Category Archives: Vigilantism

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.





David French described Kyle Rittenhouse’s conduct this way in his illuminating article in The Atlantic:

“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…without any meaningful training, he was engaged in remarkably dangerous and provocative conduct. But that dangerous and provocative conduct did not eliminate his right of self-defense, and that self-defense claim is the key issue of his trial, not the wisdom of his vigilante presence. But that brings us to the danger of Kyle Rittenhouse as a folk hero. It is one thing to argue that the law is on Rittenhouse’s side—and there is abundant evidence supporting his defense—but it is quite another to hail him as a model for civic resistance.

It was frankly to be expected that an American jury, composed mainly of people who appeared to be white, would acquit a young “brave” hero, as Trump described him, who wanted to protect them from the black hordes. It would have been surprising had they not done that. It is also not surprising that the jury accepted the claim that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense, even though he created the dangerous conditions by showing up where he did not belong with an automatic rifle. Did his victims not have the right to use self-defense to protect themselves against him? That’s how the law, especially in the United States, works when the police and justice officials are also infused with the same mythology. As a result, the law in its majestic manner arranged for Rittenhouse to walk away a free man while 2 men were left to die on the street as a result of his highly unreasonable actions.


Mythology of the Vigilante


The problem in the Rittenhouse case is that the prosecutors had to contend not only with a very limiting self-defense law in the United States, but also a deep and very real mythology of the vigilante. That mythology has justified some of the most astonishing acts of violence conceivable. That was nowhere more clearly displayed than Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant book Blood Meridian which described acts of nearly unimaginable violence involving vigilantes on the Mexican border. That mythology has been reinforced in recent decades by the Marvel comic universe where every young boy is allowed to be a defender of the people. I thought Rittenhouse was astonishingly foolish in bringing the danger upon himself, but in law, people are allowed to be foolish. As David French pointed out in The Atlantic,

“The narrow nature of the self-defense inquiry is one reason people can escape responsibility for killings that are deeply wrongful in every moral sense. Take, for instance, cases in which bad cops create danger and confusion through incompetence or excessive aggression, and then they respond to the danger or confusion they created by using deadly force.”


The power of the right to self-defense, particularly in the US, much more so than in Canada, was evident a couple of years ago in the case of Breonna Taylor. In that cases cops with a “no-knock warrant” in hand, without warning, in the middle of the night, crashed into her apartment she was sharing with her boyfriend. Unsurprisingly, in the dark of night he fired a shot at the police in self-defense and they fired an incredible volley of shots into the apartment in return, but still also  supposedly in self-defense. Even though the police had foolishly and dangerously created the incident that mothered the ensuing violence, the Grand Jury refused to authorize charges against the police.

Rittenhouse was just as foolish and just as much the author of his own misfortune, but none of that mattered in the law of Wisconsin.  Even though 17-year old Rittenhouse inserted himself into a potentially violent situation, swinging an AK-15 style automatic rifle and elicited a reaction by the protesters/ rioters to defend themselves, when they chased Rittenhouse to such an extent that he feared for his life, in effect the jury called shooting his pursuers self-defense.

A man, or even a boy, with an AR-15 assault style weapon cruising the streets of America looking for damsels or others in distress has become part of this vibrant mythology. These are American patriots, even though they unleash inevitable violence and seldom perform the magic they have learned in their FantasyLand to expect.

Even if they leave a trail of dead bodies in their wake, accomplish absolutely nothing to bring about law and order, protect no one, they can become instant  heroes invited by right wing politicians to be their aides and a former president call them “brave”.

The mythology of self-defense is so potent it can turn vinegar into wine.

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.

What will the jury do in the Rittenhouse case?


I have been fascinated by the case of Kyle Rittenhouse since the day I heard about it.  I think the Associated Press captured the issue well: “the shootings that left Americans divided over whether he was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.” That is exactly what I have been trying to figure out. It seems everyone on the left thinks he is a crazed self-appointed vigilante while those on the right see him as a glamorous defender of life and property. Which is it?

Rittenhouse testified on his own behalf, which is always a risky move. Yet an innocent man should be entitled to present his own defence. That is what Rittenhouse did. He told the jury under oath that he was defending himself when he used the rifle he brought to the Kenosha from the neighbouring state of Illinois where he lived declaring his intentions on the internet to defend property.  A true public protector, or a true vigilante?  The judge was expected to give his final instructions to the jury today.

The prosecutors tried to portray Rittenhouse as the instigator of the bloodshed. There was video footage of 3 people coming after Rittenhouse and one tried to grab his rifle. He said he heard a shot and turned to the pursuers and shot at them. He killed two people and injured a third. The jury “appeared largely white” according to the Associated Press reporters. That is not surprising since Wisconsin is largely white.

One of the final witnesses for the defence was a use-of-force expert, John Black, who testified that less than three seconds elapsed between the time somebody fired a bullet in the air and Rittenhouse opened fire on the first man he shot, Joseph Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse testified that he heard a gunshot directly behind him as he was being chased by Rosenbaum. It is not clear who made shot, but apparently it was none of the three men chasing Rittenhouse.

According to the Associated Press,


“The account Rittenhouse gave has largely been corroborated by a wealth of video and the prosecution’s own witnesses: Rittenhouse said that Rosenbaum cornered him and put his hand on the barrel of his rifle, the second man hit him with a skateboard, and the third man came at him with a gun of his own. At one point Wednesday, his lawyers demanded the judge declare mistrial and bar Rittenhouse from being retried — essentially asking that the case be thrown out. They accused the chief prosecutor of asking Rittenhouse out-of- bounds questions. The judge lambasted the prosecutor but pressed on with the case.”


