Kenosha Kyle, the McCloskeys, and Standing against Barbarism
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Last week we once again saw far too common sights of small businesses being burned to the ground and unarmed civilians being beat in the street. The epicenter this time was Kenosha, Wisconsin, where rioters and looters from around the area joined protesters in the city outraged by the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Kenosha was by no means the only terrorized community in recent days, however, as Twitter timelines have become filled with scenes such as renewed looting in Minneapolis, mobs threatening restaurant patrons in Washington, DC, and businesses destroyed in Denver, Colorado.
While the destruction of the American downtown is nothing new to 2020, the sense of escalating violence—coupled with rising concerns about the impact the unrest is having on Joe Biden’s polling numbers—is starting to change the way the media is framing these incidents.
As is usually the case with the corporate press, the framing is fundamentally dishonest.
For example, after an aggressive campaign by Democratic politicians, the media and even corporate giants trying to demonize Kyle Rittenhouse, the seventeen-year-old who shot three individuals attacking him in Kenosha last week, the shooting of a Trump counterprotester in Portland over the weekend has the media focused on equating the two events. The underlying theme: the street violence is Trump’s fault. Joe Biden, who once equated members of the Tea Party movement as "terrorists," is now very concerned about inflammatory political rhetoric.
Of course, the two incidents are similar only in the fact that both ended with a death. Thanks to the widespread dispersal of cameras in the form of smartphones, we have footage of both incidents.
In the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, we know from photos, interviews, and footage that he was in Kenosha to assist in cleaning up graffiti and protecting businesses that had been victimized in prior nights. At a time when government police had largely abandoned their duty to protect taxpayers, instead focusing on the preservation of state buildings, it is inevitable to see the mobilization of armed private individuals filling the role of property defenders.
It is unfortunate that while assisting in this role Rittenhouse ended up taking the lives of others. However, we can vividly see two of his victims aggressively attempt to attack him while on the ground after being chased. The first victim can be seen chasing him and throwing objects, followed by another who fires a handgun, though the shooting itself does not appear to be captured on camera. Witnesses claim the victim attempted to grab Rittenhouse’s gun, while video before the incident shows a heated confrontation between the first victim and a group of militia-styled individuals who were apparently asked to defend one of the many businesses that had been attacked in the prior nights. What’s truly remarkable is that Rittenhouse was able to avoid wounding any bystanders while defending himself during this incident.
The case in Portland, on the other hand, appears to be quite different. The counterprotests by Trump-supporting groups appeared aimed to simply antagonize and attack those in the city who have been confronting local authorities for the last several months. According to those on the scene, and supported by video, the victim appeared to fire mace at the shooter before his death. This street violence was perhaps inevitable given the months of disorder in a hyperpoliticized environment. Whether it leads to any changes in the city is yet to be seen.
These, however, are not comparable incidents. The attempt to conflate the defense of property with tribal street violence reflects the anticapitalist bias of the modern zeitgeist.
As Ludwig von Mises explained throughout his life, property rights are the foundational bedrock of not simply a liberal society, but civilization itself.
If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization. (Omnipotent Government, p. 58)
Mises also noted how easy it is to whip up mobs against the property-owning classes.
Politically there is nothing more advantageous…than an attack on property rights, for it is always an easy matter to incite the masses against the owners of land and capital. (Liberalism, p. 69)
While Mises was writing in the context of government-created scapegoats, in the modern world the assault on property extends out to the ranks of academics and the corporate press. The timing of the attack on Kyle Rittenhouse made this particularly vivid, as he was instantly attached to two other media-created villains, Mark and Patricia McCloskey.
As with Rittenhouse, the McCloskeys' sin—in the eyes of the media—was their willingness to use deadly force in the defense of property rights. Their high-profile appearance at last week’s Republican National Convention made it easy for the Left to argue that the celebration of the McCloskeys' armed stand against trespassers emboldened individuals like Rittenhouse to use deadly force against rioters.
As a leading Democrat state senator tweeted:
When Trump glorifies one, we inevitably get the other.— Sen. Mike Gianaris (@SenGianaris) August 26, 2020
If you don’t see how uplifting the McCloskeys emboldens people like Kyle Rittenhouse then you’re not paying attention. pic.twitter.com/lwpPRPYjAo
While it’s unclear what, if any, impact the McCloskeys had in inspiring Rittenhouse and others to organize in Wisconsin, if the Left’s narrative is correct, it would make this year’s Republican Convention the very rare political event that is a net positive for the country.
The normalization of normal people standing up and protecting their property and their communities should be celebrated by those who want a free and liberal society. The widespread example of government institutions failing to fulfill this vital role in communities confronted with mob violence highlights the necessity of parallel private defense institutions to fill that void. Be it in the form of volunteer militias or professional private security, a healthy civilization cannot allow looting and rioting to go unchecked in the name of “justice.” No matter what NPR guests may tell you.
Those hostile to property rights in America today should be seen as modern-day barbarians, wanting to justify destruction under the insidious faux banner of justice. While political polling may be forcing a rhetorical pivot on this destruction from the likes of CNN and anti-Trump politicians, their sympathetic tone to this antisocial behavior should not be forgotten, nor should their desire to destroy those willing to stand in their way.