The System Works

Who let poor little Kyle wander the streets of Kenosha with a massacre weapon? The answer may surprise you!

The System Works
Just a kid doing kid things.
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on November 15, 2021.

I’m going to start today’s newsletter with this tweet, which got around Twitter a bit last week, and which exposed me to a massive amount of discourse around the strategic electoral wisdom, proposed by longtime conservative Democratic political hacks like James Carville, of retreating from issues that white conservative Republicans construct around race and gender and sexuality, in order to terrify white moderates and win; a total retreat effected by no longer talking about or litigating or fighting for social topics that directly affect the lives of millions of people who, because they represent those issues, don’t have the luxury of strategically abandoning them.

The construction of that sentence probably made my opinion on that matter clear. If not, read the thread.

A.R. Moxon
A.R. Moxon @JuliusGoat
Hear me out: what if James Carville is amoral and totally out of touch.
8:23 AM - 4 Nov 2021

Now, let me take what may seem like a rather sharp departure. Let’s talk about Kyle Rittenhouse. I promise I’ll bring it back around.

I’m thinking about Kyle today.

You know: Poor little Kyle.

Poor little Kyle has gotten himself into a little bit of a jam, as boys will. Kyle went to Kenosha last summer, on a field trip to attend and participate in the police riots. It had been a protest for Black lives, but the police did what police do whenever somebody suggests that Black people have lives, and turned it into a riot, using the twinned magic of brutality and terror. It was a trick they performed over and over again last summer, until anyone who wanted to know how it was done could see every step coming.

Kyle was a big fan of police, we’ve learned. A week before his field trip he was talking about how he’d like to fire some rounds from his AR15 rifle at some people he deemed deserving, which tells us the kid had career aspirations.

So Kyle got into a car and his mom drove him to the police riot, where he marched with white supremacists in his militia, brandishing a massacre weapon, and the police did not see Kyle or his militia as a threat, but as the natural partners in the pursuit of their mission—which, as anyone who wanted to know enough to study the magic trick can tell you, is the enforcement of an occupying violent white authority over Black lives and any who would protest on behalf of Black lives.

Somewhere in there poor little Kyle shot three people, killing two. The police still didn’t see him as a threat. They still perceived him as a partner in their mission. They waved him on through and let him go on his way.

But now he’s on trial, because prosecutors determined the police dropped the ball slightly, as it turns out killing people on the street is still illegal, at least nominally.

White conservatives are outraged about this.

J.D. Vance
J.D. Vance @JDVance1
I took a brief break to watch this Rittenhouse testimony, and it fills me with indescribable rage.
11:21 AM - 10 Nov 2021


J.D. Vance
I am not a criminal lawyer. I am sure people are right that it's risky for him to testify. But our leaders abandoned this kid's community to lawless thug rioters, and he did something about it, and now a lawless thug prosecutor is trying to destroy his life.
11:21 AM - 10 Nov 2021

Not by the killings—by the trial. Their offense is for the very fact that poor little Kyle now has to face a murder trial based on absolutely no evidence, other than the corpses Kyle made at the place Kyle travelled to, using the massacre weapon Kyle brought along with him.

It’s not really even a question of establishing Kyle’s innocence for them, but an insistence on an innocence so totally and obviously pre-established that impugning it is something they experience as a moral calamity. Theirs is an outrage that guilt should even be put on the table for what is a clearly righteous act that could never have possibly been unrighteous. It’s not “Kyle didn’t do it.” It’s “how dare you put Kyle through all this for doing that?”

With white American conservatives it’s almost always “Kyle,” like he’s your best friend’s kid brother. It’s striking. When a shooter kills, they’re typically referenced by their last name. You don’t hear the Charleston church shooter as “Dylann,” outside of real Stormfront hardcases … at least not yet. But the Kenosha shooter is white conservative America’s kind of shooter. He had a target they approve. He’s not “Rittenhouse.” No, he’s Kyle. The Kenosha Kid.

