Kyle Rittenhouse Trial

Perhaps few criminal cases generated as much controversy in 2021 as the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The case was highly polarized and highlighted many stark differences between the Left and Right.

Updated:
Jun 23, 2022
| Published:
Jun 23, 2022
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On August 23, 2020, police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This police shooting, just months after the death of George Floyd, sparked widespread demonstrations in the city. Kenosha saw several nights of riots and property damage during the August demonstrations. On the third night of the riots, 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three men, killing two. 

History

Jacob Blake

On August 23, 2020, officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, responded to a domestic incident call. The female caller said that her boyfriend (Jacob Blake) had taken her car keys and refused to return them. Officers had a warrant for Blake’s arrest dating back to July after he allegedly sexually assaulted and abused the same girlfriend.

Officers arrived on the scene and overheard Blake’s victim shout, “He’s got my kid. He’s got my keys.” According to the officer, Blake had put a child in the car as the officers arrived. The officers attempted to subdue Blake with tasers. Blake shrugged off two tasers, opened a car door, and produced a knife. The officer on the scene then fired shots at Blake, injuring him but not killing him. 

Kenosha Unrest

Following the shooting of Jacob Blake, protestors, rioters, and counter-protestors arrived in Kenosha to voice their concerns. Daylight peaceful protests turned to riots, arson, and police clashes at night. Rioters destroyed city property valued at $2 million, including garbage trucks, street lights, and traffic signals. Estimates of damage to private property are as much as $50 million. Rioters destroyed 40 buildings, including the 100-year old Danish Brotherhood Lodge, and damaged 100 more. By August 28, 2020, the state had deployed nearly 1,000 National Guard troops and more than 200 federal agents.

Left Case Facts

The May 2020 murder of George Floyd prompted a summer of racial reckoning in the United States, with mass demonstrations sweeping across the country. Amidst these protests against police brutality and the broader criminal justice system, some used these movements as an excuse to damage property. Although these protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, the Right has capitalized on these few instances of violence to paint the entire Black Lives Matter and racial justice movements in a negative light. 

Similar unrest erupted in Kenosha after a police officer shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake. Like elsewhere, some bad apples stayed into the night and engaged in unlawful activity. This pattern continued for several days. In the midst of this, however, right-wing instigators sought to portray local law enforcement as inadequately suited to respond to the violence, urging citizens to take up arms to “defend the city.” These individuals raised tensions and provoked more violence. One of these vigilantes, Kyle Rittenhouse, came to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and shot three people, killing two

Rittenhouse testified that he knew his first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum, was unarmed and admitted to pointing his rifle at him. Despite this, Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum. During a night of unrest, Rittenhouse’s presence exacerbated the uncertainty and caused onlookers to believe he intended to harm others, especially after this first shooting. The crowd knew Rittenhouse had just shot someone and had reason to believe he was an active shooter. Under these circumstances, Anthony Huber attempted to disarm Rittenhouse, only for the latter to shoot and kill him. Finally, Gaige Grosskreutz, who testified he feared for his life, similarly tried to disarm Rittenhouse, who shot him in the bicep and disabled him. After shooting three men, two of which were unarmed, Rittenhouse fled the scene of his crimes.

Right Case Facts

In the summer of 2020, riots erupted across the country over various cases of alleged police misconduct. One of those cases was the shooting of sexual assaulter Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioters hit Kenosha, and on day three of the city burning, Kyle Rittenhouse, along with fellow Kenosha residents, went downtown to clean graffiti, provide medical aid, and defend businesses. The national guard was not set up to defend Kenosha, and the responsibility lay on the citizens to defend the city. 

Joseph Rosenbaum, a rioter, was filmed shouting the n-word and threatening to kill Kyle if he found him alone. Kyle was with a group of defenders at the Car Source Lot preventing the cars from being burned when he saw a group of rioters attempting to roll a burning garbage bin into a gas station. Eye-witness reports demonstrate that Kyle helped prevent a gas station explosion by rushing to provide an extinguisher.

Rosenbaum ambushed him and chased him when Kyle was separated from his group. Kyle was cornered between cars and a building when he turned and saw Rosenbaum charging him. Rosenbaum grabbed Kyle’s AR-15 in an attempt to take it and harm him, at which point Kyle opened fire.

Shocked, Kyle continued to run and was chased by a mob of rioters. A gunshot rang out behind him that caused him to turn as Anthony Huber assaulted Kyle with a skateboard. Kyle fired his gun again from the ground, killing Huber. Still on the ground, Kyle had a moment to look down at his weapon before Gaige Grosskreutz approached with his hands raised. At the last moment, Grosskreutz pulled an illegally obtained firearm and attempted to murder Kyle at close range. Kyle fired a shot at his bicep, disabling Grosskreutz and preventing him from killing Kyle.

Kyle then got up and retreated to the police to surrender himself and alert medical teams.

