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How have I not heard of Elaine, Arkansas before?

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It was yesterday, just yesterday, I read about the events that occurred there over 100 years ago. I attended respectable public schools, I went to two well-funded undergraduate universities, and I took courses in American history. I come from a blue-collar family with a deep devotion to unions and labor, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, land of the Wobblies, and was informally schooled in union history. I’ve long known who Joe Hill was. But Elaine, Arkansas? What was that about?

Well, as I learned only on 15 November 2021, just by chance, that in 1919 a group of black farmers, sharecroppers, met in a church to organize, form a union, and get better prices for their crops and hard work. Since this was intolerable to the wealthy white landowners who got rich off their labor, and since it was easy to inflame the poor whites in the region against their black neighbors, what followed was four days of slaughter.

When white leaders heard, they reacted with violence. Newspapers reported that white mobs, over four days, chased Black men, women and children, slaughtering them in Elaine and across the green farms and swamps of Phillips County.

All the Black farmers wanted were fair prices, but “that’s like the revolution has occurred because that threatens to shift the entire power structure of the South in the favor of Black farmers,” said Dr. Paul Ortiz, a history professor and director of the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

Historians say the massacre claimed five white lives and more than 200 Black lives, though the true number of Black deaths is unknown and some estimates put it much higher.

What? Furthermore, this was one incident in many which occurred over Red Summer, which I’d also never heard about. There were riots all across the Midwest and South, from Chicago, IL down to Port Arthur, TX. White people were rampaging. And I knew nothing about it.

Yesterday was humbling. I had no idea how ignorant I was. Sure, I’d heard of the Tulsa Massacre in 1921, but did not realize it was part of a vast evil wave of vicious, blatant racism.

But how? How could such horrific events by quietly buried?

White newspapers filled their front pages with sensational headlines about a Black uprising, ignoring the economic inequality at the core of the conflict.

As the U.S. has reckoned with its racist past, the 1919 Elaine Massacre — one of the deadliest acts of violence against Black people in American history — has drawn new attention, especially in the years surrounding its 100th anniversary. That year, hundreds of Black people were killed in at least 25 cities across the country, a violent siege today called “Red Summer.”

The cover-up orchestrated by Elaine’s wealthy white landowners and the government, aided by the white-centric reporting of white-owned newspapers, led to a scarcity of information about the massacre.

Headlines such as “VICIOUS BLACKS WERE PLANNING GREAT UPRISING” and “NEGROES HAVE BEEN AROUSED BY PROPAGANDA” were atop the front pages of the Arkansas Gazette on Oct. 3, 1919, and Oct. 4, 1919, respectively.

“NEGROES HAD PLOT TO RISE AGAINST WHITES, CHARGED,” read the front page of the Arkansas Democrat on the third day of the massacre.

Surely, the impartial American justice system would levy righteous retribution on the mob? Nope.

Despite the work of the Black press, white newspapers continued to perpetuate their false story. After hundreds of Black people were massacred, no white people were tried in their deaths.

Black people were rounded up, jailed in Helena and tortured until they confessed a role in the deaths of the five white people — part of a legal cover-up concocted by a committee of wealthy white farmers and businessmen appointed by the governor.

In the end, estimates range between 65-75 Black men were sentenced to long-term prison sentences and 12 were sentenced to death. A years-long legal battle fought by the NAACP resulted in two cases, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (Moore v. Dempsey) while the other went to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The high courts agreed that the men’s due-process rights had been violated, and none of the 12 were executed.

Now I think of all the black people murdered in recent history, and it’s clear — this is the arc of our history. George Floyd could be murdered by an armed white thug on the most trivial of pretexts, and the press tells us that Floyd was “no angel”. Trayvon Martin can walk out to buy Skittles and come home to be shot to death by a vigilante…and we hear that he was “no angel”, either, and his murderer is acquitted. It’s all the same story, told over and over again, and echoed and reinforced by our incompetent, unprincipled media.

And so it goes.

Today, of course, the Republican party is animated by a fanatical desire to paper over our shame, to keep our kids ignorant of the systematic injustices perpetrated in this country by whiteness and white people for centuries. I also am the beneficiary of the historical crimes that bled black and brown people to give me some relative prosperity, but I have no desire to close my eyes to it — I want to know. It’s the only way we can end this cycle of oppression. All these complaints about CRT are nothing but attempts to blind us to the truth, and keep the hate going.

