WWhen Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of murdering two men during anti-racism protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week, the verdict was celebrated by far-right politicians and experts across the United States. Several Republican lawmakers offered Rittenhouse an internship, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson called him “a sweet kid.”
Kathleen Belew, a historian of American white power movements and author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, argues that the fact that Rittenhouse’s trial is being read as a victory of more mainstream components of the right wing has the potential to to serve as a rallying cry for increased militant vigilance against U.S. racial justice demonstrators.
Belew spoke to The Guardian about how the perpetrators of right-wing violent acts in the United States have been empowered by convictions such as Rittenhouses. earlier, and how the outcome of the case should be read in the context of growing militant social movements.
Last Friday, when Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of all charges, you tweeted: “It has never required more than a whisper of approval to set fire to militant right-wing reactions, and the Kenosha acquittal is a shout out.” What did you mean by that??
There have been many acquittals and partial convictions that the white power movement and militant groups have taken as a sign that they can continue their activities undiminished. I am thinking of the acquittals of the Greensboro trials at the state, federal and civil levels. [when members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi party shot and killed five marchers in an anti-Klan rally organized by the Communist Workers party in 1979], the acquittals of the 1987-88 rebellious conspiracy trial [after an all-white jury acquitted 13 white supremacists who were charged with plotting to overthrow the US government and kill federal officials] and the partial prosecution of Timothy McVeigh after the Oklahoma City bombing, in which we saw the conviction of just one of a few conspirators instead of a prosecution directed against a movement, which is what this was.
I think Kenosha is a much more significant moment. This is not my place to guess our legal system. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in juries. But we know from the historical record that every time there is an incident like this, it has set in motion renewed activity from the white power movement, often with impending victims. Kenosha has not only been monitored by extremists, but by a whole bunch of people on the right wing. It is a moment that animates not only the fringe, which is what we have seen before, but also components of the mainstream.
On the subject of the fringe and mainstream, I often find that I no longer want to use the word extremist because it seems that we are seeing fringe beliefs increasingly becoming more mainstream.
I’m a historian. The period I am studying is the 1980s and 1990s, and during that period the White Power movement really did not think it had any chance of making inroads into mainstream politics. But this is clearly no longer the case. There just went a story about how at least 28 elected officials are current or former members of the Oath Keepers, which is an out-of-court militia group, a private army. The idea that we may have elected officials from a private army is deeply, deeply worrying.
To clean up readers who may get snotty when we use the word militia: all legal militia activity was incorporated into the state’s National Guard units in 1903 of the Dick Act. Everything else is extra legal. There are laws in the books in all 50 states that limit having private armies. And yet they are here. We have elected officials who report to these groups.
There are at least 10 people who took part in the uprising on January 6 and have now been elected to the post of GOP. We are no longer talking about one person with questionable quotes or one person who said something outrageous a long time ago. We are talking about a movement of people performing in concert. This is a very different thing. We must not only think about the threat of mass accidents that has been imminent for the last many years, but also the threat to our democratic system.
In 2019, there were mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, El Paso, Texas and Poway, California. In each of these cases, the alleged shooter posted a manifesto on the 8Chan bulletin board. In October 2018, before the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the shooter wrote on social media Gab. Kyle Rittenhouse used social media to find fellowship in his militant beliefs. The use of social media is a connecting part between these shootings. Do you, as a historian, see these events as connected?
We tend to treat acts of politically motivated violence perpetrated by people affiliated with the militant right wing and the white power movement as perpetrated by individuals or by the work of a few bad actors. You will often see the term “lone wolf terrorism”, although I have not seen it used that much around Kyle Rittenhouse. This is a more complex story, partly because he was a child at the time of the shooting, and partly because the way the organization worked was somewhat different than usual. It was a kind of flashmob that was encouraged via Facebook more than an organized action by a cohesive group that met before. But that does not mean it is not ideological.
What we need to remember is that first and foremost, the idea of the lone wolf came from the White Power movement in the 1980s with the express purpose of confusing everyone about what this movement was. It follows an act called “leaderless resistance,” which is effectively cell-like terror, and both of these things are meant to divert public attention away from what it is, which is merely an interconnected social movement.
So when we think of Charlottesville, Charleston, El Paso and Pittsburgh and the other communities that have been affected by this violence, what we usually see is El Paso stamped as anti-latino violence, Charleston as anti-black violence and Pittsburgh as anti-Semitic violence, but they are all acts of white power violence. And by putting these stories together, I believe these communities can connect more effectively in their efforts to combat this problem.
What role do social media platforms play, both as curators of news and as gathering places for the communities that can promote violence?
One thing to keep in mind that people often do not do is that white power activists have been using social networking activism since the early 1980s with computer-to-computer bulletin boards before the internet. They had a network called Liberty Net, which they established by distributing millions of dollars in stolen money to groups around the country and then instructing them in getting Apple computers and then guiding them in how to set up and use that network. And in 1983-84, the network not only had things like assignment goals and ideological content, they also had things like personal ads. This is very small compared to the bloom that is social media in all of our lives today, but it is important to remember that these activists are decades, if not generations, to use technology. They were early users, if not pioneers, of this kind of work.
It would be a mistake to think that they will not be able or ready to manipulate this kind of space.
We have talked about how the acquittal of Rittenhouse creates a background of indulgence for people with hateful beliefs, but what does it look like when looking ahead?
I would say that there are two main components. One is what happens to legislation and court actions around gun ownership, where we really see the needle move further and further towards unrestricted access to weapons without absolutely any barrier every time there are decisions that increase compliance.
The second part of it has to do with white power and militant right-wing groups that are essentially opportunistic. They’re looking for a window and this is a big window. For what it does is that not only does it allow them to carry out similar shootings as what was done in Kenosha to see if they could do it elsewhere, it also allows them to mobilize in a sector of the right-wing mainstream sympathetic to Rittenhouse history.
This is a kind of bonanza of a case. And we should also be tuned in to the verdicts coming out of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting and in Charlottesville with the Kessler civil case, which I’m sure will be read in the same direction.
Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, a jury found the key organizers of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, responsible for $ 25 million. in compensation to counter-protesters under state law. The jury remained locked in on whether the organizers violated federal civil rights laws.
Disclaimers for mcutimes.com
All the information on this website - https://mcutimes.com - is published in good faith and for general information purpose only. mcutimes.com does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information you find on this website (mcutimes.com), is strictly at your own risk. mcutimes.com will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with the use of our website.