Now Kyle’s on trial, and white America’s riled.

Riled? They’re enraged. It’s the sort of anger that somebody achieves when they’re on the verge of shouting don’t you know who I am?

They give their litany of reasons, however dubiously sourced, about how dangerous the situation Kyle had put himself in was, and how bad the people he shot were. About alleged crimes they had committed previously. About the threat they posed right before Kyle, who apparently posed no threat, shot them to death. About the skateboard they hit him with and how fatal it might have been if Kyle had not used his gun, which he had brought with him to a police riot, and shot them fatally. About the property damage done generally in the police riots. About the sorts of terrible and dangerous and destructive people Black Lives Matter protesters are.

All of these rationales carry an unmistakable implication (one which is often simply stated outright), which I laid out in this post that got around a bit on Twitter last week.

A.R. Moxon
A.R. Moxon @JuliusGoat
One thing that the Rittenhouse trial throws into stark relief is a strongly held belief among a huge percentage of white conservatives that people protesting for Black lives should be killed, and that white conservatives should be allowed to personally do it.
6:16 AM - 11 Nov 2021

If you read the ensuing thread, you’ll see that a few times in there I made the point that white conservatives see the act of self defense is their exclusive property, meaning that any violence they do becomes de-facto self defense, and any act that somebody else performs on a white conservative engaged in an act of threat or violence—like say hitting with a skateboard or trying to disarm a person who has already shot somebody—is a de facto threat upon life and limb that justifies immediate and summary execution of the offender. And sure, the people Kyle shot happen to be white, but they were at a protest for Black lives, and so their participation in the struggle for Black liberation is one of the things offered up on the appetizer tray of reasons why their deaths were clearly justified.

And then I made the point that white conservative America seems to be using the exact same phrases and arguments and logic in their justifications for poor little Kyle—a teenaged civilian with no authority or jurisdiction—as they make in their justifications on behalf of police, every time some officer or another decides that another Black person needs to experience summary execution.

What justifies summary execution? Ask a white conservative, and they’ll tell you: whatever is at hand. Literally anything that happened, any moment of noncompliance, any infraction by the deceased that occurred in the days and weeks and months and years prior to their summary execution, any detail about the deceased that might scare a white person, any instance of destruction of property—even the possibility of destruction of property.

All of this can be and is offered up as clear evidence of the dead having earned their fate, and the clear moral rightness, even bravery, of the person who pulled the trigger.

It’s qualified immunity for killing so vast and broad that, in application, it’s simply immunity.

And now white conservatives don’t just want that immunity for their officers. They want it for themselves. They think poor little Kyle should have it.

Further down the same thread, I put it this way:

A.R. Moxon
A.R. Moxon @JuliusGoat
What is happening is this: white conservatives are claiming for their civilian populations the qualified immunity that police officers currently enjoy in order to terrorize and murder within Black communities.

And that's really what's on trial here.
4:56 AM - 12 Nov 2021

So those were the points I made. Many people agreed with me. Many disagreed. The disagreement came in three flavors.

Here’s the first flavor: outright rejection. American conservatives, mostly white, let me know that I’m completely out to lunch. Absolutely crazy. How dare I say these things? How dare I even think them?

Then, having told me I was crazy to suggest that they think such things, they made a fascinating pivot. They didn’t proceed to explain what they actually think. They explained why they were right to think the things I said they think.

They give their litany of reasons, however dubiously sourced, about how dangerous the situation Kyle had put himself in was, and how bad the people he shot were. About alleged crimes they had committed previously. About the threat they posed right before Kyle, who apparently posed no threat, shot them to death. About the skateboard they hit him with and how fatal it might have been if Kyle had not used his gun, which he had brought with him to a police riot, and shot them fatally. About the property damage done generally in the police riots. About the sorts of terrible and dangerous and destructive people Black Lives Matter protesters are.

