The killings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, represent an alarming escalation of the fight over police violence that has consumed the country this summer: It wasn’t an agent of the state who shot two Americans dead this week. Instead, an American man turned his weapon on other civilians during a protest—and law enforcement let him walk right by them and out of town. Police and political leaders have failed for years to take the actions necessary to prevent this kind of violence. Without serious, sustained intervention, more bloodshed could soon follow.
Late Tuesday night, a young white man with an AR-15-style rifle slung over his shoulder sprinted down a darkened street. He had, according to the narrative later pieced together from cellphone footage, just shot a person in the head and left them to bleed out in the parking lot of a car dealership. As he ran, a scattered group of people gave chase, and he fired at them, hitting at least one. A bystander called out to the police stationed at the end of the block: “Hey, dude right here shot them!” Yet the officers did nothing. When the shooter reached the squad cars, his arms raised in surrender, they let him pass.
Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who has described himself as a militia member and appeared in videos that night next to other armed men linked to a local militia group known as the Kenosha Guard, has since been arrested and charged with killing two people. (He hasn’t yet entered a plea.) Rittenhouse and the other men, who claimed to be protecting local businesses, are not the first armed right-wing counterprotesters to evade police scrutiny this summer. In May and June, such extremists appeared on 187 occasions at protests around the country, according to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a left-leaning organization that tracks extremist groups. Vigilantes appeared to receive the support or approval of police in about two dozen of those instances, says Alexander Reid Ross, a researcher at the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right and the author of Against the Fascist Creep.