There was one question that came to mind during the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. “What would inspire a 17-year-old suburban boy to, against all good reason, grab an AR-15 and dangerously embark on violent unrest in a city miles away?”
A cartoon of me running the Palm Beach Daily News in March 2018 may shed some light. It highlighted President Trump’s youth rhetoric, the arms lobby, and the political right after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
At the time, MSD students were protesting the lack of gun rules and enforcement that led to a flood of military assault-like weapons in the public sphere.
The political right and the arms lobby withdrew. President Trump characteristically deflected the issue by bullying a sheriff’s deputy who had chosen to wait for back-up instead of confronting the well-armed shooter alone. The NRA followed its usual handbook, raising fears of confiscation of government weapons. And right-wing politicians have repeatedly argued that arming teachers is the solution. Unfortunately, our leaders often promote narratives that would be more appropriate in comics.
With dishonest politics, helpless social media, and a news media preoccupied with click-bait headlines, we are not very good at separating fantasy from reality these days.
But if you think about it, we have long celebrated personally wronged fantasy heroes on a crusade for justice. It has been a recurring theme in dime westerns, pulp fiction, comics and movies. From Lone Ranger to Batman, many beloved fictional heroes are cut from this cloth. The crime noir genre is also filled with PIs, fixers, and cops, such as Dirty Harry, who bear grudges and swear by their own ruthless moral code because they are convinced that the law is hampered by rules of justice.
Perhaps this legacy, combined with the confused messages of our time, normalizes the idea that patriotism and morality require absolute individualism and a conflicting ideology.
Rittenhouse and the three men on trial in Georgia for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery apparently saw themselves as righteous. But they were textbook guards. And if one takes a look at the actual history of vigilance in America, it quickly becomes clear that it has been predominantly used for ethnic oppression during segregation and various waves of immigration. There is nothing fair in that.
Maybe my cartoon with misguided superheroes sheds light on what motivates people like Kyle Rittenhouse. But it also raises another question: What do we want America to be in the future, a nation that breeds self-appointed crusaders, motivated by perceived contempt and shows little respect for the law; or one who pays tribute to dedicated citizens such as police officers, firefighters, military personnel, doctors and teachers – anyone who is willing to commit to the common good?
The choice is ours. And that’s important.
This article originally appeared on the Palm Beach Daily News: Comics: Vigilantism inspired by comic book heroes abounding in these times