DELTA PARK WAS once home to a forgotten city.
Nestled along the Columbia River in Portland’s northern edge, the historic park was built on the remains of Vanport, formerly the second largest city in Oregon. The city had been constructed in under a year and housed thousands of war-time shipbuilders in poorly constructed homes. The city had its own post office, nine schools, a hospital, a library, playgrounds, cafeterias, and a police station.
Known as the ‘Miracle City’ due to the speed with which it was built, Vanport is now remembered for the speed with which it was destroyed. On Sunday, May 30, 1948, rising flood water crashed into the city, wiping out all of homes and leaving the town of nearly 40,000 people destitute.
Now 72 years removed from the tragic flood, the lost city—home to a significant portion of Portland’s Black population—has been reduced to a public municipal park complex where a number of far-right groups converged on Saturday, Sep. 26.
Organized by the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group of self-proclaimed “Western Chauvinists,” the event brought together several hundred people. They sang the national anthem, prayed, and cheered as speakers, including Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, stood against the backdrop of an oversized American flag and took aim at leftists and local officials like Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“F*** Ted Wheeler,” one of the Proud Boys onstage chanted to the crowd, which responded with cheers before reciting the insult.
While many in attendance were clad in bulletproof vests, camouflage attire, and armed with guns and shields, several others wore T-shirts celebrating Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who was charged in the fatal shootings of two people during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this year. One of the more popular shirts was printed by a company called Right Wing Death Squads emblazoned with the phrase, “Kyle Did Nothing Wrong” (based on the alt-right meme “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong”). The back of the shirt featured a picture of Rittenhouse and read, “The Tree of Liberty Must Be Refreshed from Time to Time with the Blood of Commies.”
These shirts, along with slogans like “Kyle’s Life Matters,” have become popular among conservatives and the far-right, many of whom support Rittenhouse despite his having been caught on video shooting dead two protesters and seriously wounding another. Some have gone so far as to hail him as an American hero defending American businesses from supposed rioters and looters while exercising his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The debate over Rittenhouse’s case—heroism or homicide, patriotism or plague—has become the new battleground for the American far-right as well as white supremacists around the world. To them, Rittenhouse is not an accused murderer but a victim of the villanization of American values. The propaganda surrounding Rittenhouse, which has since been amplified by mainstream conservative commentators as well as President Donald Trump, has helped rehabilitate the teen’s image ahead of his trial.
“Kyle Rittenhouse for Congress”
ON AUGUST 25, 2020, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse arrived at Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he shot three demonstrators during a third night of protests following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black father who was critically wounded by a police officer who fired seven shots into his back. Three of Blake’s sons were in the backseat of his car at the time.
Rittenhouse, an Illinois native who was responding to a militia group’s Facebook call for “patriots willing to take up arms and defend” the city, was armed with a military-style semi-automatic rifle, which he used to open fire on demonstrators who confronted him at two separate locations. The incident, captured on video from several angles, shows multiple chases and physical confrontations between Rittenhouse and several protesters, which led to the teen fatally shooting two protesters—one in the head and another in the chest—and injuring a third.
Rittenhouse was not arrested that night in Kenosha (video footage shows police cars drove past him despite Rittenhouse walking with his hands up towards them) but was later arrested at his home in Antioch, Illinois. After being extradited back to Wisconsin, the teen appeared in a Kenosha County court that Monday and was charged with multiple counts of homicide (including two counts of first-degree murder) and unlawful possession of a firearm. The court also set a $2 million bail due to the severity of the charges.
“There is a certainty that if the defendant is convicted, he will be sent to prison and a strong likelihood that he will serve most, if not the remainder of his life, in prison if he is convicted of these charges,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said at the time, referring to Rittenhouse as a potential flight-risk.
Rittenhouse’s case became a cause célèbre for the right and its conservative commentators. “I want him as my president,” Ann Coulter, a far-right media pundit tweeted in August, while Tucker Carlson, one of the most influential hosts on Fox News, said Rittenhouse was a well-meaning teenager attempting to “maintain order when no one else would.”
“If federal prosecutors had treated the organizers of BLM and antifa the way they treated Roger Stone, our cities wouldn’t look like Kosovo tonight,” Carlson said on Fox News.
Among Rittenhouse’s most prominent defenders was Trump himself, who claimed that the teen would have “probably been killed” had he not defended himself.
“You saw the same tape as I saw,” Trump said during a White House press conference days after the shooting. “And he was trying to get away from them, I guess it looks like. And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation. He was in very big trouble. He would have probably been killed.”