God damn it, I’m 64 years old and the media has succeeded in keeping me in the dark almost my entire life.

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Wirecutter Union Is Striking

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Wirecutter Union:

During two years of bargaining, The New York Times company has slow-walked contract negotiations with unfair labor practices and insignificant wage offers that severely underpay our staff. We, members of the Wirecutter Union, are fed up. To win the fair contract we deserve, we’re prepared to walk out during the Black Friday shopping week.

Wirecutter continues to bring in record revenue for the Times, which is sitting on over $1 billion in cash. Yet our members have seen next to no financial benefit from their vital contributions to this success. Times management has offered paltry guaranteed wage increases of only 0.5%, despite soaring inflation and cash flows.

Choire Sicha, writing at New York Magazine, has the headline of the day, “Here’s the Best Strike for Most People”:

Many Wirecutter staff realized early on that their Times colleagues weren’t as excited about their arrival, even as the then-CEO extolled at sale time that Wirecutter “embodies the same standards and values that are the pillars of our own newsroom.” But Wirecutter was always treated as a second-class citizen, isolated in its own Slack, its own offices, and its own reporting structure under Perpich. It never joined the newsroom, and its work was openly sneered at by some longtime staffers. Many Times staffers don’t believe their work is journalism at all. The pay scale, as well, is substantially different from Times salaries. Even Times fellows, which are yearlong full-time jobs in the newsroom designed to train emerging journalists, receive a significantly higher salary than the starting rate for Wirecutter writers.

The Times will take the money Wirecutter generates — remember, they now charge a subscription fee, on top of their original (and successful) monetization strategy of earning revenue through affiliate links for recommended products — but they do not treat Wirecutter staff as peers.

Fuck ’em, I say. Stay away from Wirecutter this weekend, and tell everyone in your family tomorrow to do the same. There are a zillion other places to find links to Black Friday deals.

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iridesce
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angelchrys
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deezil
6 days ago
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I'm with Gruber's last sentence. I can take the model numbers in their pages and find them separately and just cut them out. I'm still way hot about them charging for access while also getting the affiliate money.
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lograh
6 days ago
I agree, stay away from Wirecutter entirely, forever, period. But then, I stopped going to or recommending Wirecutter back when they started requiring accounts to view "free" content.

Health-Care Workers With Long COVID Are Being Dismissed - The Atlantic

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Yesterday Once More

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In 2012, Joan Serrà and a team of scientists at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council confirmed something that many had come to suspect: that music was becoming increasingly the same. Timbral variety in pop music had been decreasing since the 1960s, the team found, after using computer analytics to break down nearly half a million recorded songs by loudness, pitch, and timbre, among other variables. This convergence suggested that there was an underlying quality of consumability that pop music was gravitating toward: a formula for musical virality.

These findings marked a watershed moment for the music discovery industry, a billion-dollar endeavor to generate descriptive metadata of songs using artificial intelligence so that algorithms can recommend them to listeners. In the early 2010s, the leading music-intelligence company was the Echo Nest, which Spotify acquired in 2014. Founded in the MIT Media Lab in 2005, the Echo Nest developed algorithms that could measure recorded music using a set of parameters similar to Serrà’s, including ones with clunky names like acousticness, danceability, instrumentalness, and speechiness. To round out their models, the algorithms could also scour the internet for and semantically analyze anything written about a given piece of music. The goal was to design a complete fingerprint of a song: to reduce music to data to better guide consumers to songs they would enjoy.

Eventually, listeners may start to resemble the models streaming platforms have created

By the time Spotify bought the Echo Nest, it claimed to have analyzed more than 35 million songs, using a trillion data points. That data helped give Spotify extraordinary recommendation powers to track users’ listening habits and suggest new music accordingly, integrating data collection, analysis, and predictive intervention in a closed loop. 

Philosopher of science Catherine Stinson describes such loops like this: 

The sequence of events is a loop starting with a recommendation step based on the initial model, then the user is presented with the recommendations, and chooses some items to interact with. These interactions provide explicit or implicit feedback in the form of labels, which are used to update the model. Then the loop repeats with recommendations based on the updated model.

