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Will the Panama shooter become the next Kyle Rittenhouse?

Footage of Kenneth Darlington from this week's shooting

November 10, 2023 - 7:00am

Earlier this week in Panama, a retired American lawyer named Kenneth Darlington was involved in a deadly confrontation with environmental protesters, leaving two dead and raising profound questions about vigilante justice. Darlington, 77, was arrested and charged following the incident, which occurred amid a roadblock on the Pan-American Highway in the Chame district.  

Darlington, who has a previous conviction for illegal possession of a firearm, reportedly got into an argument with a group of individuals that included the eventual victims. According to witnesses and media present, he declared, “this ends here” before discharging his weapon. The grizzled assailant, due to his age, may avoid incarceration.

The event — captured entirely on video — has already led to a polarised reaction in the US, which will be further complicated by the reality that many urban areas in the US have become increasingly unsafe over the past decade

Darlington’s decision to gun down these two protesters, while unique to his own situation and state of mind, nevertheless resonates with past instances where perceived vigilante actions have been controversially lionised by some segments of the political Right. Bernard Goetz, famously known as the “Subway Vigilante”, shot four young men on a New York City Subway in 1984, claiming self-defence and sparking a nationwide debate on punishment and racial tensions during a crime-ridden era in the city.

More recently, Kyle Rittenhouse became a figure of considerable controversy after fatally shooting two people during the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid Black Lives Matter protests. And this year Daniel Penny’s confrontation with Jordan Neely, which resulted in Neely’s death by a chokehold, further divided opinion down ideological lines.

The video of the latest shooting, while filmed in Panama, symbolises a broader theme that has emerged in both political extremes: the belief, often expressed by activists and extremists on both sides, that the opposition “wants people like us dead”. This phrase encapsulates a feeling of existential threat that has become a rallying cry for various activist groups. 

Darlington now stands to become emblematic of a potential tipping point in social tensions. Already, some commentators on the Right are at least rationalising or contextualising (but not yet defending) his actions. Such tentative rationalisations can be seen as a barometer of public sentiment, signalling a threshold where the rule of law competes with subjective interpretations of justice and the private use of force to settle disputes — a notion that Right-libertarians, among others, have well understood

In a world that feels ever more chaotic and uncontrollable, the story of a lone individual standing up against what they perceive as injustice or oppression is a powerful narrative — one that is sure to connect with people who already believe themselves to be living in hard times or, worse still, the end times. It taps into the archetype of the hero, the defender, and the ordinary person pushed to extraordinary lengths — a belief fuelled by a narrative of decline. The frustration that arises from this perception can lead to a romanticised view of vigilante action, wherein taking the law into one’s own hands is not only justified but welcomed as a form of highly efficient grassroots justice.

The question now is: what could the ramifications be if more individuals follow in Darlington’s footsteps, especially in areas with high levels of firearm ownership and strong political divisions? While he may not seek to become a figurehead, the narrative constructed around his actions will no doubt take on a life of its own. This is exactly what occurred with Rittenhouse, Neely and the gun-toting McCloskeys, who went on to feature at the 2020 Republican National Convention. 

Whether they sought it or not, these individuals’ stories were co-opted into larger narratives, and the same fate could befall Darlington. These incidents, and the mythologies they spawn, contribute to a cycle where personal justice increasingly challenges the communal rule of law, with unpredictable and potentially perilous results.


Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work

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John Murray
John Murray
8 months ago

I can’t find film where it shows the whole thing, but unless Darlington had another gun pulled on him then that is straight-up murder. There is no pass for “these assholes pissed me off with their inane climate activism.”
It also does a serious disservice to the other people mentioned in this article to associate them with him.
Rittenhouse used his gun in legit self-defense, one guy came charging after him, second guy was clubbing at him with a board when Rittenhouse was on the ground, and third guy (who got shot not killed) had actually pulled a gun.
Daniel Penny was intervening against a mentally unstable guy who was credibly threatening in a subway carriage, probably manslaughter in that case, but remains to be seen.
The McCloskeys didn’t even kill anyone, they just came out in their own garden with their guns while a mob of people who were going through their gated community without permission went past. A bit gauche, perhaps, but actually nobody got hurt.

