Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Rittenhouse Verdict and the Future of Vigilante Violence

There are typically two levels in a case like Rittenhouse’s, the individual issues of justice and accountability, and the social implications of the crime and its judicial resolution.  I want to spend a moment with the second.

America faces an impending crisis of vigilante suppression of democratic rights.  In the past year we’ve seen militias openly threatening violence in takeovers of state capitals, the Capitol Building in Washington and the streets that have seen protests against police brutality and similar issues.  Militias have brought guns to their own protests against vaccination, mask orders and other public health actions by state and local government.

Maybe this is the highwater mark of the militia movement, but maybe not.  There will certainly be flashpoints in the coming years where political tensions will be intense.  A videoed police murder might set off a new wave of BLM-ish actions.  There may (and should) be mass events demanding action on climate change.  Above all, there is a significant chance that political interference may cause the 2024 election to be visibly (and actually) stolen, which would trigger a tsunami of large-scale demonstrations and direct action activities.  An important question is whether armed right wing thugs will be permitted to suppress them.

We are in a difficult situation.  In much or most of the country, police are either passively or actively supportive of vigilantes.  This was transparent in Kenosha, where, even after he had shot an unarmed, mentally disturbed man and tried to surrender to the police, Rittenhouse was allowed to go his way.  There are similar indications in my home state of Oregon.  We can’t rely on the police to curb the militias.

Even when armed paramilitaries kill protesters, we have learned from the Rittenhouse case they stand a good chance of being acquitted.  Granted, the criminal law is not an ideal line of defense against a political strategy like vigilante intimidation, since it is constructed around the question of individual culpability.  Indeed, Rittenhouse might well have been innocent in purely legal terms, even though his actions were part of a pattern of vigilante social control.

This leaves the legislative route as the only alternative.  Here we are hemmed in by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the second amendment.  Broadly-written gun control laws will be declared unconstitutional.  Ironically, the language of the amendment itself justifies an armed citizenry on the grounds of a supposed need for a “well-regulated militia”.  What that qualifier means is obscure, but private militias are exactly the threat from which we need deliverance.

It might not survive Supreme Court scrutiny, but I would again urge, as a matter of priority, legislation at every level that prohibits bringing firearms to any political venue—a public building, a political rally, a demonstration or any event or gathering where political demands or deliberations take place.  We desperately need to disarm our politics before it’s too late.  If the Rittenhouse verdict tells us nothing else, it’s that we are approaching the point of no return.


paddy kivlin said...

regulate the 'competition' between antifa/blm and white nationalists.....

Anonymous said...

interesting idea - and can we at least restrict these military rifles as opposed to handguns from being openly carried in public (though they both inflict alot of damage). Supreme Court is going in the wrong direction on this I am afraid.

Sandwichman said...

This case is wrongly framed as being about justice. What it is really about is incompatible conceptions of liberty. The end of the pledge of allegiance promises "liberty and justice for all." Liberty AND justice, not liberty or justice with liberty as the predicate for justice.

One conception of liberty is the sacredness of property. You can do what you want with what you own and nobody has a right to take it from you. We know where that ended up when people were property.

The competing conception of liberty revolves around the right of the person to live and participate civilly be unmolested.

The first conception is positive and coercive, the second is negative and non-coercive. Justice presumes to mediate between the two. In the U.S. -- and increasingly so -- that mediation consists of elevating the property conception of liberty above the civil.

What that means in practice is that those who are excluded from property are excluded from liberty and excluded from justice. "No shirt, no shoes? No service." With "shirt" and "shoes" standing for property and "service" for justice.

The problem with this kind of no justice justice resides in the first premise, not the conclusion. "Property" is not foundational and transcendent. Property is already a privilege granted by the state that relies on violations of civil rights.

Vigilantes roam free and "commit self defense" only because the police protect them.

Without challenging the legitimacy of the American definition of "liberty" hand wringing about (in)justice is futile. This is classic legal realism stuff and it needs to be made front and center of the conversation.

Bargaining, Duress, and Economic Liberty, Robert L. Hale, Columbia Law Review , Jul., 1943, Vol. 43, No. 5, pp. 603-628.

paddy kivlin said...

the state grant me anything....... posh

cultural marxism