Kenosha, Wisconsin: The Calling Cards of Fascist Paramilitarism

By Simón Sedillo

On Sunday August 23rd, 2020, Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back. Jacob Blake survived but was paralyzed by this attempted murder. Rusten Sheskey attempted to extrajudicially execute Jacob Blake. Jacob Blake, yet again is of course a black man.

This is yet another unpunished attempted murder carried out by police officers across the United States. Attempted murders and extrajudicial executions are what have sparked a nation-wide rebellion against not just the police but the entire system of criminal justice that perpetuates the criminalization, displacement, incarceration, and murder of black people.

When people are systematically dehumanized, entire communities are treated as disposable variables on an economic, political, and social level. These are the building blocks of genocide.

What has been clearly taking place across the USA since its inception and up to this point, is a level of official and unofficial authoritarian violence against black and native people that merits the on-going massive nation-wide rebellion and more.

Though the entire criminal justice system is an absolute sham tied to political and private interests to begin with, it is important to recognize and document the impunity with which the police have been brutalizing, shooting, and extrajudicially executing people across the country. Though to be clear, it is not as if policing, the justice system, or the prison industrial complex could ever be reformed. These institutions are inherently maleficent and must be abolished.

However, it is important to recognize official impunity because it exposes fundamental flaws in  policing, criminal justice institutions, and prisons in and of themselves. This level of impunity absolutely makes the argument for abolition that much more valid than it already is.

It is also important to recognize that on top of unpunished police brutality and extrajudicial executions there has been a constant and now also a growing trend towards fascist paramilitarism being condoned and encouraged by the police and by officials at the highest levels of government.

This is generating a whole other level of official impunity for unofficial acts of violence motivated by authoritarian, nationalist, and supremacist ideologies.

What happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin was first the still unpunished attempted murder of Jacob Blake carried out by a public official, followed up by two unpunished extrajudicial executions carried out by a civilian fascist paramilitary at a public demonstration against police violence.

These are neither cases of “law and order” or of “vigilantism.”
The responsibility for the murder of the two Kenosha activists Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and the shooting injury of a Gaige Grosskreutz, does not rest solely on the shoulders of the 17 year old police and guns obsessed Kyle Rittenhouse. The militarized police forces on the ground at the moment of the shooting and their commanding officers are all responsible. And for fanning the flames of these acts of fascist paramilitarism, the president and his administration are responsible as well.

Meanwhile Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber are being blamed for their own murders. Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, attempted to take Kyle Rittenhouse’s AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle and Huber who used his skateboard to subdue the armed assailant were extrajudicially executed by the fascist paramilitary.

The Calling Cards of Fascist Paramilitarism:

Calling card #1: Publicly armed civilians opposing popular dissent along side authorities

The primary calling card of paramilitarism is simple. It is groups of armed civilians brandishing high powered assault rifles in public, along-side police or military in opposition to a public demonstration. In this case the authorities have blatantly condoned and sided with the paramilitary activity. It is clear in several videos online that the militarized police on hand did not just ignore or turn a blind eye to the armed group of civilians in Kenosha that evening, they directly gave Rittenhouse and the other paramilitaries water and words of encouragement before the murders took place.

Today, we see from the local police chief to the president, public officials are outspokenly defending Rittenhouse’s actions. 

Calling Card # 2: Ideological differences exploited to generate confrontation

A second calling card of paramilitarism is the exploitation of ideological, political, religious, cultural, or social differences between opposing groups to the point of generating a violent confrontation. In this case the ideological differences run across the board and are exposing an ever present divide among average everyday people in the USA. This is not at all just about fascism VS anti-fascism, this is about ongoing systemic white supremacy, white nationalism, and fascist authoritarianism which has now led to confrontations of civilians, including extrajudicial executions at demonstrations.

Calling Card #3: Extrajudicial executions

Another key calling card of paramilitarism would be extrajudicial executions themselves. That is to say, executions carried out with absolutely no judicial process. Again to be clear, the judicial system is absolutely irreformable and must be abolished, but just like with “impunity”, extrajudicial executions carried out with impunity by fascist paramilitaries must be recognized and documented.

