Stay Out of Kenosha

Late Tuesday night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old boy from Antioch, Illinois, shot and killed two Antifa thugs and wounded a third. Even if, as the video circulating seems to show, Rittenhouse was acting in the heat of the moment in lawful self-defense, and even if he is successful in making that defense in the courts, that does not change a basic fact: Rittenhouse should not have been in Kenosha.

A “good guy with a gun” is useful in self-defense—yet Rittenhouse wasn’t engaged in self-defense, he went from Illinois to Wisconsin as an armed counterprotester to the Antifa and Black Lives Matter rioters.

A good guy with a gun can be useful in the militia, yet the militia serves at the call of and is subordinate to the relevant authorities. The Wisconsin authorities did not call for Rittenhouse’s assistance, nor did the Illinois state government send him to Wisconsin—at 17, Rittenhouse is a year too young to serve by the statutory definition of the Illinois militia

As elsewhere, the riots in Kenosha happened in part because Tony Evers, the Democratic governor of Wisconsin, took the side of the rioters against the police in the shooting of Jacob Blake, a convicted criminal shot seven times in the back by police while fleeing arrest and possibly armed. Evers at first refused federal assistance in restoring law and order to Kenosha, but has now backtracked and agreed to welcome the help he should never have refused. 

But Evers did not call for assistance from Rittenhouse, and the sheriff in Kenosha refused the offer of the armed counterprotesters to serve as his deputies.

Finally, a good guy with a gun can be useful as a rebel. Seventeen was old enough to fight and die at Bunker Hill or Camden. Where Democratic governors, mayors, and prosecutors turn a blind eye to riots and looting, government has failed to secure citizens in their natural and civil rights. A prolonged train of such wilful failure might very well justify another American “revolution in favor of government.” Such a revolution, like the revolution of 1776, will attract the young, the committed, and the bored.

Yet Rittenhouse didn’t go to Wisconsin to fight the Wisconsin authorities, he went there to demonstrate his support for them—support they neither asked for nor welcomed.

So young patriot, don’t go to Kenosha. Don’t go to Seattle, or Portland, or New York City. Those blue state governors, blue county sheriffs and prosecutors, and blue city mayors don’t want your “help” against the mobs they have cheered on and facilitated. When government wants to govern, and needs your help to govern, the government will let you know. 

If, as heaven forfend, your older and presumably wiser neighbors decide that they have had enough failed government and decide that order must be refounded through arms, you will hear the call.

Until then, keep your powder dry, your sights aligned, and read Johnny Tremain. In the more spirited year of 1944, that novel of the American Revolution in Boston won a Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” for the teachers, fathers, and mothers of that greater generation understood that political violence was the proper and practical study of the young. 

Civil war, Johnny Tremain will show you, is a complicated and ugly enough business that you can wait to be asked to fight—the call will come in good time, and always too soon for your mother.

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About Michael S. Kochin

Michael S. Kochin is Professor Extraordinarius in the School of Political Science, Government, and International Relations at Tel Aviv University. He received his A.B. in mathematics from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He has held visiting appointments at Yale, Princeton, Toronto, Claremont McKenna College, and the Catholic University of America. He has written widely on the comparative analysis of institutions, political thought, politics and literature, and political rhetoric. With the historian Michael Taylor he has written An Independent Empire: Diplomacy & War in the Making of the United States (University of Michigan Press, 2020).

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