Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver connects white supremacist murders in Kenosha to the RNC, which isn't hard, honestly

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

John Oliver broke the format of Last Week Tonight on Sunday by talking almost exclusively about the past week. That might seem like a contradiction, but, as Oliver notes of his show’s more traditional long-view, single appalling issue structure, Sunday’s show was going to be less “28 Minutes About The Corn Tax Or Whatever The Fuck With John Oliver” and more Even In A Monumentally Shitty Year, Last Week Fucking Sucked—Tonight.

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And the “telling lies in front of flags spectacle of the Republican National Convention taking place simultaneously with the murder of two Black Lives Matter protesters (Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum) and the maiming of another (Gaige Grosskreutz) by a Trump-rallying, heavily armed, out of state self-appointed white supremacist “militia” boy (17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse) might just seem like an especially 2020 coincidence, Oliver spent his show explaining how it’s thoroughly not. And while that stance might feed into the white victimization fantasies that so many white Trump supporters cling to in order to justify voting once more for the single most racist, least capable, and all-around abysmal human being on the planet in November, Oliver presented some pretty striking evidence of how the RNC’s deliberately muddled messaging on race and “full-throated denial of objective reality” was emblematic of the reasons why Black people and people protesting the extrajudicial killing of Black people keep winding up dead in the street.

Of course, there was plenty of sideshow at the Republican National Convention for Oliver to expose to the light. From the innumerable Trump family members lying about essentially everything, to Mike Pence leaving his “Ken’s white flight dream house” to make the suspiciously loaded claim that “we” (white people and the police) and Black Americans aren’t living in the same America, to Democratic Party mole Nikki Haley beaming about how she, as governor of South Carolina, heroically and peacefully took down that nasty Confederate flag all on her own. As Oliver rebutted Haley’s self-exonerating bullshit, Haley would similarly describe Do The Right Thing’s plot as “a Brooklyn neighborhood comes together to help redecorate a pizza place.”

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But it was the RNC’s inclusion of a jaw-droppingly racist and fear-mongering speech from the two personal injury lawyers who pulled guns on Black Lives Matter protesters who had the temerity to march through their hawthorne-white St. Louis neighborhood that Oliver finally zeroed in on. You know, since the message of noted wretches Mark and Patricia McCloskey was essentially that Democrats want to let Black people movie into all-white suburbs by removing bigoted housing policies, thus leading to terrified white people having no choice but to threaten to mow down anyone who doesn’t look like the pasty school board couple trying to have Beloved banned from the public schools for being unfair to white people.

Pointing to Kyle Rittenhouse and the AR-15-toting white bro gangs going hunting for Black people under the guise of protecting property they don’t own, Oliver was as unsparing as captured-on-video reality allows. Showing the shooting of unarmed Jacob Blake (seven times, in the back, in front of his kids) by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey side-by-side with Kenosha cops driving right past Rittenhouse and his still-smoking rifle and telling the white supremacist “militia,” “We appreciate you guys, we really do” over free bottled water is, in Oliver’s words, inescapable evidence of the flagrant double standard” when it comes to police response to Black and white suspects. And that’s not even getting into this week’s examples of representative villainy, coming as they do from the very top of that area’s law enforcement.

There’s Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskins, whose press conference essentially calling “both sides” on a white teenager from out of state straight-up murdering people because they were, as Oliver puts it, “up past their government-imposed bedtime” by protesting racist violence after a citywide curfew. And, seriously, fuck that guy. But Oliver then zoomed in on one Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, seen nodding approvingly at pal Miskins’ victim-blaming, before Oliver played a clip of what he could only term Beth’s terrifyingly detailed “light genocide” plans for young Black men in his jurisdiction. After a 2018 car chase of a group of Black teens who stole some clothing, Beth proposed “warehousing” an entire generation of young Black men in literal concentration camps until they have all “perished in these buildings.” Beth’s reasoning is that then maybe the next, un-exterminated generation of Black men won’t breed so much, and, yes, that’s all in Oliver’s clip if you can stomach it.

Oliver’s point is that the coded racism at the RNC and from law enforcement around the nation have consequences, especially when amplified by the likes of legitimized “get off my lawn” gun-fetishists, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Carlson’s number one toilet-retweeting fanboy Donald Trump. Noting that Kyle Rittenhouse is just one of the white supremacist Trump enthusiasts with easy access to deadly weapons that have explicitly cited Trump-ian racism as motivation for their all-too-thinkable murderous acts, Oliver ended by sharing a few countervailing forces that might offer ways forward. Noting the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and strikes by professional athletes that have seen NBA owners plan to turn arenas into voting stations in November, Oliver yet warned about conservatives, police, politicians, and corporations co-opting Black Lives Matter messaging for the, well, optics. Like the time a certain Wisconsin sheriff received overenthusiastic praise (from white people) for performatively kneeling in support of the protests against the police murder of unarmed Black man George Floyd. If you were guessing that that supposedly woke law enforcement officer was none other than Republican Sheriff David Beth, congratulations—the country is as much of a sick joke as you thought.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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