The only way an extrajudicial execution like this can take place in this scenario, is if it is allowed and encouraged. The militarized police present at the Kenosha protests at the time of this extrajudicial execution once again, are as much to blame for these murders as Kyle Rittenhouse is.

Calling Card #4: Deniable atrocities

The primary purpose and function of paramilitarism is to generate and exploit what are known as deniable atrocities. That is to say, the purpose of paramilitarism is to carry out atrocities against a civilian population in such a way that governments, police, or the military can deny involvement in and/or responsibility for the atrocities carried out by the paramilitary group in question.

In this specific case plausible deniability distances official entities from acts of violence used to discourage political dissent by the protestors in the streets of Kenosha. Throughout the world the US military has been outsourcing atrocities to local militaries and police who then pass on “tasks” to paramilitary forces used to carry out these so called deniable atrocities. This is simply another case of a foreign military strategy coming home to roost and be used against people in the USA.

The problem in Kenosha is that we have far too much evidence for the official militarized police entities to deny their condoning and encouragement of the armed civilian paramilitaries present in the streets that evening, so now public officials including the president have begun to shamelessly and publicly justify the murders carried out by Kyle Rittenhouse.

Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis made a public statement blaming the protestors for the shooting. Fox News’ host Tucker Carlson as well as Trump supporters in general are publicly defending Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions in Kenosha. Nobody on the far right is trying to deny anything. They are trying to deny this as an atrocity by condoning it.

Calling Card #5: Impunity

When I am asked how we can prove official involvement in paramilitary murders throughout the world my answer is always the same: “Bodies and impunity.”

How can three people get shot with a high powered assault rifle resulting in two dead, in such close proximity to heavily equipped militarized police and the shooter was able to walk away with his rifle in hand?

If the police were even attempting to give the illusion of plausible deniability they would have immediately investigated, disarmed, and detained the shooter. They did not. This is the first irrefutable act of impunity by the police. Kyle Rittenhouse was not detained until well after he crossed state lines and returned to his home in Antioch, Illinois. It is this level of impunity that will continue to condone and encourage this type of paramilitary violence to occur in the future.

Kyle Rittenhouse has now been detained and charged in the murders but in his first court appearance, his extradition from Illinois to Wisconsin was paused for a month and it is yet to be determined whether or not he will be convicted, and what type of sentence he will receive.

Calling Card #6: Subsequent official militarism

The end result of deniable atrocities carried out by heavily armed paramilitaries around the world is always the same: further militarization, policing, and criminalization of the target community, protestors, and organizers.

What will ensue is the violent and aggressive persecution of community organizers and activists who are participating in protests not just in Kenosha but across the country with the justification of preventing further violence, as if the violence was generated by the act of protesting itself when in fact the violence was generated, condoned, and encouraged at the highest levels of government.

The federal government is actively condoning and encouraging heavily armed fascist paramilitaries to carry out extrajudicial executions against civilians who are publicly demonstrating against the extrajudicial executions being carried out by the police.

Conversely to the police treatment received by Kyle Rittenhouse, according to a September 11th, 2020 Rolling Stone Magazine article “Michael Reinoehl, the antifascist activist accused of the killing Aaron “Jay” Danielson {a fascist}during a right-wing protest in Portland last month, was shot and killed by {federal} officers who were dispatched to arrest him near Olympia, Washington on September 3rd. Now an eyewitness is contradicting the federal account of Reinoehl’s final moments, alleging that — far from attempting to “peacefully arrest” Reinoehl — law enforcement opened fire on him without warning, and that Reinoehl himself never brandished a gun.”

When asked about the murder of Reinoehl on a Fox news interview President Trump said: ““I will tell you something, that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”

Trump encouraged revenge.

Extrajudicial executions at the hands of police or fascist paramilitaries in the USA is neither new nor something from the distant past. It has been a constant. They simply have not received this much public and official encouragement in several decades. That is what is truly shameless and frightening. None of these people are even trying to hide their fascism anymore.

They are trying to promote it.

Simón Sedillo has been teaching geopolitics and political economy in the U.S. and Mexico for the last 15 years. Simón has a growing archive of workshops, lectures, articles, and documentary films about the effects of and community based resistance to neoliberalism, militarism, paramilitarism and white supremacy.