It feels as depressing as it does inevitable that Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen who shot and killed two social justice protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer, would emerge from his high-profile trial even more of a hero to America’s militarized right-wing than he was before. From a Fox News interview with the network’s chief propagandist, to a pilgrimage to kiss the ring of former President Donald Trump, Rittenhouse’s re-entry into public life since he was acquitted of murder has been both grotesque and jejune — just another day in a country where killing people is one of the quickest ways to establish your conservative bona fides.
And now Rittenhouse is prepared once more to reap the benefits of those bona fides, with a prime speaking slot at one of the most high profile proto-fascist conferences in the United States: Turning Point USA’s upcoming “Americafest” (great name, guys). There, he’ll share the stage with a murderer’s row of far-right senators, seditionist members of Congress, Nazi-adjacent talk show hosts, enthusiastic theocrats, disgraced fabulists, and even the former president’s eldest failson.
Rittenhouse announced his upcoming speaking gig on his Twitter and Instagram accounts (while his both profiles are currently unverified, they are the same ones linked back to from the Americafest page).
“I am excited to announce I will be joining at AmFest,” Rittenhouse wrote on Instagram. “What should I talk about?!” Points for audience engagement, though I would imagine he’ll probably end up talking about the literal one and only thing that’s made him a public figure: the time he shot and killed two people.
None of this should be all that surprising considering Turning Point USA is essentially a national incubator for some of the most unapologetically fascist impulses in conservatism. This past October, TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk urged his followers to hold off murdering Democrats — not because political violence is inherently bad, you see, but because “you're playing into all their plans, and they're trying to make you do this.” In other words, don’t murder Democrats now, because as an organizational tactic, it might backfire.
It makes sense, then, that Rittenhouse — already a star among right-wing militia groups and opportunistic conservative grifters alike — would be welcomed with open arms at a conference where the country’s most socially acceptable(ish) fascists can let down their hair and feel free to to do whatever it is that brain-poisoned gun lovers, theocrats, bigots, and grifters do when they think no one’s looking — or simply don’t care if they are.
It was always going to be like this, of course. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.