Skip to main content

Kyle Rittenhouse

The teenage gunman who walked free

If I’d been a jury member in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, “I might also have acquitted” him, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. In a case that has gripped America, the fresh-faced teenager was charged with shooting dead two men and injuring a third during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year. Rittenhouse, then 17, had travelled to the city to “protect” property with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. When one man chased and tried to disarm him, he shot him dead. Another man then attacked him with a skateboard, so he killed him too. And when a third man pointed a handgun at him, he fired again, this time non-fatally. Rittenhouse obviously shouldn’t have inserted himself, armed, into such a volatile situation. But under Wisconsin’s laws, he had a right to self-defence if he felt his life was in danger.

Less understandable is the way Rittenhouse “has been embraced by the right as a hero”, says Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Within days of the verdict he had a much-hyped interview with Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and a sit-down with Donald Trump. Conservative pundits have called him an “all-American” who was just “trying to protect his community”, and several Republican lawmakers have offered him an internship. What sort of message do they think this sends out? Conservatives are basically encouraging “more deluded right-wingers [to] show up to protests, armed and looking for trouble”.

But the left hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory, says National Review. President Biden and other Democrats baselessly described Rittenhouse as a “white supremacist”. Journalists “demonised” the judge, even though he is “a Democrat with decades of experience on the bench”. Someone working for the news channel MSNBC has been accused of “following the bus carrying the jurors”. After all that, it’s a miracle jury members didn’t “crack under the pressure”.

The Rittenhouse trial wasn’t the only highly charged self-defence case in the US this week, says Helen Lewis in her newsletter, The Bluestocking. In Georgia, three white men were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a black man they shot and killed while trying, they claimed, to conduct a “citizen’s arrest”. Both cases highlight the horrifying “way that racism and ‘gun rights’ interact”. Would Rittenhouse have been able to open-carry a rifle during a riot if he were black? Had three black men shot dead a white man in Georgia, would the police have just taken statements and let them go, as they did with Arbery’s killers? The Second Amendment states that a “well regulated militia” has the right to bear arms. “The last week has made it clear that, in law and practice, there’s an implicit ‘white’ before that militia.”

Get The Knowledge in your inbox

We cut through the noise to give you the news you need – in just five minutes a day. Sign up for our free daily newsletter here.