All of it reduced, once again, to “people who protest for Black lives should be killed, and we should be allowed to personally do it.”

The right to kill with the qualified immunity of white self-defense, is, I’d say, the main property that poor little Kyle’s militia travelled to Kenosha to defend.

The white conservative reaction to the Rittenhouse trial is, as clear as day, white conservative America screaming at the uppity concierge of American jurisprudence: don’t you know who we are?

John Cardillo
John Cardillo @johncardillo
The left is really hysterical because Rittenhouse, one armed kid, showed politicians and law enforcement how to shut down the Commies Antifa and BLM shock troops.

That was never supposed to happen.

America was supposed to surrender to the savages.
9:30 AM - 13 Nov 2021

But all this is not what interests me today. All this is just establishing the facts on the ground.

What really interests me is this: American systems largely agree with white conservative America’s viewpoint on the question of whether or not they are permitted to kill as they please.

The police enjoy a qualified immunity so vast as to effectively be immunity.

The police didn’t see Kyle and his militia as a threat to their mission, but as natural and obvious partners, and this didn’t end after a fatal shooting.

The behavior of police in Kenosha is in no way unique to the behavior of police across the nation, either last summer or at any other time.

And, there’s this: Kyle will probably get off.

It’s not just that he has a judge sympathetic to him to an almost parodic degree (for whose sake I have refrained from referring to the men Kyle killed as “victims”).

It’s that laws have been written to favor active shooters.

More: white conservatives are starting to write laws that make it legal to run over protesters with your cars. (That was, if you’ll recall, the way a Nazi killed Heather Heyer in 2017 during an anti-Nazi counter-protest. White conservatives have decided it’s a pretty good tactic.) So it’s not just shooters; it’s fatal violence in general, directed at protesters in the act of protest against our systems.

Our systems are designed to allow this. And yet we know that Black people aren’t allowed to stand their ground when John Crawford III or Philando Castile can be shot for posing no risk at all, other than what existed in their murderer’s minds. The Castle Doctrine can’t be theirs when Breonna Taylor can be murdered in her home. Few who worry today about poor little armed Kyle spared much concern for poor little unarmed Trayvon and Tamir.

These advantages for private citizen killers are quite obviously meant to be the exclusive institutional property of white people, written by people who held that understanding, enforced by people who apply it accordingly. And they all frame the legalized fatal violence that crosses their desk as self-defense, or permit it to be so framed.

There is a clear conclusion to draw here. Our systems are white supremacist—obviously so, for those with eyes to see. Anyone who wants to know the magic trick by now has seen how it’s done.

According to American law, poor little Kyle is probably innocent. I submit that this fact impugns the American justice and legislative systems far more than it exonerates Kyle Rittenhouse.

The real horror isn’t that Kyle is guilty, but that he may be innocent.

The real horror isn’t that poor little Kyle represents a case of a system failing, but that he represents a system doing exactly what it was designed to do.

The real horror is this: the system works, and it looks like Kyle Rittenhouse.

This brings me to the second flavor of disagreement I received from my thread, which is: these people aren’t real conservatives, they’re outlying loonies and they have nothing to do with most of us.

Muriel Branch
Muriel Branch @MurielBranch18
Please, we CANNOT continue to call these people “conservative” we are normalizing white supremacy. They coined the term as a cover, and we keep repeating the label as fact.
8:48 AM - 11 Nov 2021
(((Dr. Ron Mandel))) not a real doctor 🧠
(((Dr. Ron Mandel))) not a real doctor 🧠@Nutcaseman1
1. It's amazing that tons of gun-nuts with ARs were there. Only 1, Rittenhouse, killed not 1 but 2 people. No one else was killed by gun bubbas. 2. They are not conservatives. They are radical reactionaries or radical Protofascists.
5:50 AM - 12 Nov 2021
Colleen Callan
Colleen Callan @NewYorkScribe
@JuliusGoat @MikkiChandler @MurielBranch18 No you don’t! Vintage white lady here. Don’t you dare lump me and many others into a group that does not resemble us in any way but color. You wouldn’t like it if it were done to you.
9:34 AM - 11 Nov 2021

I disagree.