The result is that users keep encountering similar content because the algorithms keep recommending it to us. As this feedback loop continues, no new information is added; the algorithm is designed to recommend content that affirms what it construes as your taste.

No streaming platform can accurately predict taste; humans are too dynamic to be predicted consistently. Instead, Spotify builds models of users and makes predictions by recommending music that matches the models. Stuck in these feedback loops, musical styles start to converge as songs are recommended according to a pre-determined vocabulary of Echo Nest descriptors. Eventually, listeners may start to resemble the models streaming platforms have created. Over time, some may grow intolerant of anything other than an echo. 

Before there were Echo Nest parameters, the 20th century music industry relied on other kinds of data to try to make hits. So-called merchants of cool hit the streets to hunt for the next big trend, conducting studies on teenage desire that generated tons of data, which was then consulted to market the next hit sensation. This kind of data collection is now built into the apparatus for listening itself. Once a user has listened to enough music through Spotify to establish a taste profile (which can be reduced to data like songs themselves, in terms of the same variables), the recommendation systems simply get to work. The more you use Spotify, the more Spotify can affirm or try to predict your interests. (Are you ready for some more acousticness?) 

Breaking down both the products and consumers of culture into data has not only revealed an apparent underlying formula for virality; it has also contributed to new kinds of formulaic content and a canalizing of taste in the age of streaming. Reduced to component parts, culture can now be recombined and optimized to drive user engagement. This allows platforms to squeeze more value out of backlogs of content and shuffle pre-existing data points into series of new correlations, driving the creation of new content on terms that the platforms are best equipped to handle and profit from. (Listeners will get the most out of music optimized for Spotify on Spotify.) But although such reconfigured cultural artifacts might appear new, they are made from a depleted pantry of the same old ingredients. This threatens to starve culture of the resources to generate new ideas, new possibilities.

Although such reconfigured cultural artifacts might appear new, they are made from a depleted pantry of the same old ingredients

Outside the platform environment, social interaction is often generative; ideas are shared or generated collaboratively, people influence each other in unpredictable ways. But within platforms, we are catalogued as data and compared with other people’s profiles in the system, a process known as collaborative filtering. Titles are recommended based on both a user’s taste profile and the profiles of others who consume similar content. Users then provide feedback in the form of clicks, and filtering algorithms adjust their recommendations accordingly. This may have the effect of broadening one’s exposure to different content, but on the platform’s terms and along the lines of its computational predictions. The platform flashes a mirror before you, which reflects back not just yourself but how you have been merged with many other people.

If you want to freeze culture, the first step is to reduce it to data. And if you want to maintain the frozen status quo, algorithms trained on people’s past behaviors and tastes would be the best tools. They “repeat our past practices,” as Cathy O’Neil said in a 2017 talk. A culture that thinks like an algorithm also “projects a future that is like the past,” James Bridle explains, because “that which is gathered as data is modelled as the way things are, and then projected forward — with the implicit assumption that things will not radically change or diverge from previous experiences.” In a world reliant on computation to make sense of things, “that which is possible becomes that which is computable.”

As greater efforts are made to break down music into parameters legible to computer algorithms, sonic differentiation in Western mainstream popular music may be reduced further, as the data of the analog years is re-injected into the present. Many new songs will be crafted as optimized rearrangements of the old ones, seeking to tap into the correlations detected and implemented by algorithmic analysis. If our tastes slightly change, the algorithm adapts, or it can try to nudge our tastes incrementally by force-feeding us the content it has calculated that we’d be most likely to engage with. Either way, the goal of a recommendation algorithm isn’t to surprise or shock but to affirm. The process looks a lot like prediction, but it’s merely repetition. The result is more of the same: a present that looks like the past and a future that isn’t one. 


Nostalgia, then, is no longer just a matter of being “homesick” for the past but is actively abetted in modified forms today by the intervention of algorithms. Not only does this new nostalgia stem from a world rendered as data; it becomes bait to keep producing data. 

Initially, platforms counted in part on an extrinsic nostalgia to bring users in: what might be called “retrobait.” When Instagram launched in 2010, it attracted users with the aura and limitations of analog photography, as did its early competitor Hipstamatic (and as new entrant Dispo is trying to do now). Instagram’s array of filters allowed users to coat their digital images in the haze of analog photographs before posting them and thereby turn mere moments into memories. It’s a strategy similar to embedding Easter eggs in new works that call back to older pop culture references, as with the recent movies Space JamReady Player One, and Ralph Breaks the Internet. 

