Kyle Rittenhouse Trial Starts Today, Likely to Be Polarizing for Americans

More than a year after the chaos that erupted amid the Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse is set to begin his murder trial on Monday.

Rittenhouse is accused of traveling from his hometown in Antioch and meeting up with armed militia groups, who were already in the Wisconsin city claiming they were protecting businesses from "antifa" and other left-wing demonstrators following two nights of disorder.

The then 17-year-old arrived with a medical kit, and was filmed stating he was there to assist the injured.

"If there's somebody hurt, I'm running into harm's way," he said in a video released by his former attorney Lin Wood in September 2020.

Rittenhouse was also in possession of an AR-style semi automatic rifle, which he used to shoot and kill Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, as well as injure Gaide Grosskreutz.

Footage that was widely shared following the shootings in August 25 shows Rittenhouse firing at Rosenbaum while being chased by a group of men through the streets, with another protester firing his gun in the air during the pursuit.

Rittenhouse turned after hearing the gunshot and fired at least four times, hitting Rosenbaum as he lunged toward him.

Following the shooting, Rittenhouse was later chased down another street by more angry protesters. After falling to the ground, Rittenhouse shoots at Huber as he attempts to hit him with a skateboard as well as firing at Grosskreutz. Both Huber and Rosenbaum later died from their injuries.

Ever since his arrest, Rittenhouse has been embraced by conservative and pro-gun figures hoping to push their own agendas, arguing he is patriotic hero and was acting in self-defense when he fired his gun during the protests.

Released From Custody

He was released from custody on a $2 million bond last November following a successful fundraising campaign promoted by popular right-wing figures, with "free Kyle" merchandise also spotted at Donald Trump rallies and demonstrations from far-right groups such as the Proud Boys.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger has suggested that Rittenhouse didn't travel 20 miles across state lines to attend the BLM protests in order to protect the city, but instead was a "chaos tourist" and "teenage vigilante" who came to Kenosha looking for trouble.

Others have argued the shooting was the culmination of political division in the country following months of Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, as well the embracing of far-right groups under then-president Trump.

"It's another battle in what has become the central story of our time — the culture wars," John Baick, who teaches modern American history at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, told the Associated Press.

"We have to link in January 6," he said. "We have to link in military groups across the country, anti-mask protests, school board protests. Whether it's Kenosha, or Minneapolis, or the entire state of Florida, these debates over the role of government, the role of law and order — these are deeply unsettled in America right now in a way they haven't been since the 1960s."

Case Will Focus on Self Defense

Rittenhouse's defense team has dismissed all suggestions that race or far-right extremism had anything to do with what led up to the shootings last August and will focus their case around self defense.

Last October, Wood said he planned to sue Joe Biden as he linked Rittenhouse to Trump's refusal to "disavow white supremacists" after using his image in a video he tweeted during his presidential campaign.

"To say that Kyle is a white supremacist and militia member who was responsible for the violence in Kenosha is a lie. That lie prejudices Kyle's constitutional right to a fair trial and damages his reputation," Wood, who later became an influential figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory movement and pusher of the view that Trump won the last election, previously told Newsweek.

While right-wing militia groups were found to have actively encouraged violence at the Kenosha protest, Facebook said it found no evidence that Rittenhouse followed or was invited to any of those pages.

In September 2021, a judge also ruled prosecutors can't link Rittenhouse to the Proud Boys during the trial. The 18-year-old was seen drinking with members of the far-right group at a bar in Wisconsin soon after he pleaded not guilty to the charges against him on January 5.

The Law on Self Defense

Even if the prosecution can't attempt to argue Rittenhouse's motives were motivated by extremism, civil rights attorney Jason Flores-Williams previously told Newsweek that with regard to self defense, there is no other law in the U.S. which is "more informed by society, social views, the context of racism, [or] who a person is." Flores-Williams also argued that the case against the 18-year-old would be very different if he were Black.

Michael O'Hear, a law professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, told The New York Times: "The jury is going to be given this open-ended question to answer: Did Rittenhouse behave reasonably or not?"

"The answer could be highly dependent on who the jurors are, especially in a case like this that has such political undertones."

The trial is expected to last around two to three weeks, The Times said, with jury selection beginning on Monday.

Rittenhouse is facing a number of charges, including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. He also faces a misdemeanor count of being a minor in possession of a firearm.

He faces life in prison if found guilty.

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Kyle Rittenhouse and other volunteers clean graffiti from a high school near the Kenosha County Courthouse following another night of unrest on August 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Scott Olson/Getty Images