Kyle Rittenhouse’s far-right defenders say he is not a murderer but a hero. The prosecutor says the protesters who tried to disarm him were the real heroes.
Update: November 19, 2021
The jury in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse returned not guilty verdicts on all counts on Friday.
The twelve jurors who will decide Kyle Rittenhouse’s fate began their deliberations on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the teenage vigilante, armed with a semiautomatic rifle, shot and killed two men, and wounded a third, during a Black Lives Matter protest last year.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, is accused of murdering first Joseph Rosenbaum, a volatile presence at the protest who chased the heavily armed teen for reasons that remain unclear, and then Anthony Huber, one of three protesters who tried to disarm the gunman as he fled the scene.
Rittenhouse faces additional charges for shooting at the other two men who tried to subdue him just over a minute after he fired four full metal jacket bullets into Rosenbaum’s body. He is accused of endangering the safety of an unidentified protester who tried to kick him, by firing two shots that missed the man, and of the attempted murder of Gaige Grosskreutz, a protest medic whose right arm was torn apart by a shot fired from point-blank range as he advanced on the teen gunman.
Guided by 36 pages of dizzying instructions from the judge, the jurors will decide if Rittenhouse bears criminal responsibility for shooting at those four protesters (and endangering the safety of a fifth man, a Daily Caller journalist who was standing behind Rosenbaum) or if the teen had a legal right to self-defense each of the eight times he pulled the trigger.
If the haziness of some key video evidence, and of Wisconsin’s self-defense statute, might make it hard for the jurors to decide whether or not Rittenhouse had the right to use deadly force against Rosenbaum, their task is much more clear-cut when it comes to the subsequent shots Rittenhouse fired that killed Huber, wounded Grosskreutz, and narrowly missed the unnamed protester referred to as “Jump Kick Man.”
Those three men were either, as the lead prosecutor in the case, Thomas Binger, argued in his closing, “heroes” who risked their lives to disarm a gunman who had just killed an unarmed man, or, as defense attorney Mark Richards countered, “rioters” who posed an imminent threat to Rittenhouse’s life.
“I want you to keep in mind that we’ve all read stories and heard about heroes that step in to stop an active shooter, or to give their life to save others,” Binger told the jury. “When you think about the defendant’s behavior in this case, contrast it with Anthony Huber, a man who was there because he knew Jacob Blake, who carried his skateboard everywhere, and who rushed towards danger to save other people’s lives.”
“When a bank robber robs a bank and runs away and the crowd comes after him, can he just shoot anybody and claim self-defense?” Binger asked. “In this case, the crowd was right. The crowd knew the defendant had just shot someone.”
“That crowd was full of heroes,” the prosecutor added. “And that crowd did something that honestly I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to do. If I see a guy running up the street with an AR-15 and I hear he just shot somebody, my first instinct is not to approach. Anthony Huber was different. Jump Kick Man was different. Gaige Grosskreutz was different. That doesn’t make them a threat to the defendant’s life. It doesn’t make their lives worthless. They don’t give up their right to defend themselves.”
This praise for the men who tried to stop Rittenhouse before he could kill again contrasted sharply with how they have been vilified in the far-right media, starting just hours after the shootings, as “BLM rioters” guilty of “assault.”
In his closing argument for the defense, Richards channeled more than a year of attacks on the characters of those men, by describing each of them as part of a violent mob of rioters who attacked his client.
First, Richards showed footage of the unidentified Black man who tried to kick Rittenhouse after he killed Rosenbaum close to (but not starting) a dumpster fire earlier in the evening. Then Richards claimed, incorrectly, that there was no evidence that this man “observed or knew about the confrontation between Rosenbaum and Rittenhouse.”
In fact, as Assistant District Attorney James Kraus demonstrated in the prosecution’s rebuttal, drone video shows that the man referred to as Jump Kick Man was standing at the edge of the car lot where Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum when the shots were fired. Then, after helping a man in a wheelchair away from the scene, he was seen in a separate livestream returning to the scene of the edge of the lot just seconds before Rittenhouse ran past him. (Another clip that was not introduced as evidence, recorded by a Daily Caller journalist that night, showed the man first watch Rittenhouse leave the lot, and then, after people shouted that he was the shooter, start to sprint after him.)
Richards then tried to malign the character of Rittenhouse’s second victim, Anthony Huber, by showing the jury a slide that characterized him as “rioter,” seen “pointing middle finger at police,” along with a video still of Huber supposedly “assisting Rosenbaum” during an angry confrontation at a gas station between protesters and other members of the militia Rittenhouse joined.
But video of that incident recorded by two right-wing journalists showed that Huber was not “assisting” Rosenbaum in some violent act; he was, instead, one of several protesters who took turns holding the volatile man back from the militiamen in order to deescalate a tense situation.
Finally, Richards turned to Grosskreutz, describing him as “an affiliate of People’s Revolution,” as if belonging to a Milwaukee social justice group that calls for police reform was inherently suspicious. Richards then claimed that Grosskreutz, who was armed with a handgun, had advanced toward Rittenhouse “while pointing his gun at Rittenhouse’s head” when Rittenhouse fired at him. According to Richards, Grosskreutz, who had just watched Rittenhouse shoot and kill Huber directly in front of him, faked surrender and then stepped forward suddenly because he intended to shoot the teen. Grosskreutz, Richards said, “decides he’s going to take him out” and stepped in close to Rittenhouse from a few feet away not because, as the prosecutor had suggested, he was hoping to swipe the rifle away, but “to finish the job” by shooting Rittenhouse in the head. To demonstrate what happened to the jury, Richards acted out the position he claimed Grosskreutz adopted as he moved in on Rittenhouse, leading with his right arm extended as if pointing the gun at Rittenhouse.
