The Kyle Rittenhouse Trial
The highly charged criminal trial of a young man accused of two homicides will have resounding implications for the doctrine of self-defense.
In another place and time, Kyle Rittenhouse wouldn’t be on trial. Instead, he’d be back in school like any other 18-year-old. Or in college, or working at his job. And he’d be hailed as a hero — as an American kid who took up arms on behalf of a desperate community, and took a stand against anarchy, mayhem, and wanton destruction of private property.
Today, though, Rittenhouse is on trial for his life in a Kenosha, Wisconsin, courtroom. He’s charged with six crimes related to the events of August 25, 2020, the third night of a Black Lives Matter protest-turned-riot that had already wrecked the city and its downtown businesses.
Those crimes? First-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, and misdemeanor possession of a weapon by a person under age 18. Cumulatively, they’re more than enough to put him away for life.
The trial is a litmus test for a deeply divided nation, and its outcome will have a monumental impact on those who believe they’re free to riot and destroy private property, and those who believe they have a right to protect that property and, if necessary, to defend themselves with deadly force.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, was an aspiring law enforcement officer. He was a lifeguard, had trained in advanced life support, and had done hundreds of hours of volunteer work in the Antioch community. In Kenosha, he carried an AR-style rifle and a first aid kit. Earlier that day, he’d helped remove graffiti from the walls of a local high school, and he’d befriended a local businessman, a car dealer desperate for help defending his property against the rioters.
Did Rittenhouse make a mistake by getting involved in the unrest of Kenosha, the town where the criminal Jacob Blake had disobeyed a policeman’s lawful order and reached for a knife, thereby forcing that cop to shoot him multiple times in self-defense? Yes. And he’d probably agree were he asked that question. Did he make a mistake by brandishing a semiautomatic rifle as a 17-year-old? Yes. But when he shot those three attackers, did he believe that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm? For those who understand the facts of the case, it’s all but impossible to argue otherwise.
Rittenhouse crossed the border from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, which is about 20 miles away. He brought with him an AR-style weapon — a weapon that a friend had bought for him because, as a 17-year-old, Rittenhouse wasn’t legally allowed to own it or carry it in public.
It’s difficult to appreciate the charged and chaotic environment that Rittenhouse found himself in that night, but this 11-minute video, which was produced by his defense attorney from available footage that night, gives us a sense of it. It also tells a more complete story of the two separate deadly altercations than the brief, cherry-picked footage of the mainstream media reports. This 23-minute video, compiled by The Washington Post, provides plenty of additional background into the lives of Rittenhouse and one of the two men he killed. Both videos contain graphic language and footage.
Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, had been released earlier that day, August 25, from a psychiatric hospital in nearby Milwaukee. Rosenbaum had engaged in arson and rioting that evening, and he might’ve mistaken Rittenhouse for a guard who’d earlier put out one of his dumpster fires with a fire extinguisher. The deeply troubled Rosenbaum’s drug abuse and his multiple prior convictions — which included sexual misconduct with a minor and crimes against children — have no bearing on the case. But his pursuit of Rittenhouse and his threats to kill him most definitely do.
Just before midnight, Rittenhouse was being chased by a maniacal Rosenbaum across a parking lot when he heard gunshots nearby. Fearing he himself may have been under fire, Rittenhouse spun to face Rosenbaum and fired four shots at him as he reached for the barrel of his weapon. One of those shots was fatal.
Shortly thereafter, as a frightened Rittenhouse was trying to make his way out of the area, a group of Rosenbaum’s fellow rioters began chasing him. Rittenhouse, running down the middle of the street, tripped and fell, and was quickly set upon by the mob. First, an unidentified man — the luckiest man in Kenosha — attempted a flying kick at Rittenhouse’s head. Rittenhouse fired his weapon at the man but missed, and the man ran away. Then came Anthony Huber, 26, whose priors include domestic abuse, use of a dangerous weapon, battery, strangulation and suffocation, and 2nd-degree reckless endangerment. Huber swung his skateboard edgewise at Rittenhouse’s head while he was still down on the ground. Rittenhouse fired once, hitting Huber with a fatal shot to the chest. And then came Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, who had a phone in one hand and a pistol in the other. He appeared to put his hands up as if surrendering, then he lunged at Rittenhouse, who fired one shot, hitting Grosskreutz in the right biceps. Grosskreutz told a friend later that his “only regret was not killing the kid and hesitating to pull the gun before emptying the entire mag into him.”
Rittenhouse, having defended himself against his attackers, then got up and continued his retreat, eventually making his way to a police line to surrender. The Kenosha cops, though, were not aware of his involvement in what had taken place, told Rittenhouse to keep away, and he eventually returned home and turned himself in to Antioch police. He’s since been called a far-right radical, a vigilante, a militia member, and a white supremacist by the mainstream media. There’s no proof of any of that — indeed, there’s a conspicuous absence of it.
Were Rittenhouse’s actions reckless? Probably so. The situation in which he put himself quickly overwhelmed him. But did he act reasonably in self-defense when a man who’d threatened to kill him kept pursuing him, even as shots were being fired nearby? And did he act reasonably in self-defense when one man tried to take his head off with a skateboard and grab his weapon, and when another man, brandishing a pistol, also tried to take his rifle? Those are the questions that will determine the course of Rittenhouse’s life.
Prominent Colorado attorney and author Andrew Branca believes Rittenhouse should be acquitted based on the facts. Then again, he noted that the high-profile case is not entirely predictable, adding, “Innocent people get convicted all the time.”
As the Associated Press reported, “Rittenhouse’s motives for being in Kenosha are irrelevant to whether he had a legal right to shoot when threatened, some legal experts say. What matters is what happened in the minutes surrounding the shooting.”
Of Rittenhouse’s decision to go to the rioting area to help business owners, Branca put it this way: “If I had a 17-year-old-son, I would not encourage him to engage in this kind of behavior. But poor judgment is not a crime.” He noted that the defendant has a “strong case for self-defense.”
As jury selection got underway last week, presiding Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder stressed repeatedly that jurors must decide the case solely on the facts, solely on what they hear in the courtroom, and he cautioned: “This is not a political trial.”
No, it’s not a political trial. But it might just as well be. The gun-grabbing Left wants to send a message, and they want 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse’s scalp. Regardless of the outcome, though, the verdict will be of monumental importance to the doctrine of self-defense, and monumental importance to the essential and time-honored belief that an American citizen may use deadly force when he believes his life is in danger.
UPDATED: An earlier version of this story reported that Kyle Rittenhouse carried his weapon across state lines. He didn’t. The weapon belonged to a friend who is a Wisconsin resident. We deeply regret the error.
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