Question for the Day: Kyle Rittenhouse….
The question for today is how to view Kyle Rittenhouse. On my understanding of the legal traditions of most American states, he should probably be acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. On moral grounds, does he bear a grave responsibility for going to a strange place for the sole purpose of taking part in demonstrations that were none of his business except in his own mind? I case can be made for either side.
This is topic is as hot as an exposed wire, and I do ask commenters to resist the temptation to engage in "personalities.".
How do we know that he went to a strange place for the sole purpose of taking part in demonstrations that were none of his business? Perhaps there were other reasons he was there. Is this trial in federal court on federal charges or in state court on state charges? What are the charges? Was it lawful for him to have an AR15 that he was not permitted to purchase legally? Can you claim self defense if you use an illegal firearm? Seems to be a complicated case with no easy answers.
Regarding Rittenhouse, from what little I know of the case and the person, he seems to be a normal hot blooded young American male who wants to be an action hero and help save others from the Evil. Whether it’s BLM/Antifa rioters torching stores and homes or Socialist goons torching homes and stores – my assumption is he was plugged in with a group of folks who “have had enough of this nonsense” and, in light of the police not doing their jobs and the political leaders failing in containing the mayhem were ready to “step into the breech” and “do their part” to help stop the madness. They see themselves as modern mythical Minute Men.
So, from a moral perspective, I find it hard to blame Mr. Rittenhouse. He may be naive, but he wasn’t really looking for trouble. If there were no riots, he wouldn’t have shown up. If the police were doing their jobs, he wouldn’t have shown up. And when he did, if he hadn’t been singled out and attacked he wouldn’t have hurt anyone. Yes, he is outside of that community, but in a modern country where community has been more or less shattered as a concept for young people, such a consideration wouldn’t have even registered in his mind. If none of his armed group had shown up to protect the businesses in Kenosha, it’s hard not to think the rioting and looting would not have escalated to Minneapolis levels and gone on for much longer.
From a legal stand point he’s as innocent as it gets and the entire case would have already been thrown out in any court in any civilized country.
Now, regarding the trial itself, it might be some of the most high quality, absurdist entertainment out there. I’ve seen clips of different testimonies, from the prosecutor’s star witness completely obliterating the prosecution’s case so much that one of the prosecutor’s couldn’t stop himself from slapping his hand over his face to Granny Rambo (or Grambo as she’s being called on the internet) making the prosecution cross-examination look like a clown show to the judge reading a “Cookie Cookbook” during the breaks – this beats Judge Judy any day of the week!
VC, yes. You make a good case that sums up my first view of the case, though I am not so sure about the red-blooded part after seeing bits of his smug posturing at the trial. As I said at the beginning, though Wisconsin is not one of the states whose self-defense laws I have looked at, I am assuming that in a fair trial he will be found innocent.
What interests me more is the ethical issue, but I won’t go into that until I have heard from more people, except to say that his personal motivation cannot be very much at issue in this discussion, because we just don’t know.
Suppose a parallel case of an Antifa or BLM activist who leaves Pennsylvania and goes to Charlottesville to stand up for what he believes is a good cause. Suppose further he is provoked by the other side and shoots someone dead. What do we say? I asked myself the same question when northern Freedom Riders were killed in the South.
Many questions of this sort have at least two equally important sides: One is the question of right and wrong and the second is the question is whose business it is. I certainly have the duty to defend my own home and family and, in descending order, the homes of my friends and relatives, neighbors, fellow townsmen. At what point does my sense of duty extend to going to Nicaragua to take out Danny Ortega? At what point does the duty of defense turn into terrorism?
Make enough assumptions and you can reach any conclusion you want.
Until now I assumed he was a local kid or at least “regional” with Kenosha being the main seat of his area. I have never been to Wisconsin and Googling “Rittenhouse” didn’t help much. If he did travel from remote parts then perhaps that would call his motives into question, but who knows if he had family or some other kind of connection to the area?
Admittedly, I had not been paying much attention to the case until the last few days when it seemed to blow up all media. So today I heard that he was engaged in what sounded to me not so much like demonstrating as kind of good Samaritan Community Watch type of activity. By his own account he was in the process of trying to extinguish a fire when he was attacked. If his intent was merely to prevent, out of goodwill, illegal and unjustified destruction of property of another person (a very different thing than forcing himself upon unwilling business or property owners), then I would find it difficult to hold him morally accountable for any injury he inflicted in self defense.
I guess I distinguish this case (so far as I understand it) from one where he might have, say, exacerbated a generations-old blood feud through uninvited do-gooding.
Dr. Fleming poses a key question about this matter – where does our legal right to defend ourselves end?
I am quite familiar with the law here in Ohio concerning a concealed carry license. One of the key points that is stressed in both training and the test is that having such a permit does not make me an extension of the police or a swat team. Certainly in my home I can protect myself, but even on my property it becomes problematic unless I can prove I or my loved ones was in danger of death or grievous bodily harm. De-escalation is the goal. If I shoot someone on my property at 75 yards, I’m going to have a difficult time convincing the DA that I couldn’t take cover inside and avoid blowing the creep away. I cannot decide to drive to nearby Youngstown and stroll the violent neighborhoods in an attempt to clear out the criminal element.
The key for this lad, I think, will be convincing folks that he didn’t make the trip to try and involve himself in the action. I sympathize with his desire to fight the vermin who were destroying our cities, but even if the jury is somehow not stacked with BLM/Antifa cheerleaders, he’ll have to be very convincing.
I believe, if memory serves from the time of the incident, that Rittenhouse and his friends answered an online plea for help from businesses in Kenosha.
How about a Western theme to this. Indians or bandits are despoiling an entire region. The towns set up a communication network, smoke signals, riders or such the like so that they can render mutual assistance. They all have have a common interest in limiting or stopping further raids. The sheriffs and soldiers, either due to corruption or fear will not intervene. Innocent, I say, not having all the facts to hand, of course.
This is a far cry from the Beastie, uh, Proud Boys traveling thousands of miles to put on a show to help sell books for some neo-con speaker at a campus that was lost over half a century ago to the vandals.
Tom raises a good question about why he was there or should have been there. And Mr Van Sant is right about the case now in front of the jury will hinge on the particulars.
