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Imagine if Kyle Rittenhouse was Muslim

If Kyle Rittenhouse was named, say, Khalid Rehman, we know things would look very different.
Image: Kyle Rittenhouse with a backwards cap and armed
Kyle Rittenhouse proves how wholly the GOP has embraced radicalization and white supremacy.MSNBC; AP

On Friday, Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of killing two people during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, posted his $2 million bail.

My first reaction: Imagine if Rittenhouse was Muslim.

Imagine if the 17-year-old's name was not Kyle Rittenhouse but, say, Khalid Rehman. Would people be hailing him as a hero, a martyr or even "my president"? Would the MyPillow guy or the kid from "Silver Spoons" have helped crowdsource Khalid's $2 million bail? Would his mother be treated sympathetically as a guest on Fox News? Would conservative news anchors be praising him for maintaining "order"? Would a Republican lawmaker be urging him to run for office? Would President Donald Trump have defended him from a White House podium?

Don't be ridiculous; we all know the same conservatives celebrating Rittenhouse would be falling over one another to ask one provocative question after another.

Where was he radicalized?

Was he groomed by a preacher of hate?

How did his family or friends not know?

Why won't his community leaders speak out and denounce him?

Does his faith encourage violence?

There's no question that in today's America, a Khalid (or a Mohamed or an Ismail) would be demonized, not defended; pilloried, not praised. There would be no celebratory murals for a Khalid, only montages of grainy video of Middle Eastern men firing guns in the air.

Why haven’t conservative leaders in Congress or the white evangelical movement spoken out against the spike in hate crimes against minorities?

But this is an opportunity to ask those very same questions of Rittenhouse. We should question how a 17-year-old ended up arming himself with an (illegally obtained) AR-15, drove across state lines to pick a fight with racial justice protesters and ended up accused of shooting three people in Wisconsin, killing two of them.

In 2018, attorneys representing far-right Kansas "militia" members convicted of plotting to bomb a mosque frequented by Somali Muslims made this very point when they asked the judge for a more lenient sentence on the basis that Trump's "inflammatory rhetoric should be taken into account as the 'backdrop' for the case."

Still, why did the police allow Rittenhouse to leave the scene of a crime and go home to sleep in his own bed 20 miles away in Antioch, Illinois? (He wasn't even arrested until the following morning.)

Similar questions could be asked not only of Rittenhouse but also of his enablers, defenders and promoters, which applies to the U.S. conservative movement as a whole.

After all, we know there are plenty of ways and places Rittenhouse could have been radicalized, including in the front row of a Trump rally in January, where he was spotted by some eagle-eyed BuzzFeed reporters. Where was the pipe bomber Cesar Sayoc radicalized? His attorneys say it was the "provocative language" on Fox News. How about the Comet Ping Pong gunman and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Edgar Welch? He says he listened to Alex Jones' Infowars, which has hosted everyone from Trump to Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Where did the right-wing "militia" members who are accused of having plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer draw inspiration from? Could it possibly have been the Twitter feed of the president?

And why haven't conservative leaders in Congress or the white evangelical movement spoken out against the spike in hate crimes against minorities? Against the growing danger of domestic terrorism?

The great irony here is that a Rittenhouse poses a much bigger threat to security in this country than any so-called Khalid Rehman. You don't have to take my word for it; according to Trump's own Department of Homeland Security, domestic extremists — specifically "white supremacist extremists" — pose the "most persistent and lethal" terrorist threat to the United States.

We need to think about the boxes we check whenever we discuss, and denounce, Muslim extremism or violence and violence by a member of a minority community versus the proven urgency of white supremacist violence. How do these relate to the right in the U.S.?

Supremacist ideology? Check

Preachers of hate? Check

Online radicalization? Check.

Conspiracy theories? Check

Distortion of religion? Check, check, check.

It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that the conservative movement, including the GOP, has succumbed to far-right extremism. And it's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the rhetoric of a Kyle Rittenhouse or a Patrick Crusius from the rhetoric of a Donald Trump or a Tucker Carlson.

Perhaps the biggest political story of Trump’s term is the radicalization of the Republican Party as a whole.

"You used to belong to a conservative party with a white-nationalist fringe," author Max Boot wrote to his former fellow Republicans in The Washington Post in 2018. "Now it's a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe."

And make no mistake: None of this ends with the departure of Trump from the White House in January. Perhaps the biggest political story of Trump's term is the radicalization of the Republican Party as a whole. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson refused to condemn the crimes with which Rittenhouse is charged and defended "citizen soldiers" for standing up against rioters. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio lavished praise on the Trump-supporting trucks that swarmed and ambushed a Biden/Harris campaign bus in Texas. Meanwhile, the House Republican freshman class for 2021 includes Marjorie Taylor Greene, 46, and Lauren Boebert, 33, both supporters of the bonkers conspiracy cult QAnon, which the FBI has labeled a domestic terrorist threat. There's also Madison Cawthorne, 25, who once said his visit to Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" retreat was on his bucket list.

From the embrace of Rittenhouse to the mainstreaming of QAnon to the prime-time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention for the McCloskeys, all evidence suggests that enough of the Republican Party and its base has no plans to abandon extremism, conspiracism or hate any time soon.

Remember how the right in this country not only seized upon the 9/11 attacks themselves but also alleged that there were images of Muslims celebrating the attacks to accuse Muslims the world over of an affinity for murder, violence and terrorism? The objective was to drape Islam in a cloak of extremism and intolerance, as when the conservative magazine National Review asked "Is Islam the problem?"

Similar questions must be asked of many Republicans and conservatives: Why are they filled with such hate for, and rage toward, the left, liberals and minorities? How sick, broken and extreme is their movement that a teenager charged with two counts of murder has become its poster boy? And how is this not the glorification of terrorism, plain and simple?