Armed vigilantes have no business trying to police protests or civil disorder; nothing good will come from them being there, as recent events have shown.
It is bad enough that antifa is out on the streets with big bags of weaponized soup, some of them seem to be carrying firearms. We also now have people who say they support the police and are showing up to areas of unrest armed with handguns and long guns “to defend people’s property.” After they showed up in Kenosha and Portland, Oregon, unsurprisingly, there have been shootings and deaths.
In Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide after killing two people and shooting a third. Rittenhouse, who lived in Antioch, Illinois, drove across the state line with an AR-15. He shot three people, killing two, as he clashed with those protesting an earlier police shooting. In the aftermath, police let Rittenhouse walk away. He returned home and later turned himself in to police in Illinois, where he awaits extradition. Commentators have blamed protesters for the circumstances that led to the shootings, and some have even hailed Rittenhouse a hero, raising thousands of dollars for his defense.
In Portland, Patriot Prayer supporter Aaron Danielson died in a clash with Michael Reinoehl, who identified with militant antifascists. Reinoehl acknowledged shooting Danielson. Reinoehl was himself shot and killed by officers when they tried to arrest him.
Despite assertions from some commentators, vigilantes don’t enforce order, they don’t support police, they don’t protect society; they disrupt order, they undermine police and they further the breakdown of society.
Some of this seems to be stoked by a spate of fear-mongering, including social media posts seen here in Joplin and other areas promoting disinformation that told people that roving antifa groups were coming to burn their towns and attack them.
Violence on any side is reprehensible. Protest is a protected constitutional action. Rioting, arson and looting are crimes, no matter your politics, and best dealt with by law enforcers. If the unrest exceeds the ability of those authorities to quell, the governor can call in the state’s National Guard. They will be able to handle it, though that should be a last resort. Police have said they do not need help from gun-toting civilians. People who show up at protests armed aren’t defending their property, they aren’t protecting others. They are, on some level, looking for trouble. Sadly, they are finding it.
Additionally, vigilantes have a history of killing Black men, making their presence even more inflammatory at the protests of racial injustice that have flared across the nation this summer. From the fugitive slave laws that empowered people to require Blacks to prove they were not slaves in order to avoid beatings, imprisonment and death, through waves of lynchings that peaked in the 1890s and saw a resurgence in the 1910s, to shootings in our modern era such as that of Trayvon Martin and more recently Ahmoud Arbery, there is ample history to make their presence provocative.
The last thing any of us should do is grab a gun and head out to a protest.