Since the summer school was so compressed as to provide enough fuel for a years worth of musings, I have been reading two books by Peter Brown. The world of Late Antiquity and The Rise of Western Christendom.
Violence in all its aspects and uses is an interesting aspect of any culture especially in the theological contrasts and views such as Islamic, Christian and Jewish cultures. Part of the Leftist’s strategy is to always isolate it, particularize it and use it to stir up hate and discontent for some purpose or end. On any given day across the country there are murder trials concerning self defense. In some periods, the rather peaceful ones, the majority of theses violent trials would involve friends, family, acquaintances or neighbors. A certain list of familiar faces literally facing off to the death.
In times of decline and desperation they tend to be the subject of total strangers, random acts, the wrong place and wrong time killings like car wrecks on the interstate.
I wonder if this young man had some sense of protecting his own community, of assisting some fading institution of his community such as the local police or local businesses or was simply looking for a fight, or was naively duped into responding to the organized violence. The police could have quelled the arsonists and the destructive elements of the demonstrators within minutes or hours of the initiation of their crimes but were probably instructed not to intervene. This question of why not the police? Or why was this young man policing instead of the police, who were only a short distance away, seems to be the question a culture that’s lost its purpose should be asking. Fox News says he is innocent. CNN says something different. They both are fixated and covering the trial but not the deeper issues covered by the summer school concerning how to live in these changing times of an old culture being deconstructed, dying, eliminated and suicidal.
This is an interesting ethical question. On the one hand, the Freedom Rider example got my hackles up. But, on the other hand, the vast majority if not all of the BLM/Antifa rioters in Kenosha weren’t local, either. They were bussed in and given weapons and bricks and such by various organizations, including one funded by Soros. This was, by the time of Kenosha, an established pattern across the country during our recent Summer of Love.
I think many young (and older) men were fed up with police inaction (a problem that, as Mr. Reavis has pointed out, our sick society is incapable of effectively addressing), so they’ve been mobilizing in the hopes of getting enough people present in order to deter the looting and arson. At this point in our chaotic so-called country, it’s closer to two guerilla factions fighting than a case of self-defense.
Even so, I don’t think Rittenhouse or the majority of those in his crew sought to do violence. For all the guns they had, the only one that fired was Rittenhouse, and even the star eye witness for the DA admitted Rittenhouse only fired after that same star witness had drawn a gun, pointed it at Rittenhouse, and advanced toward him. Meanwhile, he and others were trying to fight fires, provide medical care, and other such Good Samaritan type things that I think it’s reasonable to assume most of them were earnest in their intentions to be Do Gooders and not agitators.
So, unlike the Freedom Riders the goal of the Rittenhouse types was to defend an existing order, not overturn it. Yes, they were outside of the local community, but the conflict itself was not a local one – it had already been broadcast (in typical slanted, biased, agitprop fashion) by the national media and signs were already visible that what violence had happened in other locations was about to happen to Kenosha.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where a BLM/Antifa type wasn’t an aggressor, instigator, or trouble-maker, but in the hypothetical where he traveled elsewhere, was provoked, and returned fire . . . while I would hate to defend a BLM/Antifa type and it would lave a bad taste in my mouth, but if the facts in that case were the same as in Rittenhouse (as in he truly wasn’t an agitator and truly was isolated and physically attacked before retaliating), I think I’d say he acted ethically. But, like the Freedom Riders, the organization of BLM/Antifa has social disruption and agitation at its very core, so it seems absurd to imagine a scenario where they weren’t provoking whatever response they then justly received.
I haven’t quite finished reading the very thoughtful responses, but I would add the old proverb what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. On the analogy with Indian attacks, I would remind readers that they were an alien enemy, never regarded as citizens, and generally at war with the white citizen settlers whose conduct it is not my purpose to defend, but that is a far cry from the civil strife that is engulfing American cities in violence. It hardly needs saying which side I prefer, but, again, that is not mu purpose. The most relevant analogy, it seems to me, is the strife between Communist and Nazi and Fascist thugs in the 1920s. Applying the criteria of just war criteria, was that a good thing, considering the consequences in the 1940s
Rittenhouse’s father lives in Kenosha. Rittenhouse lives in Antioch, IL. In addition to four felonies involving homicide and endangerment with a firearm, he is charged with a misdemeanor by possessing a dangerous weapon while being under 18 years old.
Good to read your posts. I always enjoy your thoughtful comments mixed with a little wit and humor. One police force that is in still in full body armor and cracking the whip against the the unrighteous is the papal posse in Rome sniffing out “massing priests” and their insignificant flocks who still mutter a little Latin on their knees.
I am too old and experienced to be surprised by our dear shepherds running for the cover of rocks and tall grass at the first sound of the lone coyote but I am surprised they still know how to use the crook and staff as a fighting weapon, even if it’s to beat their sheep instead of the wolves.
I did just learn that in his testimony today Kyle Rittenhouse mentioned that his dad, grandmother, and an aunt and uncle do live in Kenosha, so he has some tangential ties to the location, although I don’t think they had any ties to any of the businesses that were being protected by Rittenhouse and his crew that night.
Sorry – Mr. Van Sant reported the news before me. Charged with possessing a dangerous weapon is funny, though, as if a .38 revolver would make one “less dead” if shot by it.
Robert – I saw just today the news that they refuse to let the Traditional Mass be said in Rome for the Easter Triduum, not even at the FSSP parish. Of course, it was an act only done to promote unity, so they claim. At this point, I’m not sure any bit of foolishness coming out of the Vatican could surprise me. It’s made me suspect that the long held out last secret of Fatima, the one with the massacre of priests and the bishop in all white, if that’s not so much a warning of what would happen if Our Lady was not heeded but more a prophecy of what will have to eventually happen before any era of true peace can once again exist within the Church. I’m no Fatima devotee, but looking at the world on fire all around me it is difficult to not conclude the errors of Russia have, in fact, spread all over the world. Pace Mr. Navrazov, who is, I believe, doing his part to spread the antidote to such errors. And more power to him, Dr. Fleming, and the good folks here at the Fleming Foundation!
