Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Kenosha, Wisconsin shooter, has become a hero of the Right

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Kenosha, Wisconsin shooter, has become a hero of the Right
Source: Reuters
There has been political division over Black Lives Matter since the movement’s inception, but right-wing admiration for Rittenhouse’s actions reveal a worsening divide, which a growing contingent believe – even hope – could lead to a second civil war.

Like most nights this past summer, August 25 was marked by protests for racial justice after Wisconsin police officers killed Jacob Blake, a Black man. For months, cities across the country had experienced protests after similar killings of other Black citizens. While most had been peaceful demonstrations, violence and rioting had also broken out on numerous occasions.

By late August, the protests were no longer generating daily news stories, but the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin changed that when Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old boy from Antioch, Illinois, shot three protesters with a semi-automatic rifle – killing two.

While violent clashes between law enforcement and protesters have occurred frequently throughout 2020, the emergence of vigilante counterprotesters has escalated the tensions. More than three months have passed since the shooting and in that time Rittenhouse has become a hero in conservative circles while awaiting trial for murder.

There has been political division over Black Lives Matter since the movement’s inception, but right-wing admiration for Rittenhouse’s actions reveal a worsening divide, which a growing contingent believe – even hope – could lead to a second civil war.

Who is Kyle Rittenhouse?

The teenage Rittenhouse arrived in Kenosha early on Tuesday, August 25, with the purported purpose of protecting the city from rioters. Since protests had broken out after the August 23 shooting of Blake, Kenosha had also been the setting for vandalism, arson and looting. The violence began after police officers used tear gas to disperse crowds who were out past the newly imposed curfew.

In the months leading up to the Kenosha protests, Rittenhouse had expressed support on social media for Blue Lives Matter, the pro-police movement that sprung up as a response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The teenager was also recorded standing near the front row of a rally for President Donald Trump in January 2020.

Prior to the shooting confrontation that would occur later that night, Rittenhouse was spotted cleaning graffiti off of a local high school during the day. That night, Rittenhouse was seen amid the action, armed with a semi-automatic long-rifle and associating with a group of vigilantes. That group had sought to be deputized by the local sheriff, but the sheriff refused the request.

Nonetheless, armed citizens, including Rittenhouse, joined the melee that night. At one point, Rittenhouse was interviewed while guarding a boarded-up building. Standing with his gun and a medical kit, he stated, “Part of my job is also to help people. If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.”

The shooting in Kenosha

In footage from the night, Rittenhouse can be seen in a parking lot, standing over a man who has been shot in the head. It isn’t clear in the video who the man is or who shot him, but Rittenhouse is later identified as the shooter. Rittenhouse, who is holding his gun and medical kit, calls someone on his phone before running away. Others then arrive to take care of the injured man.

Rittenhouse maintains that he shot at the man in the parking lot only after that man chased and threatened him. Additional video evidence does appear to support the claim that Rittenhouse shot while being pursued

Moments later, Rittenhouse is seen running down the middle of Sheridan Road, being chased by protesters who have identified him as the shooter. As the crowd chases him, Rittenhouse trips and falls to the ground. He quickly sits up and shoots at his pursuers, including one who was holding a handgun and another who swung at him with a skateboard.

Two men were killed – Anthony Huber (the man with the skateboard) and Joseph Rosenbaum (the man in the parking lot) – and a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz (the man holding the handgun), was shot in the arm but lived.

After the shooting, Rittenhouse backs away from the crowd, brandishing his gun. He walks toward a line of police vehicles but is not stopped. Instead, he passes through untouched as a voice can be heard saying of Rittenhouse, “He shot them!”

Rittenhouse later returned to his home in Antioch, Illinois, where he was arrested on August 26. He has been charged with six crimes, including two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and three related weapons violations.

Rittenhouse was held in Illinois until a judge permitted his extradition to Wisconsin on October 30, where he will face trial. His bail was set at US$2 million.

The “hero” of Kenosha

As news of the shooting spread online, two camps quickly developed between those who called Rittenhouse a criminal and those who said he was justifiably acting in self-defense.

On August 27, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted of Rittenhouse, “I want him as my president.” The Tweet has since been deleted, but the sentiment that Rittenhouse is a conservative hero has only grown in the months since the shooting.

Pierce Bainbridge, the law firm representing Rittenhouse, maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing. The firm stated that Rittenhouse was responding to a business owner’s request for protection when he acquired a gun on August 25. The statement adds, “Kyle did nothing wrong. He exercised his God-given, Constitutional, common law and statutory law right to self-defense.”

On November 18, Rittenhouse was able to pay his bail after his cause became the focus of conservative fundraising. Among those who helped pay the bail was actor Ricky Schroder, who told The New York Post that his reason for doing so was because “It infuriated me to see an innocent 17-year-old young man being tried and found guilty before trial.”

A second civil war?

Not only have conservatives rallied to Rittenhouse’s cause, some have also labeled him a hero in a “war” with those they perceive to be damaging the country. The BLM movement, along with the Antifa activists who have joined the protests, have frequently been labeled as terrorists, including by Trump himself.

This suggestion that the United States is facing an internal war mirrors the views of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right group whose name refers to their collective anticipation for a second civil war. Those with this view believe that Rittenhouse is a soldier whose actions were justified, both as a defense of himself personally, as well as a defense of the nation.

Increasingly heated rhetoric is now commonplace in political discourse. The assertion that Democrats and protesters are “destroying America” is echoed by conservative commentators, celebrities and politicians. Likewise, there are those on the left who have accused Trump of destroying the country and democracy.

Now, with Trump continuing to push the unfounded claim that the election was stolen from him, there is evidence it could lead to more violence. After the election, threats of violence and even executions of leftists appeared on Parler, the social media alternative to Twitter that has become a haven for conservatives. One such threat was from an Arkansas police chief who has since stepped down.

The veneration of Rittenhouse has concerned many, leading some social media platforms to remove posts praising the teenager for violating their prohibitions against “glorifying violence.”

Yet, on November 21, House Representative Anthony Sabatini of Florida tweeted, “KYLE RITTENHOUSE FOR CONGRESS.” While the tweet received fierce criticism, it has also collected over 31,000 likes and has yet to be removed.

An elected official openly celebrating a vigilante who is currently facing trial for murder suggests to some that the political divisions in the US are at a breaking point and any hope for national reconciliation under the future administration of President-elect Joe Biden is not realistic.

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