Why Kyle Rittenhouse, Filmed Fleeing Armed Attackers, Was Charged With Murder

Right-wing commentators and legal experts have questioned why self-defense has not played more of a factor in the charges brought against the teenage boy accused of murdering two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Prosecutors have formally charged 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse with first-degree intentional homicide, first degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment in connection to the shootings which occurred on Tuesday.

Rittenhouse is accused of fatally shooting Anthony Huber and injuring one other moments after killing 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum while claiming to be protecting a parking lot with an armed militia group.

Rittenhouse faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree intentional homicide under Wisconsin law.

Rittenhouse, who traveled from his hometown in Antioch, Illinois, to attend the protests, is also charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by someone under the age of 18 after walking through the streets of Kenosha armed with a Smith & Wesson AR-15 style rifle.

How the Kenosha shootings unfolded

In the wake of the shootings, several videos appeared on social media showing the moments before, during and after the first shooting took place.

In one video, Rittenhouse is seen being chased into a parking lot by several people while still armed with his gun.

One man then fires a gun into the air from several feet away from the 17-year-old before several others shots are fired.

In another clip from a different angle, one man seen chasing Rittenhouse appears to lunge at the 17-year-old before the suspect fires at least four times.

A body, later identified as Rosenbaum, is then seen on the ground and is assisted by another male. Rittenhouse appears to make a call on a cellphone before fleeing.

It is unclear why the 17-year-old was being chased in the first place. The parking lot is reportedly around several blocks away from the area he previously claimed to be protecting with the other armed men.

Later on, Rittenhouse is filmed being chased by more people down a residential street. He is seen stumbling and falling to the ground.

One person appears to stomp on him on the ground, before the 17-year-old fires twice, hitting Huber in the stomach and another man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was carrying a handgun, in the arm.

Warning: The videos embedded below included distressing content.

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Warning: Graphic footage of the incident.
17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has been arrested by police for first-degree murder, he handed himself into police on Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/RHy7qLUdXZ

— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) August 26, 2020

At 23:19, Rittenhouse is seen in this YouTube livestream. He's being chased into a parking lot. While he is being pursued, an unknown gunman fires the first shot into the air. pic.twitter.com/BSD8rd6ARN

— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) August 27, 2020

The suspect then flees with his hands in the air towards a number of police vehicles down the street. Witnesses call out "he just shot them" to police. Officers do not attempt to detain the 17-year-old and are seen driving past him while he is openly carrying his rifle.

Making the case for self-defense

Right-wing media and conservatives have since attempted to justify the shooting, claiming the teenager was merely trying to protect himself based on the footage available.

"The prosecution against Kyle Rittenhouse is undoubtedly unjust. It is clear he acted in self-defense after being aggressively chased by violent anarchists, one carrying a pistol," tweeted businessman Michael Coudrey.

"They attacked him, and he unfortunately had to fire his weapon. He is now being charged with murder."

Evangelical radio host Erick Erickson added: "If the kid in Wisconsin was firing on people who were attacking him, he's not the bad guy."

Scott T. Parkinson, vice-president of government affairs for the Club for Growth, asked while tweeting a New York Times article about the shootings: "Why leave out the fact that 'Lunging man' threw a Molotov cocktail at Rittenhouse prior to 'First Shooting.'"

According to the criminal complaint, an eyewitness video shows Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse and throwing what was ultimately determined to be a plastic bag at the suspect, not an incendiary device.

"Rosenbaum appears to be unarmed for the duration of this video," the document adds.

In response to Parkinson's tweet, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bosuie noted: "I have been seeing this everywhere on here. It is an explicit argument that if someone is trying to stop you after you killed someone, you can continue shooting and killing in 'self-defense.'

Parkinson added: "Why leave out during the 2nd shooting, after Rittenhouse trips, he was jumped by several men, including another armed protester, attacked by a skateboard—prior to firing more shots?"

The man holding the skateboard was Rittenberg's alleged second victim Huber, who died after being shot in the chest.

Others have speculated that Huber was using the skateboard as a weapon against the 17-year-old. The criminal complaint against Rittenhouse states one video shows Huber with a skateboard in his right hand approaching Rittenhouse when he was on the ground and trying to grab the gun from Rittenhouse with his left hand before Rittenhouse fires.

Elsewhere, there have been calls for Fox News to fire host Tucker Carlson after he defended the actions of a teenager accused of murdering two people during Black Lives Matter protests.

"How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would? Everyone can see what was happening in Kenosha. It was getting crazier by the hour," Carlson said.

"He has gone in search of a fight."

Speaking to Newsweek, civil rights attorney Jason Flores-Williams said there are many other aspects that get taken into account with regards to self-defense laws in the U.S.

Flores-Williams argued that because Rittenhouse is white, it is more common to suggest that his actions were in self-defense because he is part of the "dominant white culture" in the U.S., but when Black people commit similar acts they are "part of the violent problem and then all animals."

When it comes to self-defense, he says, "There is no other area of law in the United States that is more informed by society, social views, the context of racism, who a person is, being able to empathize with that person, being able to understand that person has that person has an interior life and emotions and can experience trauma."

With regards to Rittenhouse, Flores-Williams said his earlier actions prior to the shootings must also be brought into consideration when deciding if he was acting in self-defense, rather than just in the immediate moments before the shootings.

"He gets in his car, he breaks the law by driving across state lines, which is a proactive act, and then goes to a protest armed with an AR15," he said. "So it's like he has gone in search of a fight."

Wisconsin's Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes described Rittenhouse in Thursday's press conference as a "vigilante" and "outside agitator," describing his actions as "completely horrifying."

"What do you think is going to happen if you have an agitated man with a long gun walking down the streets thinking that he's some sort of peacekeeper?" he said.

Defense attorney Lin Wood, who will be representing Rittenhouse, has already confirmed he will be arguing self-defense for his client.

"It's wrong. He's a 17-year-old boy. He was not there to create trouble, but he found himself with his life threatened and he had the right to protect himself with self-defense and now he finds himself accused of murder," he told CBS News.

"The line in the