By September, several crowdfunding pages had been set up for Rittenhouse’s bail bond and legal defense. A #FightBack fundraiser raised $2.1 million for the 17-year-old, while GiveSendGo—a Christian crowdfunding site—raised more than $500,000 from more than 12,000 donors. “God is on your side,” said one of the donors. “Thanks for being a patriot and defending the American way of life from those who want to destroy it.”
The anonymous donor’s comment is indicative of a dominant narrative among conservatives that Rittenhouse was wrongly charged with homicide and should be celebrated as a defender of American values. This dynamic played out across mainstream media, social media platforms, and even within schools. For example, a teacher in Dallas, Texas, asked students to write an English essay about a modern-day “hero” with Rittenhouse listed among the options. Ironically, George Floyd and Malcom X were also among the options.
As for Republicans, much of their rhetoric shifted from a simple defense of Rittenhouse’s actions to full-throated commendation. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky stated that Rittenhouse showed “incredible restraint and presence and situational awareness” because he “didn’t empty a magazine” on the protesters. Florida State Rep. Anthony Sabatini wrote “KYLE RITTENHOUSE FOR CONGRESS” in a tweet that had some demanding his resignation.
KYLE RITTENHOUSE FOR CONGRESS
— Rep. Anthony Sabatini (@AnthonySabatini) November 21, 2020
However, while Republican politicians and conservative commentators continue to celebrate Rittenhouse’s fatal shooting of two protesters with glee and amusement, few anticipated that the teen’s case would become a cause for infighting between the right and the far-right.
Proud Boys vs. Black Rifle Coffee Co.
ON NOV. 20, Kyle Rittenhouse posted the $2 million bail and was released from custody. Shortly thereafter, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, L. Lin Wood Jr., posted a photograph of Rittenhouse standing alongside attorney John Pierce and actor Ricky Schroder, who donated $150,000 to the teen’s bail fund. Rittenhouse, who posed with a big smile on his face, was wearing a Black Rifle Coffee Co. T-shirt, a veteran-owned coffee company that panders to the far-right through gun-toting patriotism.
Rittenhouse’s decision to wear the Utah-based coffee company’s shirt led to a widespread backlash from those who assumed that the teen was sponsored by the brand. This message was amplified when Elijah Schaffer, host of a Blaze Media podcast that Black Rifle sponsors, tweeted a discount code for the coffee along with the photo.
“Kyle Rittenhouse drinks the best coffee in America,” Schaffer wrote in a since-deleted tweet.
Black Rifle has since vehemently denied any connection to Rittenhouse. Co-founder Evan Hafer said in a statement that his company does not “support legal advocacy efforts,” nor does it “have a relationship with the 17-year-old facing charges in Kenosha, WI.”
Black Rifle’s statement angered far-right groups, including the Proud Boys. At first, chairman Enrique Tarrio claimed that Black Rifle’s statements were “taken out of context” and that he would “reserve judgement” until addressing the matter with Hafer. Soon thereafter, the Proud Boys began calling the company “cucks” for not defending Rittenhouse and labeled them “Black Lives Matter Coffee.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse is a kid who’s been railroaded by the left in this country,” reads a statement issued by the Proud Boys on one of its channels on Telegram. “He did nothing wrong when he defended himself that night … everyone is innocent until proven guilty in this country.
“It’s simple,” the statement continued. “You’re either fighting for Kyle’s life like the rest of us or you’re not.”
The rapid escalation did not stop there. Black Rifle was criticized by countless far-right agitators who now considered them grifters targeting so-called patriots for their business. The comments sections accompanying several Black Rifle videos feature an endless array of spam and negative comments from Rittenhouse supporters, some of whom posted anti-Semitic comments targeting the owners for being Jewish. “The company is not run by patriots. Their allegiance lies with Israel – a foreign government dead-set on destroying America and white western civilization. They engaged in treason,” one comment read.
The speed with which the Proud Boys and their supporters turned on Black Rifle emphasizes what happens when companies pander to the far-right. Black Rifle marketed its products to “people who love America,” which attracted Second Amendment defenders and so-called patriots. They have also long pandered to the far-right through their advertisements on Gab, a social network filled with extremists. Most recently, the company’s website profiled Oleksii Kacho, who fought for the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in Ukraine—a Ukrainian National Guard regiment and far-right militia with connections to neo-Nazism.
In the aftermath of the Rittenhouse scandal, Black Rifle discovered what many conservatives have learned: When you pander to the far-right but refuse to entertain their every whim and fabricated conspiracy, they turn against you.
