Kyle Rittenhouse, like George Zimmerman before him, is turning out to be every bit as dreadful as his insta-critics assumed.
Rittenhouse is the teen from far north suburban Antioch, who in the course of allegedly taking the law into his own hands shot three men, two fatally, during street protests in Kenosha in August.
Zimmerman is the then 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer from Sanford, Florida, who in the course of taking the law into his own hands, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
Both quickly became nationally known and both were thoroughly reviled, particularly by the political left, as irresponsible vigilantes who had no business being where they were. Both were hit with serious charges — Rittenhouse quickly, for first-degree intentional homicide, Zimmerman after an intense national pressure campaign, for second-degree murder. Both claimed they’d acted in self-defense when they discharged their weapons, and both were championed by gun rights activists.
Rittenhouse was widely criticized based on previous social media posts that suggested he idolized police, was fixated on guns and had contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement. Zimmerman haters made much of his arrest at age 21 for resisting arrest, and of an allegation of domestic violence in his past.
Neither has behaved with distinction after the fact.
Rittenhouse was recorded at a Wisconsin bar in early January flashing white-power hand signs and being serenaded with “Proud of Your Boy,” a song from the stage version of Disney’s “Aladdin” that’s become the anthem for the Proud Boys, a group of violent right-wing extremists.
Rittenhouse is in the news again this week as prosecutors are seeking to have him rearrested for allegedly failing to disclose his whereabouts to authorities while out on bond. His lawyers contend he’s been living in a “safe house” in response to death threats. They provided the address to the courts Wednesday, along with a motion to seal the information.
Zimmerman’s many odious acts in the last nearly nine years include trying to auction off the gun he used to kill Martin, tweeting a photo of Martin’s corpse with the annotation “Z-man is a one-man army,” posting seminude photographs of his ex-girlfriend accusing her of having sex with a “dirty Muslim” and getting arrested twice for assault (charges were dropped both times).
I’m agnostic on the question of whether Rittenhouse and Zimmerman were always this awful or whether merciless early criticism and hostility that included careless or malicious distortions of the incidents drove them into darker places than they would normally have ended up. But either way, they’re awful.
That doesn’t mean they’re guilty.
Zimmerman was acquitted at trial in 2013, and, I believe, rightly so.
The timeline of events strongly suggests that Zimmerman was not officiously chasing Martin through a subdivision that night but waiting around for police to arrive when Martin, furious at the thought he was being racially profiled, doubled back to attack Zimmerman with his fists. As the jury found, Zimmerman drew his gun and fired in fear because Martin was getting the better of him in the fight.
And, brace yourself, reader, the similarities will continue when Rittenhouse is acquitted of murder charges at his trial, now set to begin in late March.
Forget how you feel about the fact that citizens can openly carry military-style rifles on Wisconsin streets to deter and intimidate. Forget the contention that Rittenhouse was technically too young to exercise that right. Forget his annoying “Blue Lives Matter” swagger.
The video evidence is persuasive that Rittenhouse was pursued and cornered by a voluble and much larger antagonist who was among those protesting a police shooting in Kenosha. And after he shot and killed that man, he was set upon by a mob chasing him down the street as he ran in the direction of police, whereupon he fired again, killing one pursuer and wounding another.
Justice in such cases is blind to the personality flaws of those in the dock. Justice doesn’t concern itself with whether the person on trial was a busybody or a wannabe or a naif.
Justice asks what happened in those few critical, fraught moments that led up to and concluded a fatal altercation. Justice says that the dreadful as well as the righteous have a right to defend themselves.
Zimmerman showed that truth. I predict Rittenhouse will confirm it.