Kyle Rittenhouse Isn't a 'White Supremacist Terrorist,' But He Isn't a Hero, Either

AP Photo/Morry Gash

The story of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse is a case study in American polarization. Left-leaning journalists and politicians have villainized him as a “white supremacist” and a “terrorist,” while conservatives have praised him as a force for order against chaos. Ann Coulter said, “I want him as my president.”

The truth is far murkier than either side suggests.

So, what happened?

On Tuesday night, Rittenhouse left his home in Antioch, Ill., and traveled 15 miles to Kenosha. He told reporters on the ground that he intended to defend property from the violent rioters who engaged in looting and arson across Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He ended up shooting three people and killing two, and police arrested him on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide.

While many media outlets and commentators rushed to condemn Rittenhouse as a white supremacist and a murderer, a thorough investigation of videos from the scene suggests that when the 17-year-old boy opened fire, he did so in self-defense.

Rittenhouse, apparently inspired by some form of vigilante justice, should not have gone to Kenosha in the first place. However, it does seem he only shot the rioters in self-defense. Earlier in the night, the 17-year-old boy had provided medical assistance to rioters whom police hit with pepper spray. The New York Times analyzed Rittenhouse’s movements throughout the night and found that in both of the shootings, the boy was acting in self-defense.

The boy spoke with many journalists before the incidents, and said “he was protecting a local vehicle dealership together with several other armed men. He also offers medical assistance to protesters,” The Times‘s Christiaan Triebert tweeted.

The Times synchronized six livestreams, revealing that there were two separate shooting incidents, one and a half minutes apart, involving multiple gunmen.

At 11:19 p.m., rioters chase Rittenhouse into a parking lot. While the rioters pursue him, one throws something toward Rittenhouse and an unknown gunman fires the first shot into the air.

In the video, “Rittenhouse turns toward the sound of the gunfire as another pursuer lunges toward him. He then fires four times with his assault rifle, and appears to shoot the man in the head,” Triebert narrated. It appears Rittenhouse was not the first one to open fire, and he only pulled the trigger after getting pursued by an angry mob.

This shooting did not take place at the dealership Rittenhouse said he was protecting but rather at a separate dealership about four blocks away. Police had prevented the 17-year-old boy from returning to the original dealership.

Police identified the man shot in the head as Joseph Rosenbaum, a white registered sex-offender who taunted armed black civilians, saying, “shoot me, n***a.”

“While fleeing from the scene, Rittenhouse is again chased by several people. He trips and falls to the ground and fires four shots as three people rush him. One person appears to be hit in the chest, while another, who is carrying a handgun, is hit in the arm,” Triebert tweeted. This second shooting, like the first, appears to be a clear case of self-defense.

Even in this second altercation, the 17-year-old boy was not the only one firing a weapon. “At the same time, we hear at least 8 gunshots from farther away. Mr. Rittenhouse gets up and begins walking north from the scene, and 8 more gunshots are heard from closer range. It’s unclear who fired the other gunshots.”

Leon Wolf, an attorney and managing editor at The Blaze, summed up the insanity of charging Rittenhouse with first-degree murder.

“Rittenhouse was being chased by a group of angry adults who were throwing things at him, and he hears a nearby gunshot. For all he knows, the shot might have been intended for him. As Rittenhouse was looking around attempting to locate the source of the sound, Rosenbaum charged him,” Wolf wrote. “If you, as a prosecuting attorney, are aware of these facts and come away with the conclusion that a first-degree murder charge is warranted, then you need to turn in your law license. Putting aside Rittenhouse’s clearly viable claim to self-defense, the facts of the case simply don’t fit that charge.”

Armed Civilian Tried to Stop Rioters From Destroying a Kenosha Business. Now He’s Been Arrested

A white supremacist terrorist?

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) described Kyle Rittenhouse as a “17 year old white supremacist domestic terrorist,” claiming he “shot and killed 2 people who had assembled to affirm the value, dignity, and worth of Black lives.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) retweeted the accusation.

AOC likes Ayanna Pressley tweet calling Kyle Rittenhouse a "white supremacist"
Twitter screenshot

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that “Innocent people, who had nothing to do with the police shooting in Wisconsin, are being targeted and terrorized by arsonists, vandals, looters, and rioters,” CNN host Ana Navarro-Cardenas responded with, “Marco, let me fix this for you: Innocent people, who had nothing to do with the police shooting in Wisconsin, are being targeted and terrorized AND MURDERED by white supremacist teen-agers with big-a** guns.”

There is no evidence that Kyle Rittenhouse was a white supremacist, however.

Triebert noted that the 17-year-old boy’s “social media profiles proclaim support for pro-police causes like the Blue Lives Matter movement and Humanize the Badge. Other posts show him taking backyard target practice, posing with guns and assembling a military-style semi-automatic rifle.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told CBS News that it found “no indication from Rittenhouse’s social media footprint that he is connected to any extremist movements.”

Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) fired his aide Arthur “Mac” Love IV over tweets claiming that Rittenhouse shot in self-defense. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott praised the firing, saying, “You can’t have someone working in state government who is supporting a terrorist, who shot and killed people because they were protesting.”

Rittenhouse did not shoot and kill people “because they were protesting.” The rioters had looted and burned down businesses across Kenosha. But it was not the 17-year-old boy’s place to be restoring order, either.

Not a hero

Ann Coulter exaggerated a common sentiment on the Right. Partly because the Left went off the deep end in condemning Rittenhouse, some conservatives overreacted, hailing him as a hero. Yet as a minor, the teen may have violated the law by carrying a firearm openly. While the first-degree intentional homicide charge is almost certainly overblown, it remains to be seen whether Rittenhouse’s shootings may be justified.

In any case, Rittenhouse decided to enter the hellscape of the Kenosha riots ostensibly to save endangered property. While restoring law and order may be a noble goal, he appears to have acted mostly alone. I can sympathize with his spirit and I respect his bravery, but this course of action was extremely unwise for a minor such as himself.

Kyle Rittenhouse is demonized far more than he deserves, and that is a serious problem. But conservatives should hesitate to lionize him. Teens should not go looking for trouble in these circumstances, especially if they are likely to end up on their own.

Many questions about Rittenhouse’s actions remain unanswered, and both conservatives and liberals should refrain from rushing to judgment.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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