As social media became more entrenched and ubiquitous, nostalgia began to be shaped directly by the nature of the platforms themselves, as with Timehop, which digs through old posts and shows users what they posted in the past, and the other similar algorithmic memory features that resurface content on its “anniversary.” 

Streaming platforms, which blend and rebalance old and new content in their attempt to attract and hold users, frequently make recourse to retrobait, jockeying to secure the rights to coveted old content like The Office or Friends, for example. But at the same time, they also produce original content that recombines elements of past shows (much like the Echo Nest broke down songs into supposedly detachable core components) — a sort of refined retrobait. 

Not only does this new nostalgia stem from a world rendered as data; it becomes bait to keep producing data

On Netflix, one can find numerous examples, like Stranger Things, a series about a group of young kids in a fictional 1980s town that must battle the forces of evil, and House of Cards, which Netflix developed by studying the taste profiles of its subscribers. Likewise, Disney’s streaming platform Disney+ has played up the sitcom nostalgia in WandaVision, which paid homage to shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch, Full House, Malcolm in the Middle, and Modern Family. And then of course there are the innumerable reboots, prequels, or sequels. In the music industry, the retrobait tendency has manifested as “streambait” or “Spotifycore,” music genres that rely on simple songwriting formulas stuffed with nostalgic references for algorithms to easily recommend — “the cheapest high in music,” according to music critic Jeremy Larson. 

Independent social media accounts, following the incentives built into platforms, can achieve high visibility by producing their own retrobait. One can follow numerous “nostalgic aesthetics” accounts, like @publicschoolpizza, @rerunthe80s, and @vintage.cheese, that specialize in posting pop culture from the 20th century, from 1980s television commercials to vintage softcore pornography. Sometimes these accounts post content that imitates the styles of the past. There are dozens of “retrowave” or “synthwave” accounts on Instagram that mix old content with new content that just appears old, a valuable tactic for a brand like General Mills looking to synergize its retro marketing with social media. If I scroll through retrobait accounts on Instagram, the app will show me posts from retrobait accounts on my Explore page, and the feedback loop continues: nostalgia in, nostalgia out.

Old content under copyright is highly valuable to investment firms looking to cash in on nostalgia’s virality on social media. Funds like Hipgnosis and Primary Wave will purchase the rights to songs, promote them across social media, and then collect streaming royalties. After Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” went viral on TikTok in September 2020, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood sold their rights to a specialist fund, and soon after we got a new TikTok challenge.

Not that consumers want nothing but nostalgic content forever. But novelty is often circumscribed with the familiar: producers will write inclusivity into reboots (as with the 2016 Ghostbusters), film universes are expanded (from the MonsterVerse to the Marvel Cinematic Universe ), old canons are abolished for new ones (like the 2018 Halloween reboot, which ret-conned all films in the series save the original), and ever-more niche micro-trends of the past are revived (like the Y2K coconut girl aesthetic). These gestures refresh the intellectual property of yesterday for algorithms to amplify and give corporations new angles to market nostalgia. 

Nostalgia has become a template for the serial production of more content, a new income stream for copyright holders, a new data stream for platforms, and a new way to express identity for users. And there’s so much pop culture in the past to draw from, platform capitalism will seemingly never run out. We’re told our data is collected in an attempt to predict what we want, but this isn’t quite true. In attempting to predict our tastes, streaming services work to produce them in its image. Since algorithms are trained on the past, they aren’t merely transmitting nostalgia through neutral channels; they’re cultivating nostalgic biases, seeking to predispose users to crave retro. 

Meanwhile, Big Tech speaks the rhetoric of futurity, promising immersive experiences and digital solutions with their technologies. But even as Silicon Valley positions itself as progressive, its algorithms are stuck in the past.


Predictive algorithms don’t really predict anything; they just make certain kinds of pasts repeatedly reappear. These tend to privilege specific understandings of history (ones that confirm biases or stereotypes, rendering the existing distribution of power as nostalgically justified), while downplaying or outright obscuring perspectives (ones that center the experience of marginalized people). They are generally the profitable versions of history drawn from media representations and starring the IP of the largest media conglomerates: Marty McFly inventing rock and roll; the Summer of Love without 1960s progressive movements; Pentagon-approved Marvel superheroes; drag races where no one dies, not even James Dean. 

