The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse began this week. In August 2020, loosely organized militias began to patrol Kenosha, Wisconsin, openly carrying guns in direct response to the demonstrations for racial equity in the city after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse arrived in Kenosha illegally armed with an AR-15-style rifle and within hours had shot three people among the demonstrators, killing two. Rittenhouse has been charged with murder.
Last week, the judge in Rittenhouse’s trial ruled that the individuals who were shot and killed cannot be described as ‘victims’ and must instead be called ‘rioters’ and ‘looters.’ The ruling was criticized as an effort to disparage one of the protesters who was shot and killed as “a bad guy who deserved to die,” according to Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger.
A new report from Everytown for Gun Safety and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) finds that the presence of armed groups and individuals is strongly correlated with a heightened risk of violence or destructive behavior during public gatherings: armed demonstrations are nearly six times as likely to turn violent or destructive compared to unarmed demonstrations.
The report shows that the majority of armed demonstrations between January 2020 and June 2021 were driven by far-right actors and reactions to left-wing activism: opposition to the BLM movement, support for former President Donald Trump, opposition to gun regulations, and opposition to pandemic-related public health restrictions. The report also found that while armed demonstrations accounted for less than 2% of the total number of demonstrations in the United States, they comprised nearly 10% of all violent or destructive demonstrations.