And yet, this is not the only example of infighting among conservatives. Lin Wood, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, has spread baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, many of which are linked to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. He appeared at a rally in Atlanta, Georgia last Wednesday alongside infamous “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell (whom Right Wing Watch reported on in-depth here) and told those in attendance not to vote in the Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections in Georgia. Instead, he demanded that Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler pressure Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special session of the legislature to name pro-Trump electors.
“They have not earned your vote,” Wood said at the rally. “Don’t you give it to them.”
Wood, who had previously called for Trump to declare martial law and use the military to oversee a new election and told Steve Bannon that people need to be prepared for “another 1776,” faced backlash from Republicans for telling attendees not to vote in the Senate runoff. In an attempt to discredit Wood, who seems to have gone too far for even Trump, the president’s campaign suggested that the Atlanta-based lawyer is actually a Democrat planted to sow discontent within the Republican Party.
While the American right continues to be embroiled in a game of one-upmanship over how best to support Rittenhouse, white supremacists and neo-Nazis around the world have embraced the teenager as a propaganda tool for their ideology. To them, Rittenhouse is no longer just a kid forced to defend himself but a warrior who killed two demonstrators at a protest for Black lives while defending the Americans who matter most.
“Kyle was Right”
THE FRASER RIVER is the longest river within British Columbia, Canada. It rises near Fraser Path in the Rocky Mountains and flows for more than 620 miles in the Strait of Georgia within the city of Vancouver. Along its journey, the river crosses through New Westminster, where it is a short walking distance from the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Outside the large, gray building is a statue of Lady Justice—blindfolded and holding a scale and sword—towering over arriving mortals.
Yet beneath this personification of justice, there was a large sticker of a young man armed with an AR-15 style rifle, a pair of rubber gloves, and a magnifying reflector in his left eye. Beneath it is a caption that reads: “Kyle was Right.”
The sticker was part of an international propaganda campaign by a white supremacist group known as the International Conservative Community. The group, which includes entities across Europe and North America, fashions themselves as a modernized network of neo-Nazis capable of “building bridges across countries and even continents.” Founded by American neo-Nazi Robert Rundo (who also founded the white supremacist fight club Rise Above Movement), the group specializes in spreading white supremacist propaganda through targeted campaigns, a recent example of which is Kyle Rittenhouse.
Over the past few weeks, the group has planted stickers, large-scale graffiti work, and banners of Kyle Rittenhouse across Europe and North America. In Serbia, where Rundo is currently based, the group painted a picture of an armed Rittenhouse standing proud with a Schwarze Sonne or Black Sun as his backdrop. The Black Sun (also known as the sonnerad) is synonymous with far-right groups that traffic in neo-Nazi ideologies. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the symbol is based on the ancient sun wheel artifacts that were used by Norse and Germanic tribes as symbols of pagan beliefs. Those ancient symbols resemble the complex symbol of the contemporary Black Sun, which was coopted by Heinrich Himmler, the main architect of the Holocaust.
The painting in Serbia was featured alongside a Confederate flag, and a picture of a deranged Homer Simpson aiming a gun with the caption “KILL YOUR LOCAL ANTIFA SCUM.”
A sticker featuring an image of Rittenhouse—similar to the one posted at the Law Courts in British Columbia—was spotted in St. Petersburg, Russia, alongside other stickers showing pictures of sonnerads, swastikas, Himmler, and Adolf Hitler himself. Others have since appeared in the United States, Hungary, Poland, Scotland, Germany, and Sweden. Others appeared in New Zealand, proudly displayed by known hate groups like Action Zealandia, and in Greece, where they were promoted by the likes of neo-Nazi group Pro Patria.
The sheer proliferation of Rittenhouse-related propaganda among white supremacists spotlights how the 17-year-old is being lionized by neo-Nazis for his actions. Where most people see a teenager on trial for killing two protesters, white supremacists see a hero who he took matters into his own hands and went after cultural forces they believe are threatening society as a whole.
“This falls right in the same pattern as the extreme and far right identifying “martyrs” and “saints” that they exalt and want others to emulate,” said Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Director of Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL) at American University and award-winning author of six books, including “Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right.” “They are positioning Rittenhouse as a heroic figure who sacrificed himself in defense of his community- it’s right out of the far right playbook strategically, but also allows them to identify aspirational qualities that “good nationalists” should aspire to.”
WHEN RITTENHOUSE first picked up his rifle and left his home in Antioch for Kenosha, he could not have imagined he would become a symbol for American conservatives and international white supremacists alike. His case is no longer a matter of justice but of degenerative politics, cultural warfare, and societal upheaval—a battleground for the cesspool of far-right operatives delighted to have a new face for their cause.
To them, the accused killer is a martyr for their cause—a saint among sinners and an example to be emulated.