Official confirmation that the hero-worship of Rittenhouse has gotten dark and ugly is that even Fox News populists are urging people to dial it back.
Within hours of Rittenhouse being acquitted of murder last month, the Onion took this tongue-in-cheek peek into its crystal ball:
— The Onion (@TheOnion) November 19, 2021
In the days following, Rittenhouse revealed that he’d allowed Tucker Carlson’s team to film him for a documentary during his trial and that he’d soon sit down with Tucker for an exclusive interview. In short order he swung by Mar-a-Lago for a photo op with Donald Trump and began what seems to have been a carefully planned tour of conservative media. Still, he said the right things when asked about becoming a political symbol. “How polarized it became is absolutely sickening: Right or left, people using me for a cause that should never have been used as a cause,” he complained to Carlson. In an interview with a podcast for The Blaze, he dismissed idea that what he did should be celebrated:
When a host of the “You Are Here” podcast told Rittenhouse, in an episode released Tuesday, “congratulations, good job” for what he did, Rittenhouse replied “It’s nothing to be congratulated (for). Like, if I could go back, I wish I would never have had to take somebody’s life,” adding that it was “probably not the best idea to go down there,” referring to the Kenosha rioting he went to armed with a semiautomatic rifle.
That’s the appropriate attitude. If you’re put in a position where you have to take someone else’s life to save your own, you do it. You’re entitled. But you don’t do a grave-dance afterward. That smells more like vigilantism than self-defense.
Fast-forward a month and here’s where things stand in the personal evolution of Kyle Rittenhouse, reluctant symbol:
If you think the Daily Mail headline must be exaggerating, think again:
Kyle Rittenhouse gets a rock star reception at the Turning Point USA event in AZ.
The teen was found not guilty of criminal charges after admitting to shooting & killing two people in WI. He says it was self defense.
He’a now seen as a hero by some activists on the right pic.twitter.com/fBvl2pKT6q
— Elex Michaelson (@Elex_Michaelson) December 21, 2021
There are only a few political figures I can imagine getting a reception that raucous at a conservative event. Donald Trump is one. Mike Flynn is another. A group of insurrectionists from January 6 would. And Kyle Rittenhouse would, and has. The through-line among all four is that they’re symbols of using force to subjugate your political enemies. Trump instigated the “stop the steal” effort to overturn the election that led to the attack on the Capitol. Flynn called for martial law and has spoken warmly of a military coup. Rittenhouse shot three leftists during a riot.
Not one of them has anything meaningful to say about policy or conservative ideology. This isn’t CPAC 1981 rising to its feet to welcome Ronald Reagan as he recites the evils of collectivism and the virtues of individual liberty. This is Trump running through his personal enemies list or Rittenhouse getting a standing O for killing some people who needed killing, according to the right.
Tomi Lahren has catered to populists for her entire career but even she can’t watch this spectacle and the incentives it’s creating without feeling queasy.
Tomi Lahren — yes, Tomi Lahren! — says to pump the brakes when it comes to celebrating Kyle Rittenhouse.
"I think we should step back a little bit and maybe not treat him like he is a rock star or a celebrity. That is not necessarily a good look for the conservative movement." pic.twitter.com/5HJS38Rk02
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) December 21, 2021
“The last message the right (or anyone) should send is that this is the ticket to fame and adulation,” David French tweeted about the adulation of Rittenhouse. But that is the message, by design. Kill a few leftists and get away with it and you too might find yourself feted by conservative media celebrities and invited to lunch by ex-presidents. I’m not sure Ron Filipkowski is wrong about this, frankly:
How long before the Kyle Rittenhouse endorsement becomes more coveted by Republican candidates than Trump’s? pic.twitter.com/hjoTdfYY8l
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) December 21, 2021
Sure, Trump is the MAGA pope. But he’s never literally ended a liberal’s life, has he?
I wonder what the political reception would have been for Rittenhouse if, instead of shooting three people during confrontations in close quarters, he had sniped at them from the roof of a nearby building. The self-defense case evaporates in those circumstances, obviously, but he’d still have a case that he was defending the lives or property of others during the chaos of a riot. He’d be on shakier legal ground but my guess is that he’d still be every inch the Republican rock star, especially if he “beat the system” by getting acquitted. The key to his celebrity doesn’t lie in the concept of self-defense, after all. It lies in his willingness to use lethal force to defeat the enemies of law and order. Whether that force was used to defend his life or not is largely academic, at least as a political matter.
I’ll leave you with this, a product of the same violence-curious sub-culture that treats Rittenhouse like a hero.
This is so sinister – Boebert shows a montage of people (rightly) criticizing her, then ends her video with the clear sound of a gunshot. This is incitement to violence. There will almost certainly be substantial US political violence in the years ahead. pic.twitter.com/Zj1MymBub4
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) December 21, 2021