Last edited 8 months ago by John Murray
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Poor article – trying to conflate completely different cases.

Ian S
Ian S
8 months ago

Typical Batemanese, this article. When he says: “These incidents, and the mythologies they spawn, contribute to a cycle … with unpredictable and potentially perilous results”, he shows that he is oblivious to the fact that his own writings create dangerous mythologies. Rittenhouse was emphatically cleared in open court. For Bateman to now link him to clearly different cases is one of the reasons I have friends in the USA who to this day think Rittenhouse murdered black men in cold blood.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian S

Out of one side of the mouth: “a cycle . . . with unpredictable and potentially perilous results,” and out of the other side: prediction of a cycle. The last word on that: “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”?

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
8 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Agreed. Rittenhouse was a case of the press turning fairly obvious self-defence into murder and this appears an attempt at turning murder into self-defence.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

exactly right. couldn’t agree more.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

The McCloskeys had been verbally threatened by a mob which had broken down the gates of their community,

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

Just a reminder that the two left wing activists that attacked Rittenhouse were registered sex offenders.

Last edited 8 months ago by robertdkwright
Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
8 months ago

The two cases aren’t even close. Kyle Rittenhouse shot his attackers in self defence. The Panama shooter did it out of anger and frustration – not the same thing at all.

Neil Cheshire
Neil Cheshire
8 months ago

A similar incident will happen in Britain when a highly stressed person will crack. The difference will be the weapon used, here a car, van or lorry. The police and judiciary will be complicit, the former with their tardy and ‘kid glove’ treatment and the latter with their extreme leniency, both emboldening protesters.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
8 months ago
Reply to  Neil Cheshire

So much for conservatives and personal responsibility, eh?
I don’t think being stuck in traffic is a defence for murder, although I am sure somewhere in the States it probably is (for white folks anyway – black folks shouldn’t try it, the cops will murder them for fun).

Arthur G
Arthur G
8 months ago

Maybe the protesters should take responsibility for their actions. In an ideal world they’d only get a beating, but they’ve shown the willingness to stop ambulances and emergency vehicles.

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Last edited 8 months ago by Arthur G
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

This is nothing like the Rittenhouse and Neely cases. Those two people were responding to real, perceived threats. This guy is garden variety nut job who obviously has self control and anger management issues.

I’ll be stunned if any serious voices on the right try to make this guy into a hero. In the case of Rittenhouse and Neely, it was left-wing progressives who spun the narrative.

I suppose Neely was treated a bit like a hero – not because he was protecting himself, but other people on the subway train. No one glorified it though. It was treated as a tragic result from reasonable actions – until the left framed it as a helpless Michael Jackson impersonator being stalked by a lunatic vigilante.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The Right lionise people who act in self-defence or act to prevent threats on subways.
The Left lionise career criminals who are resisting arrest , often by trying to grab a cop’s gun.

laura m
laura m
8 months ago

Bateman is the least accurate writer in Unherd. Drop him, he brings down the credibility of the journal.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago

Will the Panama shooter become the next Kyle Rittenhouse?
Only if he is found not guilty on all charges and is then subject to a sustained , ongoing campaign of lawfare against him, by people determined to destroy him for trying to protect communities against rioting mobs.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
8 months ago

The Kyle Rittenhouse incident was clearly self defence. Even at the height of BLM mania he was acquitted.
They are not comparable.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
8 months ago

Funny never any mention of the riots that exploded over America when a black policeman shot white Jasmine dead, mistaking her for an apple tree, or something.Oh yes, there were nt any; , nobody cared. Figures show that allowing for the population percentages, vastly more white people are killed by blacks each year than blacks by whites. And most blacks are killed by other blacks. The article is muddling up vigilante justice ( rather rare) with events such as Rittenhouse, who was found not guilty, and was protesting during the usual fairly peaceful murderous ince diary riot beloved of the media.

