When The Free Market Chooses Slaughter: Rittenhouse and Radicalization For Fun and Profit
The moment Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges stemming from his killing of two protesters in Wisconsin, he became the hottest commodity in all of the Right Wing ecosystem. Before that moment, he had served extremists within the movement as a means of fundraising spectacular amounts in his “defense,” all of it more or less being filtered to shadowy political action committees or, most likely, just the pockets of the grifters pushing the scheme. Sure, mentions of the incident made mainstream news. Pundits on Fox, AM radio, and on social media touched on the subject and voiced their concern, but the lingering uncertainty kept a lot of the hyperbole at bay.
Well, time for restraint is over. Rittenhouse, who traveled from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin and used an AR-15 rifle to kill two fellow human beings, has been let loose and is perhaps the biggest celebrity the Right has had since Donald Trump rode the golden elevator into our nightmares. It has happened so swiftly and predictably that when news broke that Rittenhouse would be appearing as a paid speaker at Turning Points USA “America Fest 2021” in Phoenix, Arizona later this month that hardly anyone was surprised.
After all. This is what you do now.
The culture war we are embroiled in is stupid. There’s really no other way to put it. Every thing in our culture, from Black Panther to Dr. Seuss, now exists as a manichean battleground to the death between polarized cultural interests. This has to do with ideology, to an extent, but much of what we are navigating and battling over is actually an expression of politics as identity, or, more specifically, politics as an expression of consumer identity.
Or, to put it another way, to support Kyle Rittenhouse, or champion Kyle Rittenhouse, or pay for a ticket to see Kyle Rittenhouse spit out platitudes in front of a digital waving flag, is to say, I Am The Type Of Person Who Would Buy A Ticket To See Kyle Rittenhouse. It is to tell the world that you are, very specifically, the kind of a person who is more than okay with a 17 year old traveling across the state in order to use an AR-15 to take the lives of two other fellow human beings.
This has a myriad of repercussions, not the least of which is the establishment of an environment where political acts of violence and vigilantism are used to silence opposition. The eradication of open society and freedom is a much, much larger project, and to that end, it’s useful to look at the invisible forces that make Rittenhouse-style events more likely, and how the neoliberal ideas that were supposed to render political radicalism a feature of the past have come to encourage them.
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The competition between Right Wing and GOP luminaries to get their picture taken with Rittenhouse post-verdict was dizzying. And there’s a reason. Rittenhouse became a totem for individuals and groups to display, sending a signal to the Type of Person Who Would Buy A Ticket To See Kyle Rittenhouse that they are, without a doubt, the kind of person they should also be willing to pay tickets to see and/or donate to their campaign or defense fund or whatever in the hell grift it is they’ve moved onto at this point.
Within the Right Wing it is a scramble for cash, in part because there’s plenty of it out there. The Culture War has created a Cold War that has piqued the interest and fears of a large part of the American population, the same people who have been watching Fox News and then grabbing their phones to invest in silver for when the economy crashes or looking into prepper-favorite ready-to-eat meals that will last belong the apocalypse. The grift is large and changes day-to-day, but the one thing that remains is that white supremacist paranoia is a magnificent direct-line to the pocketbooks of white supremacist paranoid America.
Around the country, and world even, the grift has moved from silver to red MAGA hats to trip to Mar-a-Lago to this new environment where every single weekend there’s a new “Patriot Fest” or “Take Back America Fest” or “Deliver Us From Evil-athon” taking place in Tampa, Tempe, or whatever sunbelt with un-startling demographics and surprisingly few cultural options isn’t booked that week. Turning Points USA has made a bundle off these things and probably, as long as there isn’t a massive grift - which, we can’t be sure - has set up its operations for years and years to come. It’s like a traveling revival tent show of old. And it preaches the same thing. The apocalypse is coming. Get ready by getting your soul ready. And don’t be stingy with the cash donation.
Now, to Rittenhouse. By all accounts, a pretty average American outside of…well…the killings. This is the type of person who would have paid money to go to a Turning Points USA event. A young white American who has been raised in the toxic stew of conspiracy theories and commercialized fearmongering. But now, instead of being in the audience, clapping, and maybe buying a Trump 2024 shirt for an obscene markup, he’s on the stage, getting lauded, being called a hero, and probably pulling in a hefty sum.
Even without this economic incentive, young American men are being steered toward violence. It is, after all, the answer to feelings of impotence and powerlessness. Pick up a gun, they’re told from a very young age. The GOP and NRA has made a bundle off of that call, maybe more than any other. It’ll protect you and your family from thieves, criminals, the people who want your stuff, including the New World Order and the United Nations. As the Right Wing project has grown and become more radical, the appeal has grown. They’re out to replace you. Really, when you think about it, you and your gun and your willingness to use is the only thing standing in the way of a massive plot to destroy Western Civilization itself. And logically, if that were true, if any of it was even remotely accurate and not just an elaborate grift for money and political power, grabbing that gun would make a lot of sense.
And we’re not even talking about the market values throbbing right under the surface.
Theoretically this is supposed to be a time of peace and prosperity and stability. Stability above everything else. With the end of the Cold War and the vanquishing of the threat of international communism, the idea was to build off the free-market system of the United States and the West, export it around the world and, in the process, liberalize the globe. No more war. And, more importantly, no more ideology.
The “End of History” concept has proven so laughable that it’s ceased to be a joke, but the matter of how this system was constructed reveals the hypocrisy and doomed nature of the whole endeavor from the very start. In order to “win” the Cold War - in truth to deliver a mortal blow while bleeding out - the United States touted itself as the champion of liberty, equality, and freedom while climbing into bed with every tinpot, murderous dictator willing to swear allegiance. Meanwhile, those dictators, with their control of their populations, the subordination of labor unions and workers, and the weight of violence, oppression, and apathy created a perfect laboratory for tinkerers and technocrats to test their new theories.
This is the womb of neoliberalism. Dictatorial regimes and hostage populations. Broken wills and forced austerity. The purpose touted by its proponents was that economics and politics must be freed from the people’s will and the people’s will must be transplanted from the ballot box to the markets. Instead of voting for change or upending ongoing projects, none of which is conducive for business, the people would vote with their dollars. The products they bought, the corporations they pledged fealty to, the very processes of the market would be an expression of will. Governing would be left to the experts.
Of course, living in 2021, you don’t need me to tell you ideology wasn’t killed. It’s hindered, transported, shifted and changed. Perverted. While much of our political will or wishes has been transferred to objects we buy and totems we keep, ideology is still present and lurking. And, considering the free market is by design neither moral or ethical, the selling of slaughter and neo-fascism is just another product. And the masses are voting with their dollars.
It isn’t a coincidence that neoliberalism began with coups in Spain and Chile and neofascist regimes devoid of purpose beyond power. It isn’t a coincidence that now, as the End of History becomes more and more of a cruel joke, that those same traits are finding purchase in the market or the minds and imaginations of a large segment of the population. The market is speaking. The market is killing.