But the visual evidence suggests otherwise. First, as Binger had pointed out in his closing argument, if Grosskreutz had wanted to shoot Rittenhouse, he could have just done so from a few feet away, either while the teen was shooting Huber or just after. In fact, the exact point at which Richards paused the video of Rittenhouse shooting Huber as he showed it to the jury demonstrated clearly that Grosskreutz had a clear shot at Rittenhouse at that moment, which he chose not to take.
Instead of shooting Rittenhouse from a safe distance, Grosskreutz chose to step not directly at the gunman but just to his right. Binger, the prosecutor, took the jury through video of this confrontation, which lasted barely two seconds, frame by frame, and showed that Grosskreutz did not, as Richards claimed, lead with his right hand, in which he was holding the pistol, and was not pointing the gun at Rittenhouse as he moved closer to him. “What action does Mr. Grosskreutz take?” Binger asked the jury as he showed the video. “Does he hold that gun with both hands, the Glock that he’s got, and point it at the defendant? No, never. Does he even take the gun with one hand and point it? No, never. Instead, you can see him start to lunge in with his left arm forward. The gun is not in this hand. The gun is in his right hand. He’s lunging forward reaching for the defendant, probably reaching for the gun, probably trying to block the gun.”
While Grosskreutz agreed earlier in the trial that a video still taken as Rittenhouse raised his rifle and shot him appeared to show his gun pointed at the teen, Binger argued in his closing that the pistol was not pointed at Rittenhouse until the bullet severed Grosskreutz’s right bicep, and his hand dropped down as a result.
While most of the images of these shootings shown to the jury were taken from video shot by the freelance journalist Brendan Gutenschwager, a Turkish photojournalist, Tayfun Coskun, also captured the incident in still photographs taken from the opposite side of the street. In one of Coskun’s photographs, which appears to have been taken a split-second after Rittenhouse shot Grosskreutz in the arm, the protester’s gun was visible, pointing away from Rittenhouse at that moment.
Additional photographs of the confrontation between the protesters and Rittenhouse posted on Twitter last week by Coskun also appear to show that Grosskreutz was not pointing the pistol at Rittenhouse as he started forward, as Richards had claimed in his demonstration for the jury.
Rittenhouse has been hailed as a hero by the far right, in the United States and abroad, for more than a year in large part because the clearest, most viral video of the shootings that night showed him firing at the three men who chased and tried to disarm him.
I doubted this was real, but it is: Bulgarian soccer hooligans displayed a banner praising Kyle Rittenhouse during a Sept. 20 match at CSKA Sofia's stadium, as documented on Facebook and YouTube by the Sector G ultras grouphttps://t.co/T9Dt8eH74Bhttps://t.co/U9FI6pIldS pic.twitter.com/YLWbJHr5xQ— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) September 27, 2020
By focusing on video of that second incident, without explaining to viewers that it came just seconds after the gunman had killed someone, far-right outlets rushed to the judgment that Rittenhouse had been merely defending himself from racial justice protesters those same outlets had already spent months demonizing as violent through deeply misleading coverage.
“100% justified self defense. Do not try to take a weapon away from a man or bear the consequences,” the Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted the day after the shootings. “They very violently attacked him,” then-President Donald Trump told reporters five days later. Based on “the tape,” of protesters chasing Rittenhouse, Trump said, it was clear to him that “he probably would’ve been killed” had he not shot at them.
Because the idea that Rittenhouse acted heroically is so unquestioned in the far-right media bubble, the prosecutor’s argument that the real heroes were the three protesters he shot at after killing Rosenbaum stunned right-wing commentators on social networks and cable news channels.
Prosecution seriously arguing that Anthony Huber, who smashed Kyle Rittenhouse in the head with a skateboard as he was trying to flee, was some kind of hero trying to save lives— Joel Pollak (@joelpollak) November 15, 2021
Why has this hero, “Jump-kick man”, as the court calls him, who took a running leap and kicked Rittenhouse in the face, never been charged? In this picture you see Anthony Huber running up about to bash the fallen Rittenhouse in the head with his skateboard,after which he is shot pic.twitter.com/8E0bATn7RF— Miranda Devine (@mirandadevine) November 15, 2021
Rather than attempt to rebut the prosecutor’s argument, Tucker Carlson, who was among Rittenhouse’s earliest and most vocal apologists, chose to lie about it instead. Carlson told his viewers, falsely, that Binger had “referred to the mob that was torching downtown Kenosha last year as a, and we’re quoting, ‘a crowd full of heroes.'” As he distorted Binger’s comment about the crowd that had chased down Rittenhouse after he shot and killed someone to make it seem as if he had instead praised arsonists, Carlson showed video of a fire burning in the city that was actually recorded two nights before Kyle Rittenhouse took to the streets of Kenosha with his rifle.
Correction: November 17, 2021, 8:25 p.m. EST
This article was updated to clarify that the Turkish photojournalist Tayfun Coskun’s photograph of Gaige Grosskreutz beside Kyle Rittenhouse was probably taken just after Rittenhouse shot Grosskreutz in the right arm, not just before, as the article initially suggested.