JP Martin
JP Martin
8 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Yes, they should invite Heather MacDonald to write a proper article on this subject because it is worthy of attention.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
8 months ago

Meanwhile, New York City has a new subway vigilante this morning:
https://nypost.com/2023/11/09/metro/subway-vigilante-yelled-get-away-from-her-just-before-he-opened-fire-sources/
Police are trying to stop him before he foils more muggings.

Sam C
Sam C
8 months ago

Really starting to question my Unherd subscription. First you got Fazy, the Hamas apologist. Now this nonsense, comparing self defense to cold blooded murder.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
8 months ago

Kyle Rittenhouse was being chased by a murderous antifa mob and fired his weapon in self defense. Have people forgotten this already?

rod gartner
rod gartner
8 months ago

by the logic of the dump truck loads of prior examples that the idoelogical right unloads on a daily basis
Your entire political movement *owns* the statements and opinions of every segment of itself.
This is not the same thing as pointing to the *literal leader of the party, both by in terms of historical conception but also in terms of ltieral on-paper rules/procedures operating within politics in the party system and “tying him” to every corner of the party

That completely valid act works because *you already agreed* and acceeded by voting for the person or the representatitive that you ceded your franchsie through representative government did so by proxy.

But by comparison,the political right has been attempting to tie *everying democrat* to *every democrat’s actions* since before Newt Gingrich, and hence before most of the people posting ion this webste can remember. their own lives.
Certainly Democrats have responded in kind, but the degree is laughably over-balanced by the activites of the right (Democrats have long self-accussed their party of “unilateral disarmement” and “political cowardice” and general unwillingness to go as aggressively partisan as the Republicans take for granted as baseline normal)

You can either agree with that statement, and agree to “own” every nutjob clambering out of a hole inthe wall, just as you demand repeatedly of every Democrat (the persistence of the “So and so met with Louis Farakhan and you met met with them comes to mind)

or you can abandon the slim pretense that there is an actual “ideoligcial framework” underlying conservatism or the GOP and and admit *the other* bull horn loud repeated strategy espoused both by activists and formally elected politicans on the right:
That there is no framework, and that the only motivation is “winning at all costs” including through self-contradictory, arbitrary statement and action and that republicans should deny rights, deny access to the franchise, and deny equal participation in government to Democrats, and achieve this with *all possible tools* including through the actions of political allies and colleagues, law enforcement, judges, and even the private sector actors who control critical services or products (the last of which is already “on the calendar” for Clarence and Tony’s naked Partisan chopping block; “freedom of association and epansion of religious expression rigths to include exclusionary practices” and a disambiguation from “sincerely held belif” to “Sincreely held *religious belief*”

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
8 months ago

These highway blockades are deranged. SOOOO pleased to see this guy shoot and kill some of these scum. If there was ever a justifiable homicide, this is certainly a good example.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
8 months ago

Kyle Rittenhouse is a Nazi crybaby who went to the BLM demonstration with the express intent of murdering people – in his own words.
They should have thrown away the key. Instead he becomes another lunatic symbol of the insane US far right.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

Straight up murder. Beggars belief the Right co-opts and has got itself into a position where it tries to justify/defend such actions. Good grief. It’s like the nut jobs euiogising a terrorist. Do they ‘get’ it’s the same reflex?

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

You know when you comment for likes you are supposed to get likes. Why do you persist?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
8 months ago

Of course the right will side with this maniac – just another sign that you have all completely lost your minds…
And since this is Florida he’ll probably get off and be invited for tea with the governor.

Max Price
Max Price
8 months ago

I don’t defend his extreme actions at all but I understand the sentiment. These self indulgent morons need a flogging not to be shot dead.

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman
8 months ago

Did you miss Panama? The country.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
8 months ago
Reply to  Brian Cashman

Reading isn’t one of Champagne Socialist’s strong points. Along with logic, reason, geography.
On the other hand, he’s very persistent.