My prediction is that Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teenager who fatally shot two people and injured a third, will walk in his trial. Rittenhouse crossed state lines with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle from Illinois to Kenosha, Wis., “to defend private property” where protests were in motion after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a white police officer Aug. 23, 2020.
Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty and is arguing that he acted in self-defense when he shot both individuals after they chased him. The prosecutor is apparently playing up his age and inexperience, which the defense team is in agreement with.
With the rise of political violence in America, one of the dangers of Rittenhouse’s acquittal in this trial is the legitimization of vigilantism. The Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 is evidence that people are willing to take up arms to fight for their beliefs, regardless of how violent their actions are. Four in 10 Republicans believe the use of political force is justified if elected leaders will not protect America. A majority of Republicans now believe that force may be necessary to save what they call the traditional American way of life.
These attitudes are mirrored in actual political violence. The FBI says domestic terrorism has doubled since the spring of 2020. As president, Donald Trump infamously encouraged crowds to attack protesters and that he would pay their legal fees if they were arrested. Right-wing groups are actively planning a civil war. We have seen armed men take over the Michigan capitol and threaten to hang the governor. The insurrection in January was just a repeat of Michigan at the national level, except instead of wanting to lynch a Democrat, the insurrectionists wanted to lynch former Vice President Mike Pence.
Our country is on a dangerous trajectory. The idea that you must accept a political loss is gone. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger blames both Republicans and Democrats for not accepting election losses. He advises that when you lose, you should “move on.” He has also stated that Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of his state in 2018 and lost, set a precedent by claiming she lost because of voter suppression. Trump took her tactic to next level by claiming he lost a second term because of voter fraud.
Raffensperger believes both politicians should have accepted the election results and moved on. I agree with him, though he seems to be kissing up to Trump by throwing shade at Abrams.
I fear that all future elections are going to be questioned by unscrupulous people who don’t wish to admit defeat. Republicans are taking it to the next level by trying to pass legislation that will suppress the vote and allow Republican-led legislatures to determine the outcome of future elections. In effect, if a Republican loses a race, a legislature could simply change the results so that candidate wins. Gone are the days when our political leaders thought about what was good for our nation. Now they just want to hold on to power and say to hell with the country.
A lot of repressive laws are being passed, and it seems like Democrats are just sitting by and letting it happen. On the local level, Gov. Ron DeSantis – who announced his formal bid for reelection in 2022 as we were going to press – and other Republicans are passing a variety of laws to suppress voting and protesting.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Keon Hardemon recently dramatized the dangerous impact that a Republican-proposed law would have on ordinary citizens. The law allows police officers to arrest people who are within 30 feet of them for, in effect, “ocular insubordination.” In other words, if you look at a police officer cross-eyed they can throw you in jail. This also seems to be an anti-video recording law. If it had been in effect in 2020 in Minnesota, the killing of George Floyd would not have been captured in all of its horror because all eyewitnesses within 30 feet of his murder could have been arrested. Thank God that Hardemon rose to the occasion and convinced a majority of his fellow commissioners that Miami-Dade did not need such a law.
The craziness of the legislation emanating from Republican-led legislatures is terrifying. We are entering, not only a period where crazy people want another civil war, but where legislators are passing Jim Crow laws to turn back the clock to a time period in America where minorities could not vote, because laws and vigilantes made it impossible to vote. These are dangerous times.
Reginald J. Clyne is a Miami trial lawyer who has practiced in some of the largest law firms in the United States. Clyne has been in practice since 1987 and tries cases in both state and federal court. He has lived in Africa, Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua.