Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse, and the Progressive Narrative Fail

As the trial wraps up, right-wing kookiness is matched by left-wing delusion

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who fatally shot two people and wounded a third during the riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020, has become—like many current events—the subject of two dramatically divergent political narratives.

Some on the right, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson and author and aspiring politician J. D. Vance, have tried to turn Rittenhouse into a patriotic hero bravely defending businesses from looters and arsonists—despite strong evidence that the teen, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, bumbled his way into a dangerous situation he was not mature enough to handle.

Much of the left, including politicians and journalists, has treated Rittenhouse as a symbol of far-right white vigilantism. Even mainstream media outlets have published egregiously distorted accounts of the facts of the case. And even relatively factual accounts reflect an underlying narrative that treats everyone involved in the “racial justice protests” (even the rioters, looters and arsonists) as basically on the side of virtue and everyone on the “other side” as bad guys.

The Rittenhouse cult on the far right, which has been a predictable magnet for extremists—January 6 insurrection sympathizers, Proud Boys, QAnon loons, and the like—certainly attests to dangerous trends in our culture, including an increasingly visible and vocal fringe that believes in settling political conflicts through armed struggle. (To their credit, Rittenhouse and his family appear to have severed most of their ties to far-right supporters.) But the left’s response to this story has been just as toxic in its own way.

Take, for instance, the tweet posted by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) the day after the shooting.

Needless to say, Pressley had no evidence that Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist.” He did not drive across state lines armed; a friend in Kenosha had gotten the AR-15 for him. And there was already plenty of evidence that he had a pretty good case for self-defense (whether or not he is eventually acquitted).

Some journalists did not do much better. An August 27 post on the Wonkette website

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