White Supremacists and Conservatives Flock to the Defense of the Kenosha Shooter
After Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times while leaning into the driver’s side of his car during an arrest, protesters flooded the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin to demand accountability for the excessive force used by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey. Almost immediately their presence was characterized by Republicans and right-wing extremists as a “violent mob” looking to pillage and loot. This false narrative is nothing new, it has been the hollow rhetoric of the right for weeks and months as civil rights protests have demanded an end to police brutality.
However, that is not to deny the destruction of property, cases of arson, and general unruliness we have seen from many people taking to the streets. Within these peaceful protests lurk white supremacists and anarchists who seek opportunities to execute their own agendas, which often includes sabotaging the protests by creating chaos and inciting rioting or looting.
There is also undeniable evidence that the police and law enforcement have often unnecessarily escalated various situations across the nation. Perhaps the most glaring example of excessive force was the assault on Navy veteran Christopher David in Portland, Oregon. Law enforcement have a difficult and dangerous job, that is certainly true.
But if we are going to admit that, we must also be willing to admit that the criminal justice system has had disproportionate effects on individuals and communities of color. Black people in particular.
Despite the incessant cries from Republicans about “left-wing” radicalism and violence, the data shows that right-wing extremism is much more prevalent and deadly in the United States.
If we took the time and energy to properly analyze the rhetoric of the right for loaded, coded, veiled, and implied meanings, such hollow narratives have been spinning for decades. However, it is this very narrative that simplifies and falsely characterizes a diverse social justice movement, that simultaneously emboldens vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse and others.
From the very moment that the videos of the Kenosha shooter hit the Internet, right-wing extremists and foreign intelligence services (most likely the Russians according to various Congressional and academic reports that have surfaced over the past few years), crafted and circulated various narratives that sought to defend the shooter’s actions. Even though Rittenhouse has been arrested and charged with multiple felonies, white supremacists and conservatives continue to flock to his defense, both online and apparently in person.
Wisconsin state Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee was in Kenosha for the protests and detailed what he saw in an interview on “Democracy Now.”
Rep. Bowen claimed, “I literally witnessed first-hand a massive amount of organized white supremacists driving around in pick-up trucks targeting protesters.” He added, “And they were there not to try to defend businesses as they make it seem, they were not there to attempt to get a point across, they were there to hurt people. They were armed and they were using chemical irritants, they were harassing protesters, and even from the video it looks like they were in coordination with the Kenosha law enforcement that were there.”
As we have seen during the Republican National Convention, President Trump, Vice President Pence, and their Republican supporters continue to rage against the “violent mob” of “anarchists” without calling out the state sanctioned violence that we have seen from police and law enforcement across the country.
What’s worse, is that the president and his fellow Republicans seem unable to separate the violent, destructive anarchists that are by far the minority, from the legitimately peaceful and powerful protesters who are far and away the majority of the crowds we have seen.
Just like they accuse the so-called left of being unable to denounce the violence and property destruction that radical left-wing anarchists have caused. What an odd rhetorical ploy it is to accuse your political opponents of doing the exact thing you did first and have been doing for years: ignoring anything that doesn’t fit the narrative.
Surely, there is a middle ground to be found between the ever-separating political poles. It is clear to anyone that has watched videos of these protests from around the nation that the vast majority of participants and protests are non-violent. Unless the only videos they are watching have been curated to fit a particular narrative, as so many echo chambers have.
At the same time, within these protests hides agent provocateurs, anarchic opportunists, and white supremacist infiltrators who seek to incite violence and invalidate the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite this fact, the FBI has prioritized investigations of Black activists over those of white supremacists.
Ultimately, no group can or should be judged for its most extreme adherents. Radical Islamic terrorists are not representative of the entire population of Muslims around the planet. The Westboro Baptist church is not representative of every Christian. Anarchists who seek disorder and chaos are not representative of all leftists, anti-fascists, or Black Lives Matter protesters.
If conservatives and Trump supporters want to claim that they shouldn’t be lumped into broad categories such as racist, fascist, enabler, etc. then perhaps they should not be so quick to generalize broad and diverse groups and movements.
