Even his T-shirt is a lie: “Free as f---”

Mick Ireland

Kyle Rittenhouse — gun culture hero, flasher of the white power sign and pride of the Proud Boys — is under the illusion that a not guilty verdict is a finding of innocence, a ticket for return to a normal life, a vindication of his actions in killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kenosha while also badly wounding Gaige Grosskreutz.

Wrong. A not guilty verdict for the guilty is none of those things — not vindication, not freedom, not a ticket to the good life. Just ask O.J. Simpson, who, exactly 13 years after being acquitted for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, found himself again in a courtroom listening to a jury verdict, though that time, on Oct. 3, 2008, he was found guilty of all 12 charges. O.J. wound up with nine years in prison for his role in the famous Las Vegas hotel room armed robbery and a collective $58 million in civil judgments that left him isolated in a mansion fending off legal attempts to collect. Free as what? NFW (no f---ing way), unless freedom means being eternally branded in the public mind as a killer and knowing in your heart that you are a murderer is “freedom.”

Say their names: Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Jacob Blake. Add Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz to the chant. Black and white victims of a nation’s crazed gun culture that puts so many armed, angry men on the streets and has police believing death awaits what used to be routine traffic stops. There were so many guns at the Kenosha demonstrations that Rittenhouse could walk away with a semiautomatic rifle and not draw much attention to himself. Just another teenage boy and his weapon.

In return for $2 million in legal aid and hero status on the alt right — and a starring role on Fox News — the 17-year-old kid sold his soul. We know, and he knows we know, the dry tears he tried to shed were for himself. All that remains to seal the deal with the devil is the upcoming documentary aimed at iconizing Rittenhouse as the spokesyouth for stand-your-ground, shoot-first-answer-to-no-one fervor that has seized the right and accelerated gun homicides throughout the nation.

The Libertarians like to say there is no free lunch; karma says there is no freedom from consequences. Perhaps instead of fretting about critical race theory and desperately trying to protect our children from feeling any guilt for a system that still favors people of no color over everyone else, we should teach some reality. Would police have allowed a Black man who killed two, after showing up armed to a protest, in the name of self defense to walk away from the scene? Or would they have rendered a street verdict on the spot before he could shoot some first responders in the name of self defense?

Although it’s not just Black people being preemptively gunned down, surely the case of Tamir Rice — a 12-year-old shot within two actual seconds of police arriving at a park — teaches us that at the very least, we’re all inculcated with a fear that a Black person with a gun is a likely killer, a defcon threat. Tamir pulled a toy gun from his waistband and paid with his life. Rittenhouse waded through the crowd, and to the responding police, he was just another white guy carrying a high-powered weapon, a friend and ally.

The devil always collects on sold souls, a story told countless times through literature, ­whether in “Damn Yankees” or the legend of Dr. Faust centuries ago. A deal with the devil is an irrevocable contract, and Kyle has, like Faust before him, accepted a starring role on Fox News and the illusion of freedom in return for being the latest recruit to the culture war proposition that to feel threatened is to be threatened, and therefore entitled to open fire.

Young Kyle is unlikely to be told or understand that his fame is fleeting, but his infamy will last for the rest of his life. Long after the Republican Party and the Proud Boys have squeezed the last bit of PR from his soul and long after his handlers have swiped him left and taken up the cause of a better, younger, faster, cuter culture warrior, Kyle will be reminded by his own conscience and a million mean memes that his faux tears were in fact for himself.

The families of the dead and wounded are unlikely to refrain from unleashing the dogs of litigation war on him in a legal forum that requires only the preponderance of the evidence for judgment. Sean Hannity and the Proud Boys will have moved on. The GoFundMe that paid to make him an icon will be dried up, with a new campaign funding a new celebrity. Rittenhouse, like O.J., will be in a prison of his own making.

Being alone and unfree of his fate, he will have plenty of time to read up on Faust and wonder what might have been had he chosen to leave his gun with his mommy or, having screwed up, taken a plea bargain, told the truth and admit that he had been granted his wish for violence in Kenosha.

Mick Ireland was not on the jury and respects its right to misinterpret the law. Mick@sopris.net.