Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Some On The Right See 17-Year-Old Charged With Killing 2 Kenosha Protesters As Hero

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., goes before a judge tomorrow for a preliminary hearing. Rittenhouse has become a hero to some on the right. Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio reports on those pushing that narrative.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: After Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back multiple times, the city erupted into protest. On August 25, Kyle Rittenhouse made the 20-mile trip to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Ill. Rittenhouse, a lifeguard and a vocal supporter of police, said he was there to protect a local business and offer medical help if needed. He walked through the crowds that night with an AR-15 rifle strapped to his chest.

What happened that night is disputed and will eventually be hashed out in court, but a full-scale public relations blitz is underway by some of Rittenhouse's supporters. A group called the #FightBack Foundation released a dramatic video compilation of cellphone footage from the night of the shootings. It claims Rittenhouse fired his gun only after being chased and attacked. The narrator speaks of Rittenhouse being sacrificed by politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But it's not Kyle Rittenhouse they're after. Their endgame is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities, our personal property, our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

JOHNSON: Rittenhouse's cause got the attention of conservative media figures. Here's former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

PAM BONDI: What's it coming to in these liberal cities when teenagers have to go out there to try to provide aid?

JOHNSON: The #FightBack Foundation says it's raised almost $2 million for Rittenhouse. The group's chairman is Lin Wood, a prominent attorney who made a name for himself representing Richard Jewell in the 1996 Olympic bombing case. Longtime Wisconsin defense lawyer Dean Strang, who is not involved in this case, says the teen's attorneys may well argue self-defense.

DEAN STRANG: But it has nothing to do, in the first instance, with being a hero. It has everything to do with whether you'll be held responsible for killing other people or you won't.

JOHNSON: Kyle Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and first-degree intentional homicide in the death of 26-year-old Anthony Huber. Huber's surviving partner Hannah Gittings is among a group of plaintiffs who, this week, filed a civil lawsuit against Rittenhouse and a Kenosha militia group. In a YouTube clip, she talks about Huber.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HANNAH GITTINGS: He did not deserve that. He was a good human being.

JOHNSON: The plaintiffs are also suing Facebook for publicizing the militia group's call to arms. John Pierce is Rittenhouse's lead attorney. He told the conservative news site Breitbart that his client had a God-given right to be in the city that night.

JOHN PIERCE: But I will tell you - and there's no doubt about this - that if every law-abiding American showed up in the city that they love with an AR-15, the chaos would stop immediately.

JOHNSON: Aside from the Rittenhouse case, it does appear more people are embracing violence as a solution in 2020. University of Arizona sociology professor Jennifer Carlson researches gun politics. She says she's noticed a difference this year. Rather than solving problems at the ballot box, she says some are reaching for a box of bullets.

JENNIFER CARLSON: People are beginning to really think that we have reached the point of no return with regard to violence. And whether we have or not, if people believe that we have, that is very troubling.

JOHNSON: Kyle Rittenhouse is in custody in Lake County, Ill. Tomorrow's court hearing there will focus on whether he can be extradited to Wisconsin.

For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEANE SONG, "ATLANTIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.