A Duck-Rabbit is the familiar optical illusion where, given the exact same picture, some people see a duck and others see a rabbit. The tragedy in Kenosha is a Duck-Rabbit.
By now everyone and their mother knows most of the gory details of the tragedy in Kenosha. After the police shooting of yet another Black man captured on camera on Sunday, protests engulfed the small Chicago exurb of a hundred thousand residents. The protests immediately escalated into a riot of unprecedented violence. Dozens of buildings were burnt down, along with scores of cars parked in car dealerships. Images and videos surfaced on social media showing an astonishing scale of destruction. Local news media reported that 30 businesses had been ransacked or burned.
Kenosha Fire Chief Charles Leipzig said there were 34 active fires associated with the unrest, with 30 businesses destroyed or damaged along with an unknown number of residences.“Residents wake to destruction in Uptown; 30 businesses destroyed or damaged.” Kenosha News, August 25, 2020.
The following day, pro-law enforcement armed vigilantes began organizing on Facebook. The Facebook page Kenosha Guard created an event called “Armed Citizens to Protect Life and Property.” The fake news site InfoWars picked up on the event and propagated it. Zuckerberg later admitted that the Facebook platform’s censors, known in industry parlance as ‘content moderators’, had made an operational error in allowing the group and event pages to stay up despite being flagged.
That fateful night, a small cadre of these vigilantes showed up armed with assault rifles and determined to protect property and businesses from the rioters. Many took up sniper positions on rooftops. Others stood guard around a gas station. Videos shows that the shooter-kid, Kyle Rittenhouse, was on site with these vigilantes, armed with what looks like an AR-15 and a first-aid kit.
It is not clear whether the shooter-kid, now in custody and facing charges on six counts, including first-degree intentional homicide, was responding to the Kenosha Guard’s call. It is probable that he was. If he is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, he will be facing a mandatory life sentence.
As the night unfolded, a verbal confrontation ensued between the rioter-protestors and the armed vigilantes. In videos circulating on social media, one of the victims, Joseph Rosenbaum, a white man, is recorded screaming “shoot me n*****” multiple times at the posse of armed vigilantes — a surprising turn of phrase from a BLM protestor. (Wisconsin circuit court records show that Rosenbaum had recently been charged with battery and domestic abuse.) Minutes later, another video shows an unarmed Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse, still armed with an AR-15, in a parking lot. As Rosenbaum catches up with the Rittenhouse, the latter discharges four rounds, including a fatal bullet in the head. Then he runs around the car and inspects his handiwork. When other rioter-protestors arrive at the scene, he takes off.
Yet another video of the immediate aftermath shows him running down a broad boulevard, chased by a bunch of rioter-protestors. Now, why would you chase an armed man who has just shot and killed someone? Perhaps adrenaline got the better of the self-preservation instinct otherwise known as fear? In the event, Rittenhouse trips and falls while running. The rioter-protestor who reaches him first tries to disarm him, at which point Rittenhouse fires off multiple rounds, including one that hits the assailant in the chest. The fellow falls down fatally injured. Another guy, this one armed with a pistol, again tries to disarm the shooter — why doesn’t he use the pistol? He is shot in the arm. A graphic video, complete with a trigger warning, show much of the flesh on his arm blown off. Having shot three men, two of them fatally, Rittenhouse walks with his hands up in the air to police cars parked a block away. The cops seem to not realize that he is the shooter. At first he seems to want to surrender, but then appears to change his mind and walks away. He would be arrested at his home in Illinois the next day.
As the shooting videos went globally viral, Kyle Rittenhouse became famous world wide. Opinions on his actions were, however, divided — to put it mildly.
The American Conservative ran an article headlined “Kyle Rittenhouse, Populist Hero,” that quotes a reader describing the event as “cleancut kid following rules of engagement absolutely wastes a bunch of criminal thugs trying to attack him.” Nor was defense of the shooter-kid confined to the right-wing fringe. A Christian fundraising website raised a hundred thousand dollars for the legal defense of the shooter-kid. College Republicans at Arizona State announced that they would contribute funds for his legal defense as well.
In his prime time show, the most watched in America, Tucker Carlson blamed the authorities for the mayhem in Kenosha. He repeated the claim on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the principal author of the 1619 Project and the one who led the call to cancel Bennet as the NYTimes Op-Ed editor in the aftermath of Senator Cotton’s Op-Ed, immediately called Tucker out.
The economic dove of the Clinton administration, Robert Reich, chimed in to demand that Tucker’s show be canceled.
The shooter-kid immediately brought to mind images from school shootings involving white teenage males armed with military-grade weaponry. Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley called him a “white supremacist domestic terrorist” — a suspicion no doubt shared by other liberal elites.
But Rittenhouse was no white supremacist. Instead, he seems to have been a wannabe cop.