Such depictions of the past are quasi-“official” records that serve state power or launder existing privilege as with the whitewashing of the Atlantic slave trade; the progress narratives that privilege “great men” like Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee; or the Santa Clausification of Martin Luther King Jr. They erase shades of nostalgia that do not conform to what Badia Ahad-Legardy calls the “monolithic understanding of nostalgia”: that is, the hegemonic strain of nostalgia that circulates white, normative, consumerist yearnings. 

Predictive algorithms don’t really predict anything; they just make certain kinds of pasts repeatedly reappear

The data of the past is often violent and imperial — a “colonial mathematics,” as historian Theodora Dryer writes. They are the numbers of historical racism and intolerance. Algorithmic recommendation attempts to transform this data into nostalgia, into the repetition of stories that rationalized oppression. But it draws on the same sorts of biased information that posits crime where it has happened before, naturalizes wealth disparities, or reinscribes stereotypes because they are already too familiar. As James Bridle writes of predictive algorithms, “To train these nascent intelligences on the remnants of prior knowledge is thus to encode … barbarism into our future.” 

At scale, algorithmic determinism locks people and events in repeating loops, a homogenizing process that mirrors a larger homogenization of society itself: the flattening of unique places into anonymous nonplaces and the consolidation of media corporations. With mounting hype for the metaverse, a new era of nostalgic hegemony is promised. Silicon Valley has long dreamed of virtual reality, and virtual reality narratives like Ready Player One and the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” often promise nostalgic fulfillment in hypothetical digital heavens — another recombination of old and new. Outside, society is crumbling, but a virtual universe provides hopeless people with an escape: a managed environment where they can adopt avatars, hang out on Minecraft World, and climb Mount Everest with Batman. 

Although the technology hasn’t yet caught up with the dream, the metaverse is already being hailed as a digital realm where intellectual properties can intermingle. You can be a superhero, or a giant robot, and you can spend your life hunting for pop culture Easter eggs. The metaverse promises to be a world for us, like all virtual reality discourses do, but it will be premised on and financed by the extraction of consumer data, and it will train its algorithms to promote the intellectual property of Disney and Warner Bros. while neutralizing any form of social change.

Reducing culture and consumers to data will continue to produce the same representations of nostalgia for backward-looking algorithms to recommend. Those who worship the power of digital technology may believe that we are on track to a utopia where people can escape from the future we’ve made. But if we let algorithms predict the future for us all, we will find there is nowhere to go but back. 

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SARS-CoV-2 reinfection associates with unstable housing and occurs in the presence of antibodies | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic

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The housing crisis is making Covid worse
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Kyle Rittenhouse’s Defense Is a Threat to the Rule of Law

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Photo: Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images

In August 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse brought an AR-15 to downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the name of law and order. As protests and riots raged in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the 17-year-old Blue Lives Matter enthusiast felt called to serve as an amateur armed guard for a Kenosha car dealership. He ended up shooting two unarmed protesters dead and blowing off another’s right bicep — without committing a crime.

Or so a Wisconsin jury found on Friday. After three and half days of deliberation, the jurors found that Rittenhouse was not guilty of reckless homicide, intentional homicide, or recklessly endangering public safety. This verdict was legally defensible. Yet it also exposed the anarchy latent in America’s peculiar combination of lax gun regulations, expansive self-defense rights, and mass gun ownership.

Before examining the substance of Rittenhouse’s defense, it’s worth reviewing the case’s undisputed facts. Bystanders’ cell-phone videos establish that 36-year-old protester Joseph Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse into a parking lot, shouted “Fuck you!,” and threw a plastic bag at his back; that a different protester fired a gun into the sky, and immediately following this shot, Rittenhouse ceased fleeing and turned around; that Rosenbaum then moved toward Rittenhouse, who proceeded to fire four times.

