The Rittenhouse Verdict is a Domestic Terror Alert

Some initial takeaways on what Friday's sobering, yet predictable, acquittal in Kenosha, WI means moving forward

Publisher’s Riff

There will be countless hot takes on exactly what the recent verdict in the murder trial of 18-year old Kyle Rittenhouse will mean and where we go from here. It will be difficult to sift through all of them, but for theBEnote, several thoughts and questions stand out as key takeaways on the structural and policy consequences of this case ...


  • The majority of White people, corporate media and also certain policymakers will be obsessed with "how Black people, BLM, antifa and other groups violently react to the verdict." But, they really should be worried about white domestic terrorists as this acquittal just gave them yet another renewed license to kill either non-White people or White people who align themselves with social justice movements. This acquittal is also not just a signal offering domestic terrorists (otherwise known as “militias”) wide latitude to commit all acts of anti-government and racist destruction, but it’s also a form of intimidation.

  • This acquittal of Rittenhouse, who went out of his way to travel from one state to another with an automatic rifle to "protect businesses" in Kenosha, Wisconsin that didn't ask for his help and to end up shooting three people, killing two, comes less than 10-days after the Department of Homeland Security issues a rather ominous "National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin regarding the current heightened threat environment across the United States." Said that bulletin:

Through the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists will continue to pose a threat to the United States. Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by DVEs, and they may contribute to more violence this and next year.

The Rittenhouse verdict just further inflamed that.

  • To our understanding, 18 U.S. Code, Section 926A puts federal prohibitions on the interstate transport of firearms the way Rittenhouse interstate transported his firearm. Maybe we're reading it wrong, but for reference …

Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

  • Will violation of 18 U.S. Code, then, prompt a federal probe? That’s unlikely considering the Biden administration appears wary of being too aggressive against white nationalists and President Biden himself just said, today, that "the jury system works."

  • It was interesting how media coverage seemed to go with trial Judge Bruce Schroeder's instructions to the jury to leave the "victims" out of it. Lost on the public conversation, until maybe today, was that all of Rittenhouse's victims were White. There was some conflation with Black Lives Matter protesters, and an overall move to use the trial as a driver of hostility towards BLM movements and Black social justice and political interests overall. 

  • And, so, Rittenhouse got away with murdering two White men, wounding a third White man. theBEnote found, in 2020, that the horror of watching Rittenhouse shoot and kill White protesters and, afterwards, casually stroll past police unchallenged while armed seemed to appear as something of an electoral inflection point for on-the-fence/centrist or Independent White voters who suddenly viewed white domestic terrorism as "not part of the deal" in their prior support of Trump. This may have been one other moment driving some White voters to Biden. It's unclear how today's verdict will play out for them now.

  • We do know how it plays out for Black people and other non-White population groups: anxiety, stress and fear over what this means for the future and what this means for their safety, especially when they attend protests or public gatherings promoting their civil rights and social justice. What spaces can we live in and navigate in?

  • It's a confirmation that there is no such thing as a "broken" criminal "justice" system, only a legal system that was designed to regularly acquit White people of crimes and to systematically inflict harm on Black, Indigenous, Latino and other non-White peoples. So, this shouldn't be viewed as a "failure" of the system - it should be completely viewed as a yet another very public example of a feature of it. Keep in mind, too, that it is a system that works very effectively for defendants who are well-funded; Rittenhouse was able to generate over a half-million dollars for his legal defense fund.

  • One worrisome development: because white terrorists are arming up, everyone else believes that the solution is to also arm up to the teeth and studies show that societies where firearm ownership is pervasive are societies that are the most violent, unsafe and unstable. Are we trying to stabilize and improve the situation or are we trying to further destabilize and create more chaos?  

  • Lastly, most people will be reacting with a mix of horror, frustration, frenzy and a complete sense of defeat. What will be important in a moment like this is to understand what went wrong, but to also formulate strategies for effective political and legal response. Elected judges like Schroeder in Kenosha County, WI can be unseated - so when is that next election? Are we exploring ways to report him to a judicial sanctions commission? Reuters did reporting on the alarmingly high number of state and local judges committing criminal and unethical acts who seem untouchable from punishment. What are the next state, local election cycles in Wisconsin and, how do we send a very sharp and clear message through maximized state, local, and federal voter mobilization in 2022? Bad enough voter turnout in state and local judicial elections is low as is.