Conservatives want to preserve the existing systems. These militias are conservatives, precisely because they want to preserve the white supremacy of these murderous systems that are our American legacy and our American tradition.

We don’t want these active shooters to be real conservatives, because the conservatives we know are Very Fine People, who are maybe even nice and kind and hard-working, and who are probably are people in our lives, and who might even love us and we might even love them. And sure, we disagree about politics, but like us, they don’t want to hurt anybody … they just support policies that preserve and expand racist systems, that let people who want to enact violence in defense of those systems do so, and support politicians and judges who enact those polices into law.

And we don’t want violence either. But we do want order.

It’s natural to want order. Order isn’t a bad thing.

But my question in response is this:

Order for whom?

Right now it’s order just for us—and by “us” I mean me and my fellow white people—whether far right extremist or corporate conservative or corporate liberal or a radical lefty.

Not to say that there is no difference between our worldviews and intentions, or that those differences don’t matter—only to say that whiteness benefits us all by the very systemic design of white supremacist systems, and our willingness or unwillingness to engage with this fact reveals our deeper and more important worldviews and intentions.

Which brings me to the third flavor of disagreement I received, and it’s one I happen to agree with.

It’s this: more white people than just self-professed conservatives are responsible here.

Old Picture of Dorianna Gray
Old Picture of Dorianna Gray @blurbette
Your mistake is assuming it’s just conservatives. The other side doesn’t care about us either. They just vote instead of shoot.

If you calling ‘em out, call all of ‘em out.
10:06 AM - 11 Nov 2021

My questions in response is this:

Fellow white liberals and white leftists: will we enter the personal discomfort and danger of truly foundational systemic transformation?

Fellow white liberals and white leftists, are we prepared to fight for justice, or are we also conservatives when it comes to maintaining comfortable order over allowing disruption and discomfort of transformative justice?

Are we more concerned with establishing our own innocence, or in prosecuting the clear guilt in our midst?

If we are people deemed “white” in our society, we profit from violent systems designed to favor people who are deemed “white” in ways we cannot escape.

But we can align ourselves against it.

Or we can align with it. Conservatives are aligned with it, with bad intent. What are we, if we have good intent, but align with it anyway?

Here’s my question for myself, and I invite you to ask it of yourself, if you are a white liberal or a white leftist like me:

How will I align against this?

We need to consider not just whether we’ll align against, but plan how, because it may well be on the final exam. Whether or not Rittenhouse is found innocent, we will face increasing numbers of Rittenhouses—a whole rotten Rittenvillage. White conservatives are increasingly clamoring to stop outsourcing to licensed officers the legalized murder that enforce their order. Increasing numbers of them are increasingly clamoring to be the ones to pull the trigger themselves. They want to return us to far darker times when order was whatever white people with guns said it was in any dark alleyway or any dark back country road. They’re increasingly finding the support of politicians and judges and lawyers, and these officials and functionaries are not losing the support of the media narrative or the Very Fine People in our midst—people who don’t want violence themselves but do very much want the order that it brings them.

And for many of us on the left side of the equation, those Very Fine People are not losing our support and approval; in fact, we’re still seeking theirs.

Final questions, my fellow white liberals and leftists:

Who let poor little Kyle walk the streets of Kenosha with a massacre weapon?

Was it white conservatives? For sure. They’ll tell you as much.

But also I did.

And so did you.

And more Kyles are coming, just as innocent as the one before us today.

I don’t have answers, but I start by asking myself and you:

How uncomfortable are we willing to get, in order to do something about that?


A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places. He can bend spoons, but not with his mind. Just the regular way.