Those shots attracted the attention of nearby demonstrators. One ran up behind Rittenhouse and hit him in the head, another kicked the gunman to the ground. Then, 26-year-old Anthony Huber whacked Rittenhouse with a skateboard and appeared to reach for his rifle; Rittenhouse shot Huber through the heart, instantly killing him. Gaige Grosskreutz, 28, approached and pointed a handgun at Rittenhouse; Rittenhouse nearly blew Grosskreutz’s right arm off.

In Wisconsin, as in most U.S. states, the prosecution bears the burden of disproving self-defense claims beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, at his trial, Rittenhouse did not need to prove that each shooting in Kenosha was an act of self-defense; the prosecution needed to prove that this was not the case.

Under Wisconsin law, you can kill people in self-defense if you reasonably believe that doing so is necessary to spare yourself or others from imminent bodily harm or death. This belief need not be accurate. Nor must it be reasonable from an objective perspective. It only needs to be reasonable from the subjective point of view of the shooter in the moment he or she pulls the trigger.

There is one caveat to this rule: If you engage “in unlawful conduct of a type likely to provoke others to attack,” then you can’t kill the attackers whom your unlawful actions provoked. (Though even here there is some ambiguity, as Wisconsin’s statute appears to directly contradict itself.)

It is legal in Wisconsin for a 17-year-old to openly carry an AR-15, as Rittenhouse did. Thus, to nullify his eligibility for self-defense, Rittenhouse likely would have had to provoke Rosenbaum through some concrete act. And yet, under Wisconsin law, the privilege of self-defense “lost by provocation” may be regained if one “withdraws from the fight.” Given that Rittenhouse was running away from Rosenbaum before their fatal encounter, any preceding provocation would seem immaterial.

The prosecution therefore needed to prove that Rittenhouse could not have reasonably believed that it was necessary to shoot Rosenbaum in order to spare himself from imminent bodily harm. Rittenhouse testified that Rosenbaum reached for his gun. Video evidence does not contradict this claim. And Richie McGinniss, a videographer for the Daily Caller and eyewitness to the shooting, corroborated Rittenhouse’s account, testifying that Rosenbaum lunged at the defendant and reached for the barrel of his gun. A medical examiner testified that Rosenbaum’s hand showed gunpowder residue.

If prosecutors failed to prove Rittenhouse legally culpable for the killing of Rosenbaum, then it was always likely to have trouble convicting him for the subsequent shootings. Killing in self-defense is a lawful act, and lawful acts cannot constitute “provocations” that strip an individual of the right to self-defense. Videos suggest that Huber hit Rittenhouse and reached for his weapon. Grosskreutz, meanwhile, testified that he pointed a handgun at Rittenhouse before he was shot. If these actions were not “provoked,” then Rittenhouse plausibly had a legal right to respond to them with lethal force.

None of this evidence necessarily proves the validity of Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims. But it didn’t need to. All that Rittenhouse’s attorneys had to do was establish reasonable doubt about whether his invocations of self-defense were legally sound. It is hard to fault the jury for concluding that this burden was met.

On parts of the right, Rittenhouse has been celebrated as a defender of order against anarchy, and law enforcement against miscreants. Yet the culture that turned the 17-year-old into a revered killer — a culture of mass firearm ownership and vigilantism — is antithetical to law and order as it is conventionally understood. It is a culture premised on the illegitimacy of the state’s monopoly on violence and the incapacity of formal institutions to uphold social order or public safety. It sees America as a society forever teetering on the brink of Hobbesian breakdown, and firearms as the sole guarantor of individual security. And the more influential this culture becomes, the more its paranoid delusions come to resemble our collective reality.

Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims boast legal plausibility. But they also illustrate the difficulty of reconciling mass gun ownership and expansive rights to self-defense with the rule of law.

Rittenhouse’s killing of Rosenbaum may have been lawful. But that was scarcely self-evident to the bystanders who heard gunshots and then saw a killer holding an AR-15. The group of protesters who proceeded to chase and attack Rittenhouse could have reasonably believed that killing the armed teenager was necessary to save others from imminent bodily harm. If Rittenhouse had a right to shoot Huber and Grosskreutz in self-defense, the latter had a similarly legitimate basis for shooting Rittenhouse dead.

