That then 17 year old killer Kyle Rittenhouse would walk free is ominous and has implications far greater than those for just this one individual. The NY Times’s Farhad Manjoo explained the underlying issue concerning Rittenhouse:
“At every turn that night, Rittenhouse’s AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle made things worse, ratcheting up danger rather than quelling it. The gun transformed situations that might have ended in black eyes and broken bones into ones that ended with corpses in the street. And Rittenhouse’s gun was not just a danger to rival protesters. According to his own defense, the gun posed a grave threat to Rittenhouse himself — he said he feared being overpowered and then shot with his own weapon.
“This is self-defense as circular reasoning: Rittenhouse says he carried a rifle in order to guarantee his safety during a violent protest. He was forced to shoot at four people when his life and the lives of other people were threatened, he says. What was he protecting everyone from? The gun strapped to his own body, the one he’d brought to keep everyone safe.”
It may be circular reasoning, but it is the law in many states. Other vigilantes will be taking advantage of it both as individuals and as groups.
Rittenhouse partly got off because the judge had his finger on the scale, especially his ruling that barred evidence of Rittenhouse’s support for white supremacist groups. Because of that, it was nearly impossible to show that Rittenhouse intended something other than a peaceful presence.
This outcome is in the context of an increasingly divided, angry and violence-prone America. Recently The Nation magazine documented the spread of arms training schools, which seem to be centered in North Carolina, likely related to the presence of the Army’s Ft. Bragg in that state. These training camps are used by both law enforcement, the military and civilians.
The atmosphere of violence and the tendency towards vigilantism is being encouraged at all levels of the Republican Party. The most recent example is the animated cartoon video that racist Republican Representative Paul Gosar published. It showed him killing left liberal Representative Ocasio Cortez. It’s not simply a matter of her life being genuinely in danger, serious as that may be. More deeply lies the present Republican defense of the January 6 attempt to reimpose Trump into office through violence. That coup attempt may have been farcical in that it never stood a chance of succeeding, but who knows about the next time?
What recourse do people have to reverse course?
Peaceful and legal protests, prayers, and candle light vigils have proven to be useless.
Voting is increasingly being closed off as an outlet, given gerrymandering, voter suppression and Republican legislature organized voter nullification.
2022 and 2024 Elections
Next up will be the 2022 elections. At this time there is nearly unanimous predictions that the Republicans will regain control over both the Senate and the House. This is a party that is entirely under the spell of fantasy, mysticism, ignorance on a historic scale, science denialism, and appeals to bigotry and violence.
The majority of US voters do not support these appeals to the extreme to which they have gone. That may make the outcome of the 2024 presidential elections even more dangerous. The Republicans’ voter nullification and voter suppression are likely to come into play.
In 2020, Trump was unable to get his Vice President to overrule the election results. (If Trump runs again, he will be more careful in choosing a running mate, one who has less of a career as an established politician. It can’t even be excluded that he could choose somebody like Michael Flynn as a running mate. Steve Bannon is possible but less likely since he overshadowed Trump once already.) Trump’s plan was to get enough challenges that the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives to decide. Since the House would decide based on one vote for each state delegation, and since the majority of states’ delegations were (and remain) Republican controlled, Trump’s plan was to return to office based on that.
Now, the strategy will be somewhat different since the Democrats occupy the White House. This time, the strategy will be to try to win an electoral college majority through a combination of voter suppression and Republican state legislatures nullifying the results in enough states to declare a Republican majority in several states. If the results are anywhere near close, we can expect the Supreme Court to come down on Trump’s side in any court case. In 2020, there were too many states that went for Biden for the court to throw them all out. If they had just thrown out one or two, Biden would have taken office anyway and there would have been an extreme reaction against the court.
This could lead to mass protests and “unrest”. And here we come full circle. In such protests, Rittenhouse-style vigilantism is likely to be repeated many times over. In some cases, though, protesters could come armed and shoot-outs are entirely possible. Biden and the Democrats would be appealing for “calm” and urging that people “let the process work itself out” through the courts. Meanwhile, various governors would be calling out the National Guard and it’s not impossible that Biden himself would declare a national state of emergency.
Other Threats of Political Violence
The threat of mass political violence is also shown by the fact that 52% of Trump voters believe it’s time to divide the country into at least two nations. There is no chance that that will happen at this time. However, where this could lead would be political and ethnic cleansing from states such as Texas that are controlled by the Republicans.
Vigilantism & Scabbing
Vigilantism and open carry are a threat to striking workers. In the past, striking workers kept scabs out by force of numbers and physical confrontation. The fact that scabs can carry and use arms to defend their “right” to go to work across a picket line adds a whole new dimension since striking workers would not have that same legal right to keep the scabs out. For strikers, any use of arms would mean possible charges of assault with a deadly weapon, up to and including murder. Not so for the scabs.
Vermont AFL-CIO Call for General Strike
In 2020 the Vermont State AFL-CIO called for a general strike in case Trump tried to steal the election. They faced recrimination by the national AFL-CIO, despite the fact that that call was not backed up by any preparation. In the present situation, labor faces an even more serious situation since support for Trump and everything he stands for is fairly widespread among workers and union members.In a NY Times post election poll, 53% of Trump voters in Ohio said they work full time for pay and 55% said somebody in their household belongs to a union (vs. 45% of Biden voters). This writer’s personal experience does not show that that has changed massively since then.
Therefore, for the unions to act effectively, they will have to start a massive education campaign starting now. This would have to include organized workplace and community meetings. In such meetings, the issue of class interests would have to be raised. In states like Ohio, the unions would have to bring in members from areas like Cincinnati to explain the real reality to white (and conservative) union members, their families and neighbors. Class interest would have to be emphasized. All of this would have to lead in two directions:
- First would be a break from the team concept policies of the
union leadership. It is exactly this idea that the workers and their employers are on the same team that has led to the leadership’s pushing through cut rate contracts such as those in the UAW (Volvo and John Deere), IATSE and Western Washington carpenters.
- Second would be a break from what amounts to the team concept in politics – labor’s being roped into the capitalist controlled Democratic Party. Instead, labor should join with community groups, run its own candidates as opponents to both parties, and start now in building a mass working class party.
The union leadership has devoted the last 75 years to wiping out exactly such traditions in those directions, the fighting traditions of the 1930s. They will not reverse their role. That is why it’s necessary for those union members who want unions to fight for their members to organize. It’s also necessary to recognize that we will never have that if our unions don’t also fight for all workers, not just in the work place but in society as a whole.
Rank and file opposition caucuses
In other words, what’s needed is the building of rank and file opposition caucuses that really organize a struggle against the employers both on the job and in society as a whole. Without that, a new and unheard of perspective is possible: That the United States starts to become a “failed state” and along with that an outright right wing dictatorship comes into power. Among other things, this could have vast environmental consequences. Reactionary regimes come and go. People suffer and die, sometimes in the millions. But in the end, society can recover. In addition to repression and bigotry of all sorts, the Republicans feature an all-out assault on the environment. We only have one planet and it is irreplaceable.