A photo on Mr. Rittenhouse’s now-deleted Facebook page showed him holding a rifle. The words “Blue Lives Matter” framed the photo. He attended Lakes Community High School for one semester in the 2017-18 school year, according to Jim McKay, superintendent of Community High School District 117, and was a former public-safety cadet.“Who Is Kyle Rittenhouse and What Happened in the Kenosha Shootings?” Wall Street Journal, Aug 28, 2020.
Graeme Wood gets it right when he characterizes Rittenhouse as exhibiting “sheepdog mentality.” That the teenage gun enthusiast and Trump supporter felt the call of duty strongly is clear from his record. Rittenhouse joined the Public Safety Cadet Program, jointly run by a number of police departments in the region, that includes firearms training and serves as a recruitment pipeline for the police forces. Earlier, he had participated in Antioch Fire Department’s cadet program. It seems probable that he saw himself and was seen by others as a buttoned-up boy scout.
Branco Marcetic dismisses Rittenhouse as one of “many thousands of misguided, wide-eyed kids out there who idolize police and genuinely think a career in law enforcement will let them do some good in the world.” It is worth our while to pause and examine the class bias inherent in the claim. With the neoliberal decline, following the Clinton betrayal, of industrial work that formed the backbone of the American working-class, becoming a soldier, a police officer, or a fire-fighter are some of the few avenues still open to working-class boys for a life of responsibility, dignity and honor. Dismissing the motivations of these ‘wide-eyed kids’ is doing unnecessary class work.
As for the prospects for his legal defense, it seems to depend on precisely why the rioter-protestor-victims were trying to disarm him. Ie, the self defense claim might hold water in court if he had reasonable grounds to believe that he would have been gravely harmed once disarmed.
Quite typically for a U.S. state, Wisconsin allows civilian use of deadly force when one “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” One major issue, then, will be whether Rittenhouse reasonably thought that the folks engaging with him meant to inflict serious injury, not just disarm him.Robert Verbruggen. “Does Kyle Rittenhouse have a self-defense claim?” National Review, Aug 28, 2020.
In the court of public opinion, however, Kyle Rittenhouse has become an instant folk-devil for professional-class liberals and a hero for working-class law-and-order populists. A similar divergence occurred on the McCloskeys, the armed white couple confronting BLM protesters with weapons on their lawn, who became instant folk-devils for Democrats but were enthusiastically embraced by Republicans. There too, we have two nations watching the exact same footage and coming to completely opposite conclusions.
The Kyle Rittenhouse Duck-Rabbit is a window into the confrontation over American culture. As recently as mid-May, it seemed that the election would be a referendum on Trump — a contest that he was nearly guaranteed to lose, particularly because his handling of the corona panic. That was indeed where things were headed before May 25, 2020. Since then, BLM has taken center-stage.
No one has any doubt that BLM activists are Dems or that Dems are dramatically more sympathetic to BLM than independents or Republicans. If there was any doubt, it vanished after mayor after mayor, governor after governor, came out in support for BLM. They were thinking it was excellent politics since BLM was enjoying a surge in support in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. So, for better or for worse, the equation BLM=DEM is now pretty much backed into everyday perceptions.
Two developments since May 25 have changed the political context of the presidential election. First, it emerged, slowly but surely, that BLM sensu lato (not as an organization but as a sociopolitical force) was not simply a movement for Black emancipation, much less the specific question of police-minority relations. Rather, it came with the full Social Justice package. While sympathy for victims of police violence was unprecedented, support for the radical SJW package was lukewarm to nonexistent. But this aspect of the winners’ curse was secondary to the strategic mistake of going all-in on ‘defund the police’. The demand enjoyed little support even when support for BLM was at the high water mark in June. Since then it has collapsed even further. So Democratic political operators, having thrown their full weight behind BLM, were now stuck with either espousing deeply unpopular policy positions, or shamefully walking back commitments already on record.
The second development was even more important than the first. It was a development that could have been foreseen since it happens to every revolutionary movement. Namely, the balance rapidly shifted to violent extremists within the movement, with the result that, before we could say Mississippi, American cities descended into looting, violence and arson. However much Dems tried to distance themselves from the escalating violence on the streets, there was no way to sever the thread that linked Dems and liberal elites to the extremists burning down downtown Portland, Seattle and Kenosha.
The 2020 presidential election is no longer a referendum on Trump. Rather it has becomes closer to a referendum on the woke counterrevolution. This is not good news for Democrats. The shifting political context has, in fact, brought Trump’s reelection prospects back from the dead. Indeed, I am becoming more and more convinced that Trump will win again.
But this culture war is not going away after the election — no matter who wins. In fact, it will likely escalate. If Trump wins again, wokedum is going to go batshit crazy. If Biden wins, expect Tucker to begin his campaign for 2024. The Kyle Rittenhouse Duck-Rabbit is the axis on which this culture war will be fought.