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Opinion | Kenosha, the Rittenhouse Verdict, and the Riots of 2020


Along with many Americans, I watched coverage of the Kenosha riots on television. I experienced the cognitive dissonance others did, seeing the live CNN shot of a reporter standing before a conflagration while the chyron read, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting.” This mismatch mirrored my experience with how much of the news from Portland was being reported, which often sought to present the protesters as only on the defensive, rarely the instigators, as if pointing out any bad actors ran the risk of tarring the entire protest movement.

It was bold that CNN believed its viewers capable of covering one eye, so to speak, so that the picture made sense. But it was also unsurprising, given that the station was constructing that picture, choosing the images that helped confirm viewers’ convictions (just as Fox News did, with Sean Hannity telling viewers that Portland had “been ripped apart by a group of malicious so-called anarchists” and calling the city a “war zone”; Laura Ingraham peddling the theory that 2020s California wildfires had been set “intentionally” by people “including antifa” and using the riots as an election year cudgel, warning that under President Biden the “whole country” would “look like Portland”).

I found these tactical framings reprehensible. How could anyone in good conscience use the looting and burning of people’s livelihoods as fuel for their ideological fires? It made me wonder if those who framed the destruction to fit their own means understood they were supporting violence against the working class and, often, people of color; that by their explicit or tacit encouragement, they were as good as standing on the sidelines cheering as people’s lives were burned to the ground. And if it was OK to destroy property today, what would they be able to see their way past tomorrow?

I would almost immediately have a chance to find out. On Aug. 29, Aaron Danielson, a Trump supporter and member of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was shot dead after participating in a pro-Trump caravan on the streets of Portland. The man suspected of killing him, Michael Reinoehl, was an antifa supporter who claimed to have been acting in defense of himself and others. The story, predictably, became a Rorschach test, some on the left seeing it as evidence that, as a woman who’d never met Mr. Danielson shouted through a bullhorn: “Our community can hold its own without the police. We can take out the trash on our own.” She added that she was “not sad” that a “fascist died tonight,” deriding Mr. Danielson with an expletive.

Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon, tried to tighten security by fortifying the local police with nearby sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers. But the sheriffs of Clackamas and Washington counties rejected the governor’s plan, taking pains to criticize Portland’s approach to crime as they did so.

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