I am particularly interested in the question of vigilantism that is so prominent in the US. It arises because of a distrust in the government that is also so prevalent in cases of people who refuse to be vaccinated. These issues are related.  There is another case going on right now as well in Georgia that raises similar issues. It is quite possible that those who don’t like the result will protest vigorously. That seems to happen with every trial in the US where the country is so deeply divided and polarized. We certainly live in interesting times.

This is not an easy case. The onus of proof is on the prosecutors who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse is guilty. If not Rittenhouse will be a hero! Even if he doesn’t deserve to be. It will be interesting to see what the jury does.


The trial in Kenosha


Kyle Rittenhouse in August of 2020 travelled to Kenosha from his home in Illinois during unrest that broke out after a white Kenosha police officer injured a black protester who was protesting the police violence against a black man.  The case has aroused the interested of the American public on both sides. The police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back.

Rittenhouse had heard online how Black Lives Matter and left-wing radical groups such as Antifa, were attacking white businesses in Kenosha and patriots needed to go their to protect them.  He brought a rifle and a medical kit with him. Rittenhouse’s ostensible goal, according to his own statements was that he went there to protect property after two previous nights marked by arson, gunfire and the ransacking of businesses. He wanted to be an “unofficial deputy”, which really amounts to being a vigilante.


Historically, in America, self-conceived patriots would come to the rescue of the government who could never be trusted to do the right thing. The vigilantes would come to the rescue to protect America. It happened over and over again, perhaps no where more regularly than the southern border with Mexico. Read, for example, a shocking book by Cormac McCarthy called Blood Meridian. You will never be the same after reading it. I have blogged about it earlier.

Here I think are some undisputed facts about the present case as reported by the Associated Press:

“Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, after Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse across a parking lot and threw a plastic bag at him shortly before midnight on Aug. 25. Moments later, as Rittenhouse was running down a street, he shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, a protester from Silver Lake, Wisconsin, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, a demonstrator from West Allis, Wisconsin.

Bystander video captured Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse but not the actual shooting. Video showed Huber swinging a skateboard at Rittenhouse before he was shot. Grosskreutz had a gun in his hand as he stepped toward Rittenhouse.

Rittenhouse faces two homicide counts and one of attempted homicide, along with charges of reckless endangering and illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.”


I am looking forward to learning how the jury sees the evidence.

Rittenhouse has been charged with first degree murder but what is interesting to me is how differently he is viewed by those on the left or those on the right. As Scott Bauer, Michael Tarm and Amy Forliti reported for the Associated Press,

“Rittenhouse has been painted by supporters on the right — including foes of the Black Lives Matter movement — as a patriot who took a stand against lawlessness by demonstrators and exercised his Second Amendment gun rights. Others see him as a vigilante and police wannabe.

He is white, as were those he shot, but many activists see an undercurrent of race in the case, in part because the protesters were on the streets to decry police violence against Black people.”

The judge repeatedly reminded the jurors of what he believed, but what was palpably wrong, namely that “This is not a political trial.”  A political trial is exactly what it will has been, though understandably the judge is trying his best to make it otherwise. I believe that is be impossible.

The judge pointed out that both sides were making political hay out of the trial.  Both sides, as always happens in politics and particularly in the United States have tried to make it political. They both want the judge to say, “Hooray for our side,” to quote Buffalo Springfield.

The jury, though mainly white, from appearances,  does seem to be composed of many sides (both sides?). According to the Associated Press, “One of the jurors is a gun-owning woman with a high school education who said she was so afraid during the protests that she pulled her cars to the back of her house and made sure her doors were locked. She said she went downtown in the aftermath and cried.” The Associated Press said this about another juror: “Another woman chosen is a special education teacher who expressed anxiety about being on the jury: “I figure either way this goes you’re going to have half the country upset with you and they react poorly.”

Who can deny the truth of that? In a deeply polarized country like the United States that seems inevitable

Kenosha: What happened?


A very interesting trial is going on in Wisconsin that is dividing the country.

In the summer of 2020, the city of Kenosha Wisconsin became the site of large and active protests after Jacob Blake, an African American man was wounded by Wisconsin police officers. The protests got carried away with widespread fears expressed on the internet that businesses might be looted and destroyed. Kyle Rittenhouse drove to Kenosha from his home in Antioch Illinois. He took with him two things one would not normally expect to go together. One was a medical kit and the other was a rifle.

Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, which apparently what is called murder in Wisconsin, and as well attempted first-degree intentional homicide for the man who lived, and first-degree reckless homicide; reckless endangering; and illegal possession of a weapon by a person under 18.

All serious charges. Was he a murderer as many on the left alleged or was he a public warrior/defender as many on the right claim? This issue has captured national attention.

The protesters included many whites and blacks. Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot. The jury, which appears to be mainly white, will make the decision. Inevitably, a large part of the US will be upset while another large part will be jubilant. It is guaranteed that many people in the US will not agree with the decision of the jury. The judge was adamant that this would not become a political trial, but many think that is exactly what it became.

Rittenhouse  said he was going there to protect businesses that had been ransacked the night before. The rifle, he claimed, was for self-defence. Rittenhouse was white, but so were the 3 men he shot. 2 of them died from the gunshot wounds. As the Associated Press reported,

“The case has stirred fierce debate over vigilantism, self-defence, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and the unrest that erupted around the U.S. over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police violence against Black people.”


That is a very important issue. Throughout American history vigilantism has been frequent, violent, and controversial. This case is no exception. It will be very interesting to learn what the jury thinks of the case.