Kyle Rittenhouse and a New Era of Political Violence

What brought the teenager and so many other to Kenosha, Wis. equipped for war?

It began with the video of a white police officer shooting a Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., a small lakefront manufacturing city, on Aug. 23, 2020. Over the following nights, Kenoshans found themselves inside a compressed version of the national experience since the killing of George Floyd three months earlier. A demonstration at the site of the shooting grew larger and angrier and gave way to smashed police cruisers; an officer was knocked unconscious with a brick. Within hours, officers in riot gear were firing rubber bullets and pepper balls beneath a pall of smoke from torched municipal trucks, and black-masked arsonists were setting fire to public buildings.

Footage of the demonstrations ran in fiery loops on Fox News and Newsmax. It fueled rumors and conspiracy theories, outraged monologues on talk radio and conversations within the White House, which themselves spilled back onto Fox News. It ricocheted around the online platforms themselves, among people who, by the third day, Aug. 25, were convinced they had to do something.

One of those people was Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, who after joining several other young men in the defense of a car dealership would shoot three men, killing two and wounding the third.

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In our cover story this week, Charles Homans unpacks how a new era of political violence arrived on the streets of Kenosha.

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