WASHINGTON, DC-- People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch project, this week, published an article examining the right-wing industry lionizing accused Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse, ranging from rhetorical bomb-thrower Ann Coulter to armed neo-Nazis.
In August, the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, erupted in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, as his children sat in his car. On the third night of unrest, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is white, left his home in Antioch to join armed right-wing activists who claimed to be converging on the town in order to protect local businesses. But by the time the night ended, Rittenhouse had shot three protesters, two of whom died.
In another time, the story might have been one of one troubled and misguided white youth who did a terrible thing. But in 2020, in Trump's America, Kyle Rittenhouse has become a far-right hero, his image emblazoned on tee shirts with such slogans as "Kyle Did Nothing Wrong" and "Kyle's Life Matters."
“Let’s be clear: Kyle Rittenhouse is no hero. He is a killer who took the lives of Americans participating in a First Amendment protest--a killer whose cause has been taken up by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. He represents another dark moment of the Donald Trump era and the far-right extremists who have only fanned the flames of hatred,” said People For the American Way President Ben Jealous. “We cannot be fooled by the bogus claims and misinformation efforts from those who seek to sow discord and division at any time, let alone one of the most sensitive times in our history. As Americans, we believe in unity and justice for all. These values must be at the core of our guiding principles, even through the most challenging times.”
Writing for Right Wing Watch, a project of People For the American Way, Karim Zidan looks at the events, personalities and dynamics that led to the lionization of the white boy with the gun by right-wing forces looking to destabilize the United States. Among those representing Rittenhouse is Lin Wood, who is also working with those looking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
"The debate over Kyle Rittenhouse’s case—heroism or homicide, patriotism or plague—has become the new battleground for the American far-right as well as white supremacists around the world who are thrilled to have a new face for their cause," says Zidan. "To them, Rittenhouse is not an accused killer but a victim of the villainization of American values. As such, the proliferation of Rittenhouse-related propaganda serves to frame him as a heroic figure that white nationalists should aspire to emulate."
In his narrative piece, "Kyle Rittenhouse, Kenosha, and the New Far-Right Battleground," Zidan shows the intersection of a range of right-wing actors in looking to appropriate the Rittenhouse story, from Proud Boys to neo-Nazis, and grifters in between. The reach of the far-right's telling of the story crosses the seas. As an example, Zidan tells of one group, the International Conservative Community:
Outside the large, gray building, housing the Provincial Court of British Columbia, is a statue of Lady Justice—blindfolded and holding a scale and sword—towering over arriving mortals.
Yet beneath this personification of justice, there was a large sticker bearing the image of a young man armed with an AR-15 style rifle, a pair of rubber gloves, and a magnifying reflector in his left eye. Beneath it is a caption that reads: “Kyle was Right.”
The sticker was part of an international propaganda campaign by a white supremacist group known as the International Conservative Community. The group, which includes entities across Europe and North America, fashions themselves as a modernized network of neo-Nazis capable of “building bridges across countries and even continents.” Founded by American neo-Nazi Robert Rundo (who also founded the white supremacist fight club Rise Above Movement), the group specializes in spreading white supremacist propaganda through targeted campaigns, a recent example of which is Kyle Rittenhouse.
Such stickers have been found as far afield as Serbia.
The judge in Rittenhouse's case set bail at $2 million, seeing the youth as a flight risk. But through crowdfunding launched by the far right, the accused today is out on bail.
"Leave it to the right to use a case that left three families mourning as a propaganda grift," said Adele M. Stan, director of the Right Wing Watch project. "Even the accused killer has made out."