Again, I am only asking questions and offering lines of argument, but online appeals for protection are on par with the Batman signal in Gotham, except they do not come from sources empowered to enforce the law. Having connections in Kenosha is decidedly significant without being necessarily decisive. I have connections of kinship, friendship, or experience with perhaps four or five localities, but I think the residents of Chapel Hill, Oxford Ohio might well resent my armed intervention in local troubles
My purpose here is an exercise in casuistry, and, following along the lines of Aristotle, Cicero, St Thomas, St Alphonsus, we simply have to reject any argument that begins by defining the other side as absolutely evil, aggressive, and guilty. That leads only to genocide. I am far from condemning Mr. Rittenhouse. He is just a dumb American kid, but he is a dumb American kid who armed himself, as if he were in a Charles Bronson movie–I do not say that was his intention, but only the impression he created, and went to a town where he did not live, to take sides in a civil conflict. A Roman lawyer or a British lawyer would make mincemeat of his claims to self defense because he chose to put himself in that situation. So, please, let us clear away the rubble and get down to the nub of the dilemma.
So you have changed your mind about Rittenhouse being found not guilty if he gets a fair trial? His claim of self defense is false?
What if he had just been a tourist taking in the lovely Kenosha architecture when he was set upon by those thugs and vandals? Would he have been able to defend himself even though he was not in his place of residence? How far does your “town” extend? If you’re from a suburb of Atlanta, do you have the right \duty to protect the area two streets over, which is within city limits? In many business districts, there are few residents, and many are transient apartment dwellers, who could not really be considered members of the local community. The business owners live elsewhere, but, are they and their friends not allowed to protect the business?
Does the principle of deterrence hold any ethical weight? It seems that the primary goal of Rittenhouse and others with him, something that can be reasonably discerned from their behavior (i.e. they didn’t go in guns a’blazin’), is to make a show of force to deter the rioters and looters without resorting to actual violence. Having a visible AR-15 catches the attention of an opponent much quicker than concealed carry. So I don’t believe the fact that he went dressed as an action movie star equates to him being an equal party in a civil conflict. If anything, the majority of voices on that side want to prevent civil conflicts in the face of the abject failure of just about all civil authorities. And Rittenhouse did do everything in his power to avoid conflict, including running away to seek protection from the police and only began firing when kicked to the grown, physically attacked, and saw the mob advancing upon him with at least one person of the attacking force clearly pointing a firearm at him. To be honest, for just a dumb American kid I’m still impressed that he didn’t lose control and fire sooner or panic and just get massacred.
My questions are: 1 – Was there a “leader” of the group that organized against the rioters in Kenosha that night? If so, who was he, how did he communicate with those who were present that night, and what responsibility does he hold in the event. 2 – What is the judgment of the people of Kenosha? The Wisconsin prosecutor in this case is an obvious partisan hack who had demonstrated no interest in justice, no concern for the community of Kenosha, and barely any understanding of the practical workings of the law (apparently the presiding judge had to yell at him yesterday). So I don’t think it’s fair to say he is prosecuting on behalf of the Kenoshans. If they were happy to have outsiders to help resist the rioters, then Kyle is good-to-go?
Does anybody else see any parallels between the Rittenhouse case and that of Nicholas Sandmann?
JDS, please tell us about Sandman and explain the possible relevance.
VC, I think you are going farther than a good defense attorney would and reading a goo deal into Rittenhouse. Suppose, to take an extreme case, he went into a private home, and when confronted by the owners first tried to calm things done and only as a last resort shot them? You’ll have to answer your questions because they seem to me irrelevant. If he wasn’t looking for trouble, he would not have gone to Kenosha with a weapon he was not supposed to carry. Again, I am not saying I would vote to convict but only that I wonder why he went to take part in civil strife?
JD, but he wasn’t a tourist, and his only business in Kenosha was to take a stand against the rioters. An instructive parallel is the BH Goetz case, in which Goetz asserted his right to walk around New York and shot a punk who with accomplices attacked him with screwdrivers sharpened to a razor edge. On the one hand, Goetz was unbalanced–like the hero of Death Wish–but in my view committed no crime.
In general, I would suggest that too many Americans have seen too many superhero movies in which private citizens become defenders of the social order. The net effect in the short run is to delegitimate actions of self-, household-, and community defense that are rational and necessary. Goetz was called the subway vigilantes, but he was not a vigilante–a member of a corporate organization of responsible community leaders–but a private person taking upon himself the responsibility for law and order. A similar problem arises in detective fiction, where the private dick goes a thousand miles away and, without working with the police, decides to clean up the town. Now, in the Wild West or Mexico today (as in El Mariachi) such a posture makes sense.
One can think of many parallels, like, for example, the nutjobs who went to Florida to protest Terri Schiavo’s husband’s correct decision to end extraordinary treatment for his wife, who had literally no brain left after over a decade. One idiot from Rockford went down to Florida and with a knife tried to hold up a gun shop owned by Florida crackers. His plan was to intimidate the police guarding the hospital and force water down her throat–which would have killed any patient with a hope of surviving. Legally and morally, the decision right or wrong belonged to her husband and not to a stranger from Rockford. Medically, the protestors had not a shred of evidence.
Again, I ask: What is the difference between Kyle Rittenhouse and the thugs? That he is right and they are wrong? That is no answer. Of the victims I know only what I have read in the unreliable mainstream sources. One was bipolar, one claimed to be a paramedic–wearing a paramedic hat, one, it is claimed, was protecting others. It is not a happy narrative for their families. A skateboard against an automatic weapon. Not much of an heroic contest there. Two of the victims appear to have had mental problems, the other may have been a do-gooder in the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact the shooter–whose statements suggest he is a delusional adolescent with dreams of heroic grandeur–and the victims seem a lot alike–losers and dropouts who wanted to be something.
As for the trial, the prosecutor acted like a mad dog–as delusional as the victims and the shooter. I don’t know how a prosecutor or judge
or juror would go about assessing an 18 year old’s perception of a threat to his life. So far as I can see, neither he nor his victims had any business being where they were. In a saner world young Kyle would probably not be indicted, but in a saner world he would not be lionized by self-described conservatives.
