It is getting closer to midnight in the United States. The November 19 Kenosha verdict is a racist, reactionary outrage and a big step forward for those scheming for a fascist society.
In August 2020, avowed white supremacist Kyle Rittenhouse gunned down three anti-racist demonstrators with his AR-15 machine gun in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two of whom died. Neither of those he killed were armed and the incident was recorded on video. Rittenhouse, then 17, had traveled from Illinois, allegedly to defend “property” and the police against Black Lives Matter demonstrators, but in fact to attack the demonstrators.
At the time Rittenhouse fired those shots in August 2020, Jacob Blake, a young Black victim of police violence lay permanently injured, with part of his body paralyzed. In July 2020, Kenosha police had shot Blake seven times in the back for supposedly endangering their lives. This totally unwarranted shooting by Kenosha police provoked the original demonstration during the mass nationwide Black Lives Matter Uprising of 2020. To this day, neither the State of Wisconsin nor the U.S. Department of Justice have made any attempt to prosecute the police who perpetrated this attempted murder, a failure at the root of the summer 2020 Kenosha demonstrations. To this day, Blake remains permanently injured, unable to walk more than a few steps. The shooter, Officer Rusten Sheskey, is back at work with his full salary.
In a second outrage, on November 19, 2021, an apparently all-white jury acquitted Rittenhouse, who now walks free to kill again. This despite the fact that two young anti-racist demonstrators, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, lay dead, and another, Gaige Grosskreutz, has been permanently injured.
In the Rittenhouse trial, the judge and the local jury accepted the ludicrous claim that the smooth-faced young white murderer was acting in self-defense because the men he killed and wounded had supposedly put his life in danger as they tried to disarm him. A similar argument is being used in Georgia by the three armed white men on trial for the February 2020 killing Ahmaud Arbery, the young Black man they tried to detain for “suspicious” activity.
Many have pointed to Judge Bruce Schroeder’s clownish, reactionary behavior — forbidding the word “victim” but allowing “thugs” and “looters,” making incredibly biased statements throughout the trial and his jury instructions, etc. — and to the obvious bias of an apparently all-white jury. (The latter issue is obscured by the State of Wisconsin’s obfuscatory failure to record the ethnic and racial identities of the jurors.)
In a larger context this verdict takes us closer to the midnight of a fascist United States, as the turning point on that road in the last few years.
First came Donald Trump’s electoral victory of November 8, 2016, which signaled that the Republican Party has become a far-right party with a large fascist element. In the period after that, Trump consolidated his hold, forcing out, sidelining, or silencing every single one of his Republican critics who held major office.
Second came the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol with the goal of overturning Trump’s 2020 election defeat, which signaled that a large, armed group exists inside the Republican Party. This group, which is growing in size, is willing to engage in violence to overturn the democratic republic that, with all its flaws, remains in place in the U.S. This amounted to a fascist coup attempt.
Third came the November 19, 2021 Kenosha verdict, which gives legal sanction to white supremacist vigilantes who murder leftists and anti-racists. Labor and other large progressive movements ignore this new danger at their peril.
All this is occurring at a time of deep economic dislocation still lingering from the Great Recession and from the more recent COVID-19 pandemic, a dislocation that is itself rooted in capital’s declining profit rates since the 1970s. Tens of millions of people have seen their lives change for the worse, and their future prospects grow dimmer. And since Trump’s defeat at the polls, nothing serious has been done to curtail the police murders that sparked the 2020 uprising, nor to stem the tide of voter suppression targeting people of color and youth.
At the same time, the spirit of the 2020 uprising has spread to labor, with “Striketober” — which has bled into November — leading to some real victories at John Deere, Kaiser Permanente, and the University of California. But November 19 will give all the forces of reaction the sense that they can arm themselves, and go out and kill demonstrators or pickets for social justice, and that they can get away with it in the courts, as one of their number just has.