Our nation turns its lonely eyes to Kenosha

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Yesterday, President Donald Trump suggested that Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin and murdered two protesters, was the real victim.

“That was an interesting situation,” the president said in a White House press briefing. “He was trying to get away from them, I guess it looks like, and he fell and then they very violently attacked him, and it was something that we are looking at right now and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed. It’s under investigation.”

He also framed the nationwide protests in starkly political terms. “I also want to provide an update on left-wing political violence that we’re seeing in Democrat-run cities,” he said. “Under my administration, federal law enforcement is working with state and local authorities all over the country to comb through hours of video, track down rioters, looters, and arsonists, and bring them to justice.”  

“The violent rioters share Biden’s same talking points, and they share his same agenda for our nation,” he said.

Today, the president has traveled to Kenosha, one of the swingiest cities in a swing state poised to decide his fate. 

With all the race-baiting and fearmongering, it sounds as if the president is counting on white voter exhaustion to keep him in office, particularly in Wisconsin. The New York Times thinks it may be working, but Politico is not so sure

Kenosha’s issues with race are at once emblematic of those facing the rest of the country and also quite specific to them — John Oliver has a brutal assessment of Kenosha’s problematic white police chief here — but the renewed willingness to accept vigilante violence as legitimate force is a deeply disturbing development.

Rittenhouse is a young man with a big mouth and bigger gun, who killed two people and was later waved off the scene by local police with thanks for his service. He is facing six criminal counts, five of which are felonies, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, and intentional first-degree intentional homicide. His attorney will likely claim self-defense, as foreshadowed by the president. 

But the sixth charge, of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, is a misdemeanor — and in this case, a tell. For this charge, his attorneys are planning a unique defense: That Rittenhouse was acting as part of a “well-regulated militia” under the Second Amendment. It would let them circumvent the age issue, while hearkening back to a Constitutionally mandated vision of a patriotic age.

It is not likely to work, but the dog whistle is clear, and so is the rush to turn Rittenhouse into a martyr.

That said, the Blake family is holding firm with some deft counter-programming timed for the president’s visit. 

The president inspected the protest site but had no plans to visit a peaceful protest planned by Blake’s family at the scene of the shooting. The rally included a community cleanup, food drive, music, barbecue, a bouncy house, healing circle and voter registration booth, reports Kenosha News.

It hasn’t been easy, though. Jacob Blake Sr. has been receiving death threats, he says, and his younger son was recently hospitalized for depression. “It is saddening to me that people don’t understand the type of pressure this family is under and what the rest of the family is dealing with,” he told CNN.

But Justin Blake, Jacob’s uncle, said today was about reclaiming the narrative from politics as usual. “Our focus today is on helping the Kenosha community and thanking the local community for its support,” he said. “It’s not just for my nephew, Jake,” Justin Blake said, “but for all the little Jakes around the country. We’re staying focused on getting justice and on healing. We want to come together.”

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

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