I had the dubious honor of meeting Mr. Goetz on two occasions, both occasions at the apartment of the intended of a relative. On the first I had little if any interaction with him. On the second I was seated near him at dinner as he held forth on a father’s right to kill his children at any stage of the child’s life basing his view on Roman law. I know little of Roman law, but as it was a potluck dinner, when he had finished I made a point of asking him which dish he had brought. I do agree that in the incident for which he was made famous he did what was proper and necessary, but he was (is?) definitely a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.
The only similarities I see between Sandman and Rittenhouse is the media’s gleeful rush to mindlessly villainize young white males–mindlessly because in both cases there was plenty of evidence available to a sincere reporter to mitigate one’s opinion that they were clear villains. Other than that, I don’t see a similarity. Sandman was at a tourist with a chaperoned group at a publicly funded place (built for public visiting), wearing a hat supporting the sitting president. He did nothing to put himself forward, we was just standing there as the protesters approached.
Rittenhouse, on the other hand, made a lot of intentional decisions that lead him to his outcome, and not a lick of prudence in any one of them.
Imprudent decision-making doesn’t mean a punitive outcome is justified, but it does mean your going to be subjected to the system and its accompanying vagaries.
The list of “Life’s tough, it’s tougher when you’re stupid” is long for all the people involved, starting with the Rittenhouse pater and mater.
1) Let your 17-year-old own a AR15.
2) Let your 17-year-old take his AR15 out of the house.
3) Let your 17-year-old travel to some other community where riots are going on.
4) Decide to defend a community that clearly has no interest in defending itself.
5) Let your 17-year-old defend the community while you sit at home and watch the Bachelorette
6) Share battlespace with a mob.
7) Think an AR-15 can reliably save you from a mob.
8) Have anything to do with a stranger holding an AR15 that isn’t at a familiar shooting range.
9) Have anything to do with anyone holding an AR15 that is angry or scared.
10) Be carrying around a skateboard if you’re older than 13 years old.
11) Attack anyone armed with an AR15 with your skateboard.
12) Pull out your handgun in the presence of a very scared person holding an AR15.
13) Cop offering encouragement to kid who has shown up on the scene (with more heat than you) because you are clearly incompetent and failing at your job as a cop.
This list could go on for a long time and involve a lot of people. BTW, I don’t think anything to do with politicians (local or national) deserves to be on this list, because I think they got the exact outcome they wanted from every element of this thing. And that includes politicians on both sides.
Sins against prudence tend to get meted out quickly and mercilessly. A lot of our conservative friends (men and women) have increasingly lost sight of that over the last 18 months. It’s not worth noting that about the liberals, because they don’t believe in either concept–sin or prudence.
Don’t 17 year olds carry weapons all over the world for Uncle Sam?
Minimum age to enlist is 17, but requires parental consent.
How about minimum age to vote or drink of 17, but with parental consent?
Excellent comments. To James D, the answer is yes but, they are in principle trained and operating under orders of older men. At the very least we can say that if they discharge their weapons by following orders that are not illegal, they cannot be called imprudent ethically or legally culpable.
MS, wonderful story about Goetz. The simple fact of Roman law is that the patria potestas was included the power vitae necisque, life and killing, but in the latter case there were strict rules. In general the son had to have committed a capital crime, and this crime would usually be something like a physical assault on the father, an incestuous relation with mother or step-mother, or gross lack of respect for father. We have very few known cases–though there is a massive body of Roman case law preserved. In the late republic and early Empire, a father was supposed to convene a family council of senior males to assist in judging the son’s crime. There is at least one case of a father being relegated to life to an unpleasant island because he failed to comply withe the restrictions. There is a fascinating case I won’t go into, the 2nd century BC, I believe, when Roman citizens were forbidden to take in Bacchic orgies, because they were secret and probably involved sex. There was a senatorial investigation and the guilty parties were turned over to their families for execution. That some families allowed them to escape–and that this was foreseen by the Senate–I have always taken for granted. The basic assumption of the patria potestas is that the family reigned supreme within its own sphere. It was not a license to kill. From studies of wills and funeral inscriptions it would seem that Roman families were bound strongly by warm ties of affection.
For contrast, there is a video today on the Daily Mail. In Portland, OR, we see a man in a lumberjacket getting out of a car and he is assaulted by a crazy–maybe wearing a mask?–who puts a huge sword toward his neck. The “Lumberjack” speaks calmly, goes to his trunk, opens it, takes out a rifle, and calmly instructs the crazy to go away.
Following up on Josh Smith’s list, here is a question. If your teenage son announced, “Hey mom and dad, there’s a riot in Kenosha and I’m taking my AR15. Anyone have a problem with that?” What is your answer? Just be careful son?
We all know that a 17 year old who’s gone through boot camp, is part of a unit, under a gunny and a JMO, operating under rules of engagement is not the same as any neighborhood high school kid who some how came up with $2K to drop on a purely tactical piece of hardware like that. We also know that a 17 year old standing shoulder to shoulder with is father, uncles, and cousins in the town square he walked through on his way to school every day is not the same as any suburban high school kid who probably spent the last year or two as a bystander to foolish conservative talking heads on TV or internet who gets deluded into incarnating their insincere and unbalanced drivel.
This is a real kid, with a real soul who is now the test subject for the new limits (we’ll find out what those are) of our mutating justice system. Worse, I’m confident he doesn’t have a maturity to subsume the reality of having taken two lives. He’s not going to be able to fit it into a context of being a part of a larger unit, obeying orders. He’s not going to be able to fit it into a common familial defense of a home and community integrated into his life thus far. I’m pretty sure the kid is going to have the same nightmares as someone who murdered two people is left with–regardless of the probable self-defense.
“No, son. Those goons could pop up at home any day and when they do you and your fancy rifle will be needed here.”
One thing is apparent. Everyone who was present or involved in the incidents in Kenosha had unique experiences that they cannot completely or accurately describe. Everyone who watches the videos of the events has an unique experience of them and is not capable of completely or accurately describing what they saw. No one is capable or qualified to judge Rittenhouse’s motivations or actions due to a lack of adequate understanding.
To clarify, Rittenhouse did not own the rifle (which was not an automatic, only a semi-auto) and did not keep it at his mother’s or father’s homes. It was owned by a friend who lived in Wisconsin kept it at his home.
To add to Joshua’s list of imprudence, one might note that a pudgy 17-year old kid with an AR15 should not think he would be taken as seriously as a beefy biker with a chain, AR15 or not.
