Declare Rittenhouse what he is--a terrorist

The violent clashes which preceded Rittenhouse’s violence must lead to change

August 28, 2020

Earlier this week, police arrested Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17 year old from Antioch, Ill who opened fire on people protesting the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Rittenhouse, who ended up killing two people and injuring a third, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide. 

While Rittenhouse’s motivations may be unclear at this point, his actions are not. He crossed state lines, making his crime a federal offense, and committed several violent attacks on civilians in order to further the social and political movement which has emerged in opposition to the recent calls for racial justice. It cannot be lost that this incident satisfies the definition of domestic terrorism. That is, “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States (or its territories) without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” 

If our domestic terrorism laws were being properly applied, then this incident would be identified as such. In our white paper last year, “The White Supremacist Threat to America,” we highlighted the insufficiencies of our current approach to domestic terrorism and identified several actionable steps toward a better strategy that government officials could implement right now. Those recommendations included greater transparency over domestic terrorism investigations and more accurate classifications of the domestic terrorism landscape. 

These steps could not be implemented if government officials are not willing to do so. Just this past Wednesday, several former government officials came forward to criticize the Trump administration’s disregard for domestic terrorism. Elizabeth Neumann, the former assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy at the Department of Homeland Security, admitted that “in this administration, there’s not going to be anything substantive done on domestic terrorism.” 

That approach is out of line with the realities on the ground, where a hyperpolarized political climate is effectively laying the groundwork for a civil war on racial lines.

This cannot be the America we allow ourselves to become. 

When government officials neglect to investigate right-wing domestic terrorism and instead focus on nonexistent threats like so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” we get a situation where federal law enforcement officials openly question whether the Trump administration even takes threats to Americans seriously. 

There is broad statutory authority to prosecute and investigate domestic terrorism where it applies.  If it does not apply in Kenosha, then it only serves the argument that racialization of this policy has hindered law enforcement from serving communities equally and into singling out people of color on enforcing the law. There is also limitless capacity in this country to address the broader political issues that are pitting Americans against one another, like a criminal justice system that, to many, operates as a criminal system of injustice. 

Our elected officials must ensure that the law is prosecuted as it is formally articulated and that they understand the effects of their words in broader society. In line with that, MPAC is committing to building an America which rests on pluralism and justice. That starts with meeting the demands of our current moment.



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