifying these deadly ideologies.

What is clear is that Trump is no innocent bystander here. In recent weeks he has been loudly speaking out at rallies about 4 American Congresswomen of colour that they should go back to the rat infested countries from which they came. This was so even though 3 of them were born in the United States. I am not sure what a trope is or a dog whistle, but it is clear that such statement have made over and over again by blatant racists in the past.  Then at rallies he basked in the glow of hearing his audience loudly chant “Send them back; send them back.” In such circumstances “amplifying these deadly ideologies” is hardly an exaggeration. That is exactly what he has been doing.

In contrast to that, President Obama has been the voice of empathy and dignity. This is what he said, as quoted in the New York Times,  former President Obama wrote, “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments, leaders who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as subhuman, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.” That is exactly what we should do–reject them.

The fact is that Donald Trump is not really the issue. The real issue, I submit, is that the United States, with Canada following right behind, is a country deeply infused with violence. It takes very little to light that fuse. Almost any crackpot can do it. I believe this is the legacy of a racial bias that runs so deep and came so early to that country and to Canada that it  led to genocide against the original inhabitants of this hemisphere and the subsequent enslavement of African people numbering in the millions in the US and less in Canada. Then we added male supremacy and visions of human superiority over all of nature to that already toxic stew is. It is hardly surprising that we are in a lethal mess. It is probably inevitable.

Just a Garden Variety Drive-by Shooting

 

Chris and I intended to have our car obtain an oil change at Walmart but it was much too busy. We could not get in. The place was too busy as a result of the fact that at the other Walmart nearby, where we went for an oil change last year, someone was shot “multiple times.” That was how the police described it. Glad we were not there. It was  a drive-by shooting. I guess that is just a garden variety shooting around here.  Just goes to show how close we might be to violence here in Arizona. There are a lot of shootings in this country. That is a little disconcerting. Well,  I guess it was not that disconcerting. When we could not get in for an oil change we went to Starbucks for a latte and macchiato. No big deal. In After all, in Arizona shootings are no big deal.

All guns Matter

 

One day in Arizona, I saw 2  interesting T-shirts. The first  was emblazoned with a graphic image of an AR-15 automatic rifle and the caption: “All guns matter.” To many in America this is true, but this image was disturbing. It appropriates the line of an important social movement–Black Lives Matter–and turns it on its head. That movement was inspired to revolt against the continuous undervaluing of black lives in America especially by White Policemen who shoot them without justification at a deeply disturbing rate.

But I saw a better T-shirt too. It had a graphic of a fisherman with the caption: Fish Whisperer.  That gentle philosophy is more to my liking.

My Country tis of thy people you’re dying

 

On the way home from the theatre 2 days ago, we heard reports on the radio about young students from the school in Parkland Florida where 17 students were killed, allegedly by a young man with an AR-15. They had heard President Trump’s assurances that “they were safe” and were “loved” by people who would do “everything” to protect them. Lies in other words. Fake news. They also heard him offer once again his “thoughts and prayers,” but also noticed that in his talk the word “guns” was never spoken. After all it was not for nothing that the NRA had contributed $30 million to his presidential campaign! It appears that was money well spent.

The newspapers had also reported to the students that “their” Florida Senator Marco Rubio and “their” Florida Governor Rick Scott had both scored A+ in the rating released by the National Rifle Association about the quality of politicians from their perspective. A+ ratings are reserved by them for “legislators who have excellent voting records on 2nd Amendment issues and who vigorously fight to promote and defend the right to keep and bear arms.” I wonder how the students would have ranked them? I believe Rubio and Scott each received $3 million for their last election campaigns. Again money well spent from the perspective of the NRA. From the perspective of the students not so much.

In fact after the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Governor Scott said, “The second Amendment never killed anybody. Evil did.” So his solution for mass shootings is to allow evil to arm itself to the teeth with automatic rifles? Or is it to allow young people to buy them before they can vote or drive a car.

One of the 17-year old students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, that was interviewed said that Senator Rubio “had blood on his hands.” I concur.

Many of us thought that after the massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut in December 2012, when Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members, something would be done in the United States to control gun violence besides thoughts and prayers. After all what could be worse than that? We were sadly mistaken. Nothing was done except to make gun ownership easier.

The Florida students who have been casting blame on their politicians who have put campaign financing ahead of the safety of school children have got it right. They do have blood on their hands.

We also heard a college professor talking on National Public Radio. He has written previously on this subject. He says that Americans can expect changes in gun control laws in the next year. I was shocked to hear that. But I had not heard it all. He added, “Americans can expect changes to gun control laws that will make it easier to get guns with silencers.”

On the day of the Florida massacre the school Superintendant said “Today we saw the worst of humanity; tomorrow we will see the best as we move forward together.” I strongly disagree. If nothing is done once again, this is not the best of humanity; this is the stupidest.

How can one deny that this country is sick? It reminds me of what Buffy Sainte-Marie sang “My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.”