It's always a good day to be a white man.

On October 1, 1919, armed white men began streaming into Phillips County, Arkansas, due to rumors of a “negro insurrection” happening there. Many of them came from nearby counties, but some crossed the river from Mississippi and Tennessee. These folks “from off” — together with local posses and law enforcement and, eventually, federal troops from Camp Pike — perpetrated one of the deadliest non-wartime massacres to occur on American soil. Now known as the Elaine Massacre, it entailed the killing of perhaps as many as 200 African Americans there in Phillips County.

These men did not come due to a general fear of an actual “insurrection” at hand. They came to take advantage of the chaos in order to have some fun—to hunt. Indeed, the historian Amy Louise Wood has pointed out that lynchings were often conducted like hunts, with packs of dogs, teams of heavily armed hunters, and commemorative pictures with the dead prey. And as Catherine Armstrong notes, in a previous era, the practice of hunting down fugitive slaves “contained an element of sport within it, making it akin to the other hunting and blood sports practiced with such fervour in the American South.”

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No white men were ever charged for their role in perpetrating the massacre at Elaine.

On August 25, 2020, a white teenager named Kyle Rittenhouse illegally carried an AR-15 style rifle from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, which was experiencing civil unrest following yet another police shooting of yet another unarmed Black man. Rittenhouse later claimed to have done this from a desire to defend the community, but it was not his community. In Kenosha, he openly threatened people with his rifle and eventually shot and killed two men while wounding a third. The police allowed Rittenhouse to leave the scene despite being informed by residents that he had shot people. He turned himself into his local police department the following day.

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Rittenhouse was not in Kenosha to protect the community. He had no ties there — he was “from off.” He had only come to take advantage of the chaos in order to have some fun. He came to hunt. And now a Kenosha jury has given license to other white vigilantes to do the exact same thing by clearing this acne-stricken-murderer-turned-Republican-folk-hero on all charges. So more and more white thugs will swarm into Black neighborhoods at the smallest sign of “unrest,” armed with military weapons and unhindered by the bag limit we place upon the lives of lesser creatures.

Or as Leonard Cohen sang: “Get ready for the future: It is murder.”

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