Put differently: Once Rittenhouse fired his first shots, he and his attackers plausibly entered a context in which neither could be held legally liable for killing the other. Whether one emerged from this confrontation legally innocent or lawfully executed hinged on little more than one’s relative capacity for rapidly deploying lethal violence. Rittenhouse had a more powerful weapon and a quicker trigger finger than Huber or Grosskreutz. Thus, he walks free, in full health, while Huber lies in a grave and Grosskreutz gets by without the bulk of his right bicep.

This outbreak of “Wild West” rule isn’t as anomalous as one might hope. America’s culture of vigilantism, high rate of gun ownership, and increasingly permissive self-defense laws have conspired to turn “kill or be killed” scenarios into a regular occurrence.

In the ongoing trial of Travis McMichael for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, McMichael has claimed that he killed the unarmed African American jogger in self-defense. In McMichael’s account, he and his two co-defendants pursued Arbery in hopes of making a citizen’s arrest, as they believed him to be responsible for a spate of neighborhood burglaries. After chasing Arbery down in a pickup truck, McMichael ran out and confronted Arbery. He alleges that Arbery then tried to grab his gun, at which point he shot Arbery in self-defense.

McMichael’s self-defense claim looks dubious to my non-lawyer eyes. But even if we stipulate its truth and legal validity, it seems clear that Arbery had every bit as valid a legal basis for killing McMichael in this confrontation. Three strangers chased Arbery in vehicles and then ran toward him with guns. If Arbery had taken McMichael’s firearm and then shot McMichael with it, could a prosecutor have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Arbery hadn’t done so out of a reasonable belief that he faced an imminent threat of great bodily harm?

In the firefight that led to Breonna Taylor’s death, authorities found that neither Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who shot into a group of plainclothes officers as they forced their way into her apartment, nor the police officers who fired 32 shots in response, killing Taylor, provably violated the law. Taylor had a plausible basis for believing that the police officers were actually intruders, and the cops a plausible basis for believing they were being deliberately targeted as officers of the law.

As Shaila Dewan notes in the New York Times, “legally kill or legally be killed” scenarios are just one of several pathological consequences of America’s lax gun regulations, and permissive police use of force and/or self-defense laws. In much of the country, Americans have a legal right to openly carry weapons of mass murder. And yet all it takes is one suspicious bystander, a phone call to the police, and the arrival of a trigger-happy cop for the legal act of carrying an AR-15 — or a toy gun — to become a legal basis for one’s summary execution.

If America’s permissive self-defense laws and abundant guns open up a vast zone of permissible killing, the precise borders of that territory are shaped by white supremacy. In a 2013 study of U.S. homicides, the Urban Institute found that killings involving “a white perpetrator and a black victim are 281 percent more likely to be ruled justified than cases with a white perpetrator and white victim.”

A legal environment that favors the armed in their confrontations with the unarmed, police in their confrontations with suspects, and whites in their confrontations with Blacks is antithetical to social peace, let alone social justice. It is, however, quite favorable to the American far right.

It is not obvious how (or even if) America’s self-defense laws should be reformed. As John Pfaff argues in the Washington Post, lowering prosectors’ burden of proof in self-defense cases may do more to imperil victims of alleged domestic violence like Marissa Alexander than to restrain right-wing vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse.

The fundamental source of the carnage in Kenosha, and the anarchic legal paradoxes it exposed, are America’s superabundance of firearms, self-appointed guardians of public order, and the culture that produced them. When anyone could have a gun, or be about to reach for someone else’s, every victim is a potential killer, and every killer potentially innocent.

Correction: An earlier version of this column stated that it is illegal for minors to openly carry AR-15 rifles in Wisconsin. But due to unclear legislative language, there is some ambiguity on this point. Although minors are prohibited from openly carrying weapons (including all handguns) in Wisconsin, state law does allow 16 and 17-year olds to carry long rifles. The apparent intention of this exemption was to allow minors to hunt. As the Wisconsin Legislative Council advised in a 2018 memo, except in cases of “hunting, military service, and target practice, a person under age 18 is generally prohibited from possessing or going armed with a firearm.” Nevertheless, at Rittenhouse’s trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder accepted the defense’s argument that Wisconsin law forbids 17-year-olds from carrying handguns — but allows them to openly carry semi-automatic rifles – and dismissed the charge of illegal firearm possession.

Want more stories like this one? Subscribe now to support our journalism and get unlimited access to our coverage. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the November 22, 2021, issue of New York Magazine.

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