One question I have about these riots is who organizes them and sends the word down to get it rolling? Is it a few individuals ? A committee of dozens? One organization or collection of organizations?
Regardless of the answer it says nothing favorable about the individuals or institutions whose duty it is to respond or the electorate who allows for them to abdicate their responsibilities.
The fact that always seems so apparently coordinated and choreographed with the major news and communications networks all singing in unison seems to indicate they too participate, or is this just a new side effect of public education and social networking with hand held cell phones and computers?
The question of “Who owns America?”probably has many different aspects and for the old marxist types usually referred to the means of production. I would think today it includes much more than just the concept of producers, owners and workers.
I think there’s a difference between imprudent and unethical. I don’t think one has to necessarily condemn Kyle nor lionize him – I’m ambivalent myself.
Age seems like a funny thing to get stuck on. We have 30 year-olds (heck, 70 year-olds if politicians are considered) with the mentality of immature brats and younger children (usually from homeschooling families or from farms) with the bearing and maturity of far older folks. Here in modern America hanging a judgment on the age of 17 seems arbitrary.
I don’t think the home invader analogy is fair. The scenario would be better if Kyle saw someone breaking into someone else’s house, then broke in himself to confront the intruder, who then attacked Kyle, at which point he defended himself. Should Rittenhouse have been in the house? No, but he was likely doing what he thought best with the assumption the owners were either sleep or away. I’d leave it to the owner’s whether to hold Rittenhouse accountable or not.
Maybe it is more accurate to suggest a band of arsonists has been going around the neighborhood burning down houses, and the local police and fire departments refuse to do anything about it. Would it take long for folks in the neighborhood or (if news was blasted 24/7 all over the country of these events) even from other neighborhoods to want to stop the arsonists, preferably by just being present and dissuading them from their plans? I think it’s reasonable to assume that no one in the neighborhood wants their home burned down (not including insurance fraud seekers) and nobody (okay, most) would not want a shootout in the streets, but at some point when order is threatened and those in charge refuse to defend order, it gets hard for folks to not want to start taking matters into their own hands.
I’m not of the opinion that I want a bunch of Kyle Rittenhouses criss-crossing the country to bring “justice” to all, but, since I’m the type of fool that sympathizes with Frank & Jesse James and John Wesley Hardin, I’m loath to jump to conclusions against Rittenhouse. Perhaps we don’t live in the Wild West, but sometimes I feel like the Wild West was more civilized than what we have to offer.
VC, If we took your took arguments seriously, that prudence/phronesis is not an ethical quality and that individuals are empowered with singly or in groups to see that justice is down for people to whom we are not connected, we’d find ourselves in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, overturning tyrannies and promoting democratic capitalism. Since prudence/phronesis is the faculty that applies reason to and from human experience, it is the key, as Aristotle and others have argued, to leading a virtuous life. Suppose for example that I am ordinarily a decent person who obeys the laws but the two times I have got drunk I have caused auto accidents and discharged a firearm unsafely at a party. If I drive to a party and get loaded, when prudence should tell me I shouldn’t, I bear a good deal of responsibility for what happens.
Some years ago I proposed the Practical Joke as an ethical conundrum. If I call up a stranger and tell him he’s won the lottery, not knowing he has a delicate heart condition, and he dies, I am partly responsible because I had no business interfering in his life, whereas if he had really won, I would be simply doing my duty as an employee. This is one of the themes of Johnson’s “Rasselas”, that when you do your duty, act prudently but bad things happen, you are not guilty. Did Rittenhouse have a duty to go to Kenosha. (Hint, there is only one morally serious answer.)
It is good to know that the gun was not his and that it is quite possible his parents had little idea of what he was doing, but that in itself is a problem. None of the news sources I have checked seem to know anything about his family.
While it is true that no one ever knows truly what goes on in another man’s mind, it does not at all follow that we are not entitled to make judgments based on the actions and on the evidence. The boy’s initial grinning followed by his emotional hysterics later in the trial, if both are unfeigned, are not the signs of a mature human being. I know I was not a mature human being at that age, and I doubt many people younger than I am were or are. Josh Smith is certainly correct in supposing it will take a great deal to for him to live through this incident and come out whole. Judge Reavis asks a pertinent question, because it is the people on both sides who organize these events, gin up the passions, who must bear some responsibility, like the trumpeter in the Aesop fable. I sympathize with the kid and with some of the young men who went to Charlottesville, but I have spent nearly 40 years warning readers against the immorality and futility of civil disobedience and demonstrations even when the protestors are convinced of the righteousness of their cause. Years ago, even corrupt officials and cops had the maturity and will power to stand against these things. Now it seems they are more likely to take sides. Disordered actions are almost always the mark of a disordered mind, which is the mark of a disordered soul.
Mammas, don’t let your boys grow up to be demonstrators!
PS Frank and Jesse were, 1) Veteran soldiers in a brutal civil war in Missouri and Kansas, 2) a war in which outrages were committed against their families before, during, and after the official war. The Youngers’ father was tortured and murdered for his money; the James’s stepbrother was murdered and mother gravely wounded by a bomb attack by the Pinkertons. 3) For all their obvious heroism, they were nonetheless criminals. Jesse was murdered to gain the reward offered by an evil governor and Frank lived to be acquitted of a crime he actually committed. None of Quantrill’s boys would have allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to buy them a beer.
When I was 17 I was a junior and a senior in high school. I was a 3-sport athlete so during the school year my parents usually knew where I was. During the intervening summer I had much more autonomy.
Rittenhouse had friends in Kenosha and worked as a lifeguard there so it was probably difficult for his parents to keep close watch on his activities.
Yes, Rittenhouse is an immature boy from a broken family. He did not have proper guidance and supervision when he needed it. On top of that, he has been exposed to our degraded culture for much of his life. As someone else noted, he seemed to exercise a lot of self control when he needed to under difficult circumstances regardless of how they came about.
Dr. Fleming, you frequently project your experiences on others and assume you know how they feel or would react in hypothetical situations. You do not know what Quantrill’s men would do.
We all have to make judgments but we should recognize that we do so based on incomplete and often distorted information.
