Four Faces – Nicholas Dolinger

Last week, during a casual and absent-minded browse through Google images, I was presented with a nasty surprise in the form of a cold and ugly cadaver, grisly and anomalous in a field of otherwise ordinary photos of the same man. The body formerly belonged to Anthony Huber, one of two men fatally shot by Kyle Rittenhouse, whose trial resolved last week with an acquittal on all counts. I was compulsively drawn to this photograph, which depicts the body in shades grey-yellow, with Anthony’s face twisted in an expression which defies description. I followed the link, which revealed the other casualty of the night: Joseph Rosenbaum, fallen on a hospital stretcher, his mouth ajar as though allowing his soul to flee to Acheron, and another picture of his swollen pink back penetrated by gunshot wounds, folds of fat and flesh lying lumpish in a pile of human meat.

These men and their personal failures and defects are the source of gloating triumphalism for Rittenhouse’s supporters and quiet embarrassment for his detractors. Though I count myself among the former, I suspect that the derisive memes and snide remarks, while not inappropriate, fail to do justice to the pathos of the situation. As brief biographies of these men and their blemishes are distributed by American patriots, I find these men altogether more compelling than the protagonist of the affair. The three casualties, the aforementioned fatalities in addition to a man merely wounded, are the more dynamic, colorful personalities in the altercation, in whom I find more to relate and dissect than in the more straightforward persona of Rittenhouse.

The first casualty, Joseph, is the most universally reviled and ridiculed—and not without reason. In the early aughts, this man was sentenced to prison for the sexual abuse of five children, all approximately ten years old. What ugliness in his soul possessed him to do so is foreign to me, but I cannot but conclude that it was rooted in the abuse he himself suffered as a child, as attested to in court documents. His crime, I imagine, is not one of pure incontinence, driven by an insatiable animal lust for boys—rather, it is a failure of moral imagination (here I enter the fraught realm of armchair psychoanalysis, albeit with the attempt to understand my subject). In his obsessive quest to find some normalcy in what happened to him, Joseph became oblivious to the damage he committed by inflicting that same harm on five innocents.

It is taken for granted that the Rittenhouse casualties were protesters. Is that so? Nothing about Joseph’s conduct indicates that he was motivated by a concern for the abuses of Wisconsin police —he approached a group of armed men and called to them, “shoot me, nigga. Bust one on me, nigga.” I can only interpret this as suggesting that he was there to commit suicide by riot, that in his despair at living in such a dismal condition, he sought exactly the outcome which befell him. I cannot moralize what I cannot understand, and I cannot really fathom the depths of despair which might possess a man to solicit fellatio from boys younger than ten. The image I am left with of Joseph Rosenbaum, that of a miserable, perverted, and despondent little man, is perhaps more sympathetic than that of an ideological fanatic, driven to attack Rittenhouse out of a purely political hatred. Staring down the onset of his own middle age, with nothing to show for his life but a trail of abuse and misery, he could be forgiven for possessing a death wish. For a man like Joseph, every day is a near occasion of heinous sin; if there is any consolation in the photograph of this unseemly human mass on the stretcher, it is that he is now at last free from these afflictions and unable to commit further harm.

When I consider the case of the second casualty, Anthony, I admit I am afflicted by the pangs of my own prejudice—an intense dislike of the white male antifascist archetype, the lanky and hirsute skater, the stoner social justice warrior. If I were invited to participate in the jury for this case, I would most likely be recused after confessing my sincere dislike of the type of person that Anthony Huber was. This is all prior to considering his criminal record, which tells a story of battered girlfriends and deranged threats against family members, along with a slew of petty and morally unremarkable misdemeanors.

However, when I examine Anthony more closely, both in life and in the photos of his cadaver, I find a level of discomfort with the resemblance between him and myself. It is not physically uncanny—we look alike as bearded, tall, thin white men, with little particular resemblance beyond that—but I am struck by a notion that I well could have been a man like Anthony, but for a few minor alterations in life circumstance and some (largely aesthetically motivated) acts of political alignment. Though the extremism of his derangement and anger is foreign to me, I have experienced the outer limits of my own rare but intense tendency to rage, the particular mix of frustration and malice which flares up for an instant before being buried in regret and broken glass. There is a sustained malice to Anthony’s violent episodes, but the germ of these incidents should be recognizable to varying degrees to any warm-blooded man with an erratic streak. Despite his altogether terrible aesthetics and views, there is no moral defect in Anthony which I do not relate to by a lesser degree of intensity.

Then there is the final man shot by Rittenhouse that night, Gaige Grosskreutz, the lone survivor. Of the men in question, Gaige is the only one for whom the adjective “evil” does not suggest itself in reference to his past actions—rather, the words farcical, sad, and pathetic are evoked. Whereas Jeremy and Anthony committed actions which hurt people in a direct and malicious manner, Gaige’s greatest indiscretion was a slew of alcohol-related charges, a DUI and an incident involving intoxication with a firearm and other petty misdemeanors. In a video excerpt from the preliminary Zoom hearings of the trial, Gaige was seen collapsing in his chair, prompting Rittenhouse to duck out of frame in order to hide his laughter. It is clear to anyone investigating this man’s character that Gaige suffers from a chemical addiction, one which causes him to appear buffoonish and pathetic, but one which has affected people beloved by me and virtually anyone else. Altogether, his condition evokes real, sincere pity. He did not even receive the dignity of dying as a martyr.

Joseph’s sickness is bizarre and alien, one that I can attempt to understand but never fully sympathize with or relate to. However, in Anthony and Gaige, I see unflattering shades of myself, with their altogether human and intelligible vices. That on some level, I relate to these flawed men more than I relate to Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse reminds me of any boy from my high school, neither hostile nor friendly to me, a totally neutral presence in my life without extraordinary distinguishing features. The more I learn about his background and actions, I become convinced that he is a virtuous adolescent and pillar of his community. At his age, I was scheming to get away from my community, possessed of an embarrassing and unjust snobbishness and following brute cosmopolitan ambition. As more facts have emerged about his actions that night, I am left with the impression of Rittenhouse as a boy with sincere love of neighbor and family; at his age, I was possessed by an idiotic disdain for my equivalent community. I suspect that such sentiments may serve to explain why so many of my urban, educated peers so vehemently despise this teenage murder defendant. The image which emerges of Rittenhouse is that of an admirable, just and totally incomprehensible boy, more incomprehensible than the characters whose lives he extinguished or altered in three instants of precise violence. The casualties persist in the form of these grotesque photographs, attesting to the ugliness of even necessary violence. I am grateful for the unexpected encounter with these images, which instill in me a terror of judgement on the day that I too am hideous and inert.