At least there are some instances that provide hope that not all is lost. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) administration recently fired a Deputy Director after viral criticism of inappropriate social media posts that supported the vigilante shooter. Thankfully, it seems that there are some reasonable Republicans after all, or at the very least those who are afraid of public backlash.
Rep. Bowen went on to say, “When you are not willing to call out police and state-sanctioned violence, you are using your silence to co-sign and give a message to these white supremacists that they can go around attacking people.”
Unfortunately, right-wingers will on one hand continue to deflect accusations that they are fanning the flames of hate and division, while on the other hand continue to use their platforms to call for “law and order” and “patriots” willing to “defend” America. Rep. Matt Gaetz from Florida often echoes President Trump’s agenda with such language.
As if social justice movements are something that needs to be defended against. As if social justice movements have not always been for the sole purpose of improving the nation and moving us forward as a people.
Perhaps they simply do not understand the chant of “No justice, no peace!” Or maybe Republicans and their supporters assume that if they simply deny and ignore such criticisms that they will fade away into obscurity. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As the right doubles-down on their defense of Rittenhouse and their condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement they continue to reinforce the opposition to their hateful platform and divisive rhetoric.
Defending Vigilante Violence and Letting Extremism Fester
We have also seen an online bombardment of trolls, bots, and presumably right-wingers that have circulated the right-wing extremist narratives that seek to glorify vigilante violence like we have seen in Kenosha or Portland. The presence of extremism online is nothing new, but the increasing prevalence is striking.
Most extreme right-wing ideologies have festered and grown in the darkest corners of the Internet. Until recently, such ideologies had been informally quarantined to fringe websites and exclusive social media groups. Despite multiple government and academic reports that have highlighted the dangers and growth of right-wing extremism over the past two decades, lawmakers and private corporations have done little to stymie such activity.
Yet again, a Tweet from Rep. Matt Gaetz comes to mind:
When Rep. Gaetz asks, “how can everyone contribute if Silicon Valley gets to play online hall monitor with free speech?” He is ultimately asking why hate speech and potentially harmful misinformation is being removed from social media, but he would never call it such. Explicit admission of such motives became passé after Lee Atwater’s strategic shifts with the Republican party and its rhetoric.
Although the caption of his Tweet explains another point of contention, it is important to emphasize it here. Either Rep. Matt Gaetz does not know that “free speech” only applies to government censorship, not private corporations, or he does know and chooses to feign otherwise, presumably to mislead his supporters to reinforce his hollow narratives.
Considering Gaetz often uses his Twitter platform to blow political dog-whistles, the latter is certainly more likely.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted that the social-media network failed to remove an event and group that encouraged armed civilians to gather in Kenosha, Wisconsin to “defend” the city. According to an internal report viewed by BuzzFeed News, the event associated with the Kenosha Guard page was reported to Facebook at least 455 times after its creation. Despite nearly 500 reports, four moderators cleared the flags and deemed the event and page as “non-violating” of Facebook’s community standards.
The event, titled: “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property,” along with the Facebook page, “Kenosha Guard,” were only removed after two people were killed in a shooting in Kenosha Wisconsin. The shooter, 17 year-old former police cadet Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois resident, just so happened to be a self-described “militiaman.” However, Facebook maintains that Rittenhouse had no activity within the page or event and does not yet seem to be tied to it online.
To put such inaction into even greater perspective, it is important to understand just how many reports “at least 455” are during a given day of Facebook moderation. According to one Facebook worker who is a part of the internal “Violence and Incitement Working Group,” the reports of the “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property” event amounted to “66% of all event reports that day.” The next highest event for that particular day had been flagged only 18 times by users.
Although Facebook introduced new rules last month that labels militia and QAnon groups as “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” for their celebration of violence, employees, academics, and government officials have continued to assert that the social media company simply is not doing enough to halt the spread of hate groups within its network.
Considering the fact that there are many former and active police officers involved in these right-wing extremist groups, this issue should certainly be drawing more attention.
Hopefully, this invigorated response from Facebook is part of a sustained effort to root out domestic terrorist groups who seek to incite and commit acts of violence. However, it seems more likely that Facebook will continue alternating between progressive steps and regressive setbacks when it comes to the process of moderating hate speech and violent extremism on the social network.