My (confused) thinking was along the lines of a square is a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t always a square. I know I’ve done imprudent things that I don’t think (hope) were unethical, but I readily admit to not being a clear thinker or understanding the appropriate terminology (I had to look up phronesis). In my defense, I have a Liberal Arts degree from Tulane University. It’s a wonder I can even spell correctly.
I guess my sympathy with the situation in general (and not necessarily Mr. Rittenhouse) is that forces appear to be organized and mobilized all across the country. Outsiders are routinely bused to “protest” which is usually planned to become a riot/looting spree by outside financers. Local communities are targeted and then terrorized. Police often refuse to help contain or stop the violence, the political leaders often encourage the violence (even bailing out rioters and looters), and public land is vandalized, churches are burned, and the average American seems up the creek with no paddle. If the bad guys are allowed to organize and bring in outside forces to destroy communities, why aren’t the good guys? Well, partly because any sort of organized militia would be immediately identified, tracked, infiltrated, and destroyed by the FBI.
So in a world on fire, I struggle to not sympathize with those who want to grab a bucket of water and do something, even if their actions will ultimately make things worse (which I believe they do – every Rittenhouse and Jan 6 protestor is used as a justification to strengthen the oppressive forces wanting to destroy average Americans).
I’m not a Rittenhouse fan, but, so far as I can tell, at least he doesn’t hate the country, her people, or her history. He may be an immature, chubby dumb kid, but at least he’s not a hysterically anti-American chubby dumb kid. Unless he’s said anything bad about the Confederacy, in which case he can go pound sand.
I personally try to stay out of trouble as much as possible. I don’t go to protests, I don’t walk around with an AR15 around my neck, and I don’t go to political rallies. I try my best to teach my kids to also keep their eyes open, their head on a swivel, to keep a low profile, and to stay out of trouble. However, two summers ago, before COVID-mania and during the BLM Summer of Love, our local parish was targeted for a “protest.” They decided to hold a rally in the little town, and word was circulating to the pastor that his Church was on a list of those to be vandalized. He got in touch with the local police chief who told him he couldn’t care less. So he got a good number of men in the parish (big guys who are very intimidating) to surround the building, and a few to go undercover to the actual rally with radios. They brought gear to camp out in the church over night. Thankfully, whether because the rumor was false or the “show of force” changed plans, the church was left alone.
However, I’m certain that, had something happened and, regardless of any attempts to deescalate, if someone on our side had had to resort to force to protect himself, I have no doubt that he would have been stocked and pilloried just as bad if not worse than Rittenhouse. The parish would also likely have become a focused target, and the pastor likely would have been punished if not also removed. Not because any of our guys were looking for trouble, but just because we were trying to protect what was important to us.
Questions of prudence and justice aside, is it wrong for me to root for a Stalin-like show trial to fail, even if the chubby immature kid in the middle of it is undeserving?
And I knew I was in for a beating as soon as I mentioned the James brothers – that was pretty stupid on my part. I regretted it immediately. I didn’t mean to favorably compare the cherubic Rittenhouse with actual grown men, but to convey that my sympathies tend towards those being crushed by the Yankee Justice System.
I am appreciative of Mr. Smith’s well considered comments. They help to put many aspects of the case in perspective. I am very sympathetic to Mr. Cornell’s point of view except that, and this touches on Mr. Reavis’ question, those who are organizing these events count on whipping up passions on both sides to a fever pitch for maximum effect. They don’t care about any of those on the street, not even those street organizers who know something of the objectives and are paid provacateurs. Twentieth century experience shows that the street brawlers always go to the wall first when it comes time to reestablish order, especially if their side wins. We can only speculate on the ultimate aims of the oligarchic elite who are funding these escapades, but complete totalitarian control of people and resources would seem to be the goal. Most of those doing the vandalism and burning and killing on both sides are dupes who have been convinced and have convinced themselves that they are on the right side of history and that they are making history. Most of the youth today are pathetic, essentially parentless losers who are desperately looking for some meaning in their lives. They get involved in these things to get a sense of belonging to something bigger and more important than themselves and are perfectly willing to lose themselves in it. This has been going on for a very long time. Consider Fagin’s orphans and magnify it to a societal scale, but Fagin’s boys were mostly just interested in being fed and having a family. Back to at least the Boomer generation there has been an increasing failure first of fatherhood and now of parenthood entirely. I have seen some indication that those who are running this operation tried first to get it going in the 1920’s, here I’m talking about “teen culture”, the goal of which is to divide out the generations, destroying family, but the Great Depression intervened to throw cold water over the population as a whole and the project was shelved until after the war. The question is what to do with all of these kids. They have been groomed to reject all authority that does not promise to satisfy their passions. Dr. Fleming is correct when he has said that it will take generations to straighten out this mess, that is if we get the chance. We can expect a lot of turmoil for the time being at least and I feel that it is just getting started. Wait until the food starts running out and energy becomes so expensive that heating the home, if you have one, is near impossible. But hardship tends to concentrate the mind on what is most important so there is some hope eventually. (Does this qualify me for the Charlie Brown Lead Football Award?)
I thank Dr. Fleming for the setting the ravings of Mr. Goetz in context. I suspected, at the time, that there was a kernel of truth in it, but in Mr. Goetz’s hands that kernel became a GMO monstrosity. I’m happy to have a fuller and saner understanding of the principles and history involved.
No need for any apologies for sincerely expressing a point of view. My idea for this is to elicit give and take expressions that will circle around and perhaps narrow the range toward a more nearly true understanding. Of course we shall never hit the target. The point is to try, through some kind of dialectic, to get closer. I am no Socrates and would never dream of such a comparison, but the method of dialogue is certainly fruitful among people of good will.
As I said at the beginning, we take off the table ad hominem remarks.
What exactly is the target? The original proposition:
“The question for today is how to view Kyle Rittenhouse. On my understanding of the legal traditions of most American states, he should probably be acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. On moral grounds, does he bear a grave responsibility for going to a strange place for the sole purpose of taking part in demonstrations that were none of his business except in his own mind? I case can be made for either side.”
Was Kenosha a “strange place” for Rittenhouse? What does “take part in demonstrations “ mean? Does it include opposing the demonstrations by trying to prevent arson and vandalism in Kenosha? We have gone far afield from a focus on Rittenhouse. What have we discovered or determined about him?
