An unregulated militia

Published November 25, 2021

By Thomas Mills

The Kyle Rittenhouse incident illustrates so many of the problems we’re facing in this country right now. I knew from watching the video that he would be acquitted of any charges related to shooting those people. I hoped that some law would hold him accountable for wading into a volatile situation armed with an assault weapon. I guess not.

Rittenhouse clearly feared for his safety. But that doesn’t account for why a person would travel to the scene of a riot, unprovoked and armed. And it doesn’t answer why a 17-year-old wandering the streets with a rifle is considered a hero. We have people in the country cheering on senseless deaths. There’s something wrong with us. 

Kenosha exploded after police shot another unarmed Black man in the wake of the George Floyd killing. Peaceful protests took place during the day and then rioting erupted at night in the days following the shooting. Right-wing vigilante groups called on people to go to the city to protect property. Kyle Rittenhouse responded. He should never have been there. 

 On the left, people describing the incident as a Black Lives Matter protest do a disservice to that movement. Kenosha was a riot. Buildings and cars were being burned. If that’s a protest, then the right has every reason to fear BLM protests. Those making excuses for the riots that took place last year haven’t learned the lessons of the 1960s. The Burn, Baby, Burn mentality hurt the Civil Rights and anti-war movements by galvanizing sentiment against them and giving authorities cover to abuse their power. 

Nothing illustrates the Second Amendment’s first clause better than this incident. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Founding Fathers were talking about using an organized military made up of citizens to protect the country. Rittenhouse was not part of a well regulated militia. He was a loner, unregulated and unchecked, who is now a pawn of right-wing propagandists and a symbol of injustice to left wing propagandists.

 I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this saga. I suspect Rittenhouse will face either federal charges or civil charges. He had no reason to go to Kenosha that night and, if he hadn’t, two people would probably still be alive. Until then, he’ll be paraded around right-wing shows and groups as a hero and he’ll be vilified by the left as a murderer gone free.  He’s the modern day Bernard Goetz. 

The incident brings up so many of our national divisions. We have cops too quick to shoot. We have provocateurs who want violence and mayhem on both sides of the spectrum. We have people who fetishize guns and violence. And we have too many laws that protect people who shoot other people, encouraging vigilantism and extremism. It’s all a mess.