Folk Hero or Dangerous Idiot



The American right is, as predicted trying to make a hero out of Kyle Rittenhouse the young man, who shot and killed 2 men and injured a third in Wisconsin. Some are selling T-shirt with his name on them. Others are selling whisky to raised money on his behalf. Celebrity as important as money in American, is now his reward for inserting himself into an explosive situation to defend America. The classic vigilante well rewarded.


David French in The Atlantic, had some interesting things to say about young vigilantes. He pointed out, “a political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence.” Rittenhouse fled with his AK-15 style automatic rifled when the protesters/rioters (depending on your point of view) he confronted turned on him. I would say they did that in self-defense.  None of them shot at Rittenhouse. He had already killed one of them. When Rittenhouse fled he heard a gunshot, though he admitted that no one shot at him, and he fired at two of the pursuers, killing one and injuring another.  What kind of a hero is that? Is that what we want American boys to do? Would you want your son to do that?


Yet by now, the myth of the brave warrior has gained potency, no matter how absurd. Those who are unhinged from reality because they are so absorbed by the myth of vigilante have a new hero—Kyle Rittenhouse.  The latest version is the young man with an AK-15 style automatic rifle firing on unarmed people chasing him after he shot one man. French paints this picture of that young hero:

As seen in Kenosha, in anti-lockdown protests in Washington State, and in the riot in Charlottesville, one of the symbols of the American hard right is the “patriot” openly carrying an AR-15 or similar weapon. The “gun picture” is a common pose for populist politicians. Mark and Patricia McCloskey leveraged their clumsy and dangerous brandishing of weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters into an appearance at the Republican National Convention. Rittenhouse is the next step in that progression. He’s the “patriot” who didn’t just carry his rifle; he used it.

Many Republican politicians actually show photos of themselves carrying guns in their political ads. Isn’t there something unsettling in that image? It is the image of America on the warpath. As David French said of these young wanna be superheroes:

 “But there is also an immense difference between quiet concealed carry and vigilante open carry, including in ham-handed and amateurish attempts to accomplish one of the most difficult tasks in all of policing—imposing order in the face of civil unrest. And there is a dramatic difference between the use of weapons as a last resort, when your life or the lives of others are in immediate danger, and the open carrying of weapons as an intimidation tactic or as an intentionally disconcerting display of political identity and defiance.”


Most Americans know that the myth of the vigilante is a myth. It may have power to move them but not enough to get them out of their parent’s comfortable home. They are safe in their beds at night. Yet, their political leaders egg them on to get out there and save the nation. Become a patriot! Reap the rewards. Pack some heat and exercise your second Amendment rights and walk the mean streets looking for trouble, while your political leaders, like Donald Trump, after encouraging their followers to  invade the capitol, retreat to their 5-star hotels smirking at the suckers who do what they ask.

The political leaders may be weak, but they have a powerful influence on the youth enthused by the mythology enough to go out there and make their lives meaningful by shooting at hapless dissidents.  Those leaders are just “adopting a pose,” as French but it is a deadly pose, not for them or their own sons, but for the “suckers.”

There are long term consequences to marrying yourself to a myth. Eventually you tend to get caught up in the maelstrom you have created. Sometimes, like Rittenhouse, you get away with it. At other times, not so much.

The problem with vigilantes is not just that they impose order where the lawful authorities fail to do it. The problem is that they don’t impose order at all. They pour fuel on a sparking dispute and turn it into a conflagration. That is precisely what Rittenhouse did. He did not help bring law and order, he made things worse. Much worse. He left a bloody trail of dead and injured in his wake.

The American right that is determined to make a hero of a foolish young man with a gun should be careful of what they ask for. It might be even uglier next time, for there will certainly be a next time. The myth of the warrior vigilante just got a supercharge in Kenosha Wisconsin. And such warriors tend to fire away indiscriminately. Then the American right will have even more blood on its hands, but by now they are getting quite accustomed to that.


Leave a Reply