My impression is that Rittenhouse and Sandmann are both do-gooder crusader types, and that they are both demonized because both chose crusades that are un-PC. Perhaps the comparison is superficial; obviously Sandmann was acting under some sort of authority, didn’t seek out confrontation, and never killed anybody.
In any event, even assuming for the sake of argument that what he did was objectionable, I do find it perverse that Rittenhouse is on trial for murder, and labelled as a murderer. To my mind murder is a crime that by definition has to have a victim. All good guy-vs-bad guy emoting aside, I simply can’t understand how his “victims” could be conceived of as such. If you are part of a riot, armed, and get shot by somebody you are attacking, how are you a victim?
What are the criteria for being a do-gooder crusader type? How do Sandman and Rittenhouse meet the criteria?
Based on this discussion, it seems that Rittenhouse may have had some ties of family or friendship to Kenosha. That might not make his decision to go there any more prudent, but it makes it hard to put him squarely in the camp of demonstrators, sit-inners, and Occupiers.
The nature of the Bat signal request is also significant. If Rittenhouse was invited in by local residents, then the “home invader” comparison doesn’t seem to be appropriate. If the signaler were a business or property owner, then I don’t see why lack of law enforcement authority would come into consideration. Is self defense and defense of one’s property considered a function of law enforcement in Wisconsin? It is difficult to think so – the property owner who shoots the arsonist does not do so to enforce the city burn laws – but I am not a Wisconsin lawyer. On the other hand, at least one other state (Washington) excludes the employment of an armed body of men from the concept of “self defense”*. Unless the law in Wisconsin makes a similar distinction, then this seems like a case of the vampire goose and the idealist gander.
I am not sure what to make of Rittenhouse’s age, physical stature, or the organization of his community defense outfit. They don’t seem relevant to a discussion about the moral aspects of involving oneself in these sorts of things. Like Mr. Cornell I perceive a certain composure in his actions (as they are described) that led up to the shooting. When the shooting was over he had three bodies to show for eight spent rounds. Whatever his faults he seems to have acquitted himself with some deliberation and as a relatively disciplined grown man. By way of comparison, Boston-area law enforcement agencies expended hundreds of rounds in subduing the two Marathon bombers. Maybe the outfit to which Rittenhouse attached himself was not so slip-shod after all.
Honestly, I would not put much stock in any of this were it my son who wanted to get involved. However, there are elements to distinguish this case from that of the demonstrator, the sit-inner, and the Occupier. Is mercenary a better comparison and are mercenaries categorically imprudent or immoral? Did the Ten Thousand have a duty to take the side they did?
*Washington State Constitution Art.1 Section 24: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
More excellent points that advance the discussion. On the “bat signal”, I do not trust the usual sources, but the stories I have read is that the retailer who asked for help was not personally known to Rittenhouse. If that is correct, then he had no more business–perhaps less–than the victims. The skateboarder appears to have been from Kenosha and his friends declare his home town meant a great deal to him. Again, I have no way of checking that, but assuming it is more or less true, Rittenhouse is back to being an outside agitator, a would-be militia organizer.
The argument for his poise and prowess carries some weight and would carry more if he did not possess such superior fire power.
Mercenaries, traditionally, are grown men, military veterans with time on their hands. Many years ago I met two American black Vietnam vets who hired out to the government of Rhodesia to prevent the destruction of a functioning African society by communists. They believed they had a cause.
KR is neither grown up nor a veteran, and he did not get hired. The 10,000 were for the most part veterans of the Peloponnesian War who got hired by officers they respected. Xenophon appears to have been in it not for the money but for the adventure and to spend time with his friend Proxenos. Socrates seems to have expressed some skepticism about his disciple’s adventure, but most Greeks would not, probably, have disapproved. Persian kings had twice invaded Greece to subjugate the people, and after Xerxes’ invasion, Athens under Cimon took the lead in purging the islands of Persian domination. By the late Fifth Century, however, Persian satraps were actively intervening in the war, paying the troops of one and another side, with the obvious objective of weakening Greek resistance to the revival of Persian power in Ionia (at least). Cyrus was a Hellenophile who spent much of the year in Greek cities, living like a Greek instead of as a Persian, and he was liked by the Greeks who knew him, partly because of his Hellenism and generosity and partly because he was a genuinely heroic and noble character. Some, at least, of the commanders knew him and respected him. While Cyrus died in a brave but foolish gesture, but the example of the 10,000 inspired Philip and Alexander with the dream of putting an end, once and for all, to the Persian menace.
Young Rittenhouse, from all I can see and read, has as little in common with those black vets as with Clearchus the Spartan. I am reminded more of the young men in Westerns, sometimes played wonderfully by a youthful James Best (the future Roscoe P Coltrane), who insist on playing the man and going into Dodge armed. Maybe Billy Clanton in My Darling Clementine, but at least the fictionalized Billy was backing his brothers.
It interesting that the good defenses being offered often include an attempt to provide a more justifiable or rational motive for KR’s actions. These arguments may in time prove to have some validity, but if we stick to the media-constructed narrative, I see only disturbed young man sticking his nose into other people’s business and ready to rumble–some of the statements attributed to him, supposing they are true, reveal someone all to eager to blow someone away.
For the sake of anyone who has become confused, I would without hesitation vote for acquittal, but I would also put the civil authorities of Kenosha on trial for allowing these demonstrations to go on.
I asked about the do-gooder crusader because when I was younger I participated in the annual March for Life in Washington DC. I also volunteered at Our Daily Bread food bank in Baltimore and at a Birthright clinic that provided pregnancy services. Does that mean I am (or was) a do-gooder crusader? Is that good or bad?
So what it comes down to is that we know very little about KR and all our evaluations about how to view him are based primarily on assumptions and supposition.
Readers are free to reach any conclusions they are comfortable, but to sum up the arguments of others contrary to their stated intentions is, as a technique neither justifiable nor persuasive.