Kyle Rittenhouse

On the night of August 25, video evidence shows Rittenhouse walking around and offering medical assistance to protesters. Shortly before midnight, Joseph Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse into a car dealership parking lot. According to witnesses and video, Rosenbaum lunged, grabbed Rittenhouse’s gun, and was shot. After this, Rittenhouse began to run down the street, with at least a dozen protesters following him. As he ran, Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground. An unidentified man kicked Kyle before fleeing. Then, a second man, Anthony Huber, struck him with his skateboard and reached for his gun. Rittenhouse fatally shot Huber. Finally, Rittenhouse shot Gaige Grosskreutz, who was carrying a handgun, injuring his arm.

Following the shooting, Rittenhouse faced seven charges in Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who lived with his mother in Antioch, Illinois, a suburb of Kenosha, had to be extradited to Wisconsin for trial. His father, whom Rittenhouse lived with part-time, lived in Kenosha, and he served as a lifeguard in Kenosha County. Additionally, while initially reported that Rittenhouse had traveled with a semi-automatic rifle over state lines, it came to light that he kept this rifle in Kenosha, where it was allegedly purchased for him by a friend, who is also facing charges.

Ultimately, Rittenhouse’s case went before Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder. The judge dismissed a misdemeanor gun possession charge against Rittenhouse after a motion by the defense. While a Wisconsin statute prohibits minors from possessing “dangerous weapons,” the statute only applies to a person under 18 who possesses a rifle in violation of s. 941.28. Schroeder additionally dismissed a non-criminal curfew violation before the jury’s deliberations. 

Under Wisconsin law, individuals can use lethal force only if it is “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” The burden fell on the prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse acted outside of self-defense. While very few of the basic facts were in dispute in the case, the characterization of events was vastly different. The defense argued Rittenhouse only used lethal force in response to potentially deadly attacks. The prosecution characterized him as a reckless vigilante with no remorse for those he shot.

During the trial, Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense. Rittenhouse testified, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I was defending myself.” Rittenhouse claimed he feared for his life and acted in self-defense when he shot Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz. The prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse had provoked those situations by bringing a firearm into a volatile environment and could not claim self-defense. 

The trial was highly polarized and ignited heated debates over the criminal justice system, gun violence, vigilantism, and the right to self-defense. Rittenhouse became widely celebrated among gun-rights advocates and right-wing pundits, and supporters fundraised his $2 million cash bail. On November 19, 2021, the jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all five remaining charges. If the jury had convicted Rittenhouse of the most severe charge, first-degree intentional homicide, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think this case sparked such intense controversy?
  2. Why was there such a stark difference in how the Left and Right understood this case?

History

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Narratives

Left Narrative

While the Right has tried to portray this case as an issue of self-defense, reality proves it was anything but. Kyle Rittenhouse was an irresponsible vigilante who went to Kenosha to cause chaos; he instigated violence in an already volatile environment. The ruling in this trial provides no accountability for the murders of two men and the attempted murder of another. It opens the door for vigilantes to provoke violence and then use the subsequent response to justify killing people. Not only have right-wing pundits praised Rittenhouse as a hero, but they’ve made him some sort of grotesque conservative mascot: someone who should be praised for seeking out violence. This rhetoric will only increase the likelihood of these kinds of attacks and vigilantism.

Right Narrative

Every instance of this case is self-defense. Kyle attempted to retreat multiple times and defended himself from attempted murders. The prosecutor, DA Binger, attempted to throw a 17-year-old kid in prison for life regardless of any real case existing against Kyle. Binger violated Kyle’s fifth amendment rights during the trial, prompting the judge to raise the issue. Binger tried to argue that video games caused Kyle to be violent and that Kyle attempting to prevent his murder made him a criminal. The media stirred false media narratives like “Kyle crossed state lines,” and MSNBC was even banned from the court for attempts at jury intimidation. Facebook and GoFundMe pulled Kyle’s legal defense funds. Joe Biden used an image of Kyle claiming he was a white supremacist to further his political campaign. All elements of the Left were seeking to destroy Kyle, but in the end, Kyle used his AR-15 as the Second Amendment intended, and the jury was entirely correct to find him Not Guilty on all charges.

Bipartisan Narrative

Every instance of this case is self-defense. Kyle attempted to retreat multiple times and defended himself from attempted murders. The prosecutor, DA Binger, attempted to throw a 17-year-old kid in prison for life regardless of any real case existing against Kyle. Binger violated Kyle’s fifth amendment rights during the trial, prompting the judge to raise the issue. Binger tried to argue that video games caused Kyle to be violent and that Kyle attempting to prevent his murder made him a criminal. The media stirred false media narratives like “Kyle crossed state lines,” and MSNBC was even banned from the court for attempts at jury intimidation. Facebook and GoFundMe pulled Kyle’s legal defense funds. Joe Biden used an image of Kyle claiming he was a white supremacist to further his political campaign. All elements of the Left were seeking to destroy Kyle, but in the end, Kyle used his AR-15 as the Second Amendment intended, and the jury was entirely correct to find him Not Guilty on all charges.

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