Even before he was found not guilty of traveling miles from his home in Antioch, IL and murdering multiple protesters on the streets of Kenosha, WI, teenage gunman Kyle Rittenhouse had become something of a folk hero among the proto-fascist wing of the Republican party, with broadcasters and lawmakers eager to elevate an underage killer into their paragon of responsible gun ownership and civic-minded concern. And now that he’s been legally exonerated for killing Black Lives Matter protesters Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, Rittenhouse’s star has only risen further into the conservative “law and order” stratosphere for Republican lawmakers and enthusiastic racists alike.
Fresh on the heels of Rittenhouse’s bizarre “I support peacefully demonstrating” (which is why I brought an assault-style rifle to a demonstration) interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, former President Donald Trump revealed that Rittenhouse and his mother had made a perverse pilgrimage to his Mar-a-Lago estate “a little while ago,” telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that, “He called. He wanted to know if he could come over, say hello, because he was a fan.” Shortly thereafter, Trump’s eldest son and dedicated shitposter Donald Jr. posted a picture of the former president and Rittenhouse sharing plasticine smiles alongside one another (with a framed photo of the elder Trump shaking hands with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in the background):
In addition to being invited to kiss the former president’s greasy ring, Rittenhouse has also become the latest celebrity(ish) prospect to be openly courted by multiple members of the GOP’s most outspokenly ghoulish wing. Reps Matt Gaetz (accused pedophile), Madison Cawthorn (serial fabulist, anti-Semite, alleged sexual predator, and armed sedition enthusiast), and Lauren Boebert (purveyor of bloody diarrhea) have each made public declarations to hire Rittenhouse as a congressional intern. Their jockeying to lay claim to Rittenhouse has become so detached from reality that Boebert even challenged Cawthorn, a paraplegic who sits in a wheelchair, “to a sprint” for the honor and privilege of hiring a teen who killed people with an assault rifle.
At this point, Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old kid from Illinois, is an afterthought to Kyle Rittenhouse, a shibboleth who looms large in the minds of Republicans desperate to broadcast their fidelity to the militia-style hunger popular among conservatives desperate for violence without consequences. Rittenhouse — the trending topic, the memed icon, the commercialized slogan — has become the very thing Republicans love to rail against: a form of virtue signaling. He’s become the rope in a multi-directional game of tug-of-war among opportunists who see in him an easy way to align themselves with their racist, reactionary base without having to be quite as racist and reactionary themselves.