I was thinking of the question from a different perspective this morning. If one was a shop owner in Kenosha that night and one saw the rioters gathering around town, and then, when you went to check on your shop you found a cadre of young men armed with assault rifles quietly standing in formation around the shop, would one be upset? They were uninvited, you don’t know who they are, and they’re all dressed like paramilitary types, and they would likely leave the premises if you ask them to. Does one tell them to scram? Is one comforted, perhaps begrudgingly so, to have this random force of folks suddenly in between one’s shop and the rioters and looters? I know one look at Rittenhouse himself would not inspire confidence, but from what I understand he was one among many there, and perhaps in a crowd of more competent faces his less austere form would not be very noticeable.
From some of the little testimony I’ve heard, at least one of the shop owners was in contact with folks who were on the scene. While it doesn’t change the judgment on Rittenhouse deciding to go to Kenosha in the first place, do his actions become licit if the shop owner at some point welcomed his (among others) involvement?
I confess, I haven’t really watched much of the trial, just entertaining clips that some folks have shared with me (like Grambo’s testimony), and I haven’t been motivated to do much independent research. I know that Rittenhouse apparently cried during his testimony, but I haven’t watched that, either, so I make no defense or judgment for or against his character. I don’t listen to the mainstream media, though, so at least I’m not overly misinformed! (at least, so far as I know) I did hear that some folks have had to either retract or correct their positions (including a Brazilian newspaper) because they kept assuming Rittenhouse had “gunned down” black demonstrators and were surprised to learn that everyone involved with the case was white. Not that such examples ever serve to create genuine distrust of the biased and politicized media. Oh well.
I feel like we live in a time where Shinbone is reverting back to the pre-Stoddard days, but Stoddard’s rules are still being haphazardly applied. It’s a strange No Man’s Land in between the so-called Rule of Law and Tom Donophin’s judgment and skill. It’s as if the laws have failed, but there are no Donophin’s to take over, so we’re left with Anarcho-Tyranny and unfettered bureaucracies and “intelligence” agencies.
I think the simple answer to your question is, not really. Presumably, the good people of Kenosha have sufficient manpower and firepower defend themselves from thugs, if that is what they wanted. Naturally, if KR had succeeded in defending life and property without killing anyone, he would be regarded as a benefactor, but that is not the way things turned out. And, like all capricious gestures, including practical jokes, where we are not doing a job or our duty but only choosing to intervene in other people’s lives, web responsibility if things go wrong. Bringing up Tom Donophin is useful, because if KR had put himself under the command of such a man, he would be on much surer ground.
Rather than beat this issue to death, I’ll content myself with the following summation. My intention with this question was to initiate a discussion of the principles that would or would not justify KR’s decision to go armed to a different community to take sides in a low level civil conflict. While of necessity we had to go over some of the evidence pro and con, the main issue was always the ethical question of whether supererogatory acts of intervention and aggression are justifiable when the actor is not connected to the people he wishes to help. The second question that flows from this is what responsibility does he bear for mistakes or even merely unfortunate consequences. My two answers may not suit everyone, but they are, NO and MUCH.
Naturally one’s judgment will be affected by a variety of factors: How grave are the circumstances? If the good people of Kenosha were being attacked by a vast Mongol army or even a convergence of violent thugs who would take over the city, the temptation to help would be great. Another factor is the skills and experience of the would-be benefactor. Every caped crusader has to start somewhere, but usually as a subordinate. Then there is the question of possible bonds of attachment. In one of the great Texas blood feuds, Wes Harden was a friend of one of the families and his involvement launched him on his career as gunman.
So in the simple model presented in the media, an adolescent in illegal possession of a weapon goes to a different town to help strangers and in the process kills a couple of people who were probably not posing a threat to anyone’s life. In this tangled web of motivations and circumstances, I would vote for acquittal probably, but if I were his confessor, I should try to make it clear why it was not his duty in this instance to take the law into his own hands, and if I were a father of children, I should explain to them that Rittenhouse does not provide a good model to imitate.
Would Rittenhouse have been justified if he had been living in Kenosha with his father and a business owner he knew asked him to help protect his business because the authorities were allowing the arson and rioting to go on?
I appreciated this opportunity to consider something I likely would have spent no time thinking about otherwise.
Mr. Van Sant,
It occurred to me even as I typed “do-gooder crusader” that I perhaps I should clarify that I did not mean it as a pejorative, which I admit is how it sounds.
Here I meant it to be descriptive of a temperament, a temperament which is less inclined to stay home and more inclined to “get involved,” and which can produce saints (Louis IX) or maniacs (John Brown) depending on what spiritual forces inform and govern it.
Thank you for your clarification Mr. Salyer.
Thank you for this discussion. I hate to think that at some point for some folks this will become more than academic.
Dr Fleming, I disagree with your evaluation. Mr Rittenhouse did not have an obligation to go to Kenosha, but that does not mean he was prohibited from going there. He was being human. It is part of our human nature to want to help someone in need, whether we know them or not, if we have the ability and opportunity to do so. Your suggestion that it is only ethical to help those to whom we are connected is nonsense. Mr Rittenhouse was responding to a call for help because he correctly saw that the authorities were not doing their jobs.
Thanks for all the comments. I have closed off comments because the discussion seems to have run it course. I used to have a Greek friend, a business professor from Alexandria, and he once remarked that there was no point in debating a communist, because you would go from A to Z, disproving his every point, and just when you thought the debate was over, after settling point Z, he’d pop up and say, “Yes, but what about A.” As the years have gone by, I have realized that this approach to rational discussion is not limited to communists but is found in every ideology: feminists, libertarians, religious fanatics of every tribe and sect. And, when the ideologue returns to his unbudgeable position, he is a small step away from personal insult.
When I was teaching students how to organize their ideas and to write a coherent essay on a thesis, I gave them a rule–albeit a rule made to be broken by good writers, but, a good guidelines nonetheless. Here it is: Never offer a fact or instance, except to illustrate a general principle, and never declare a general principle that is not backed up by instances. Now, a truly Socratic teacher would add that the first phase of a logical argument about some human dilemma is to reach the point where the participants are clear about their basic principles, I have jokingly called this, in a piece of fiction, paramoral inquiry. The next phase is to discover whether the participant’s set of principles are congruent with each other.
This probably sounds too elementary to need stating, but just this once, perhaps, it is not a waste of time. This has been quite a good discussion, and I look forward to the next episode. Please feel free to suggest questions, because I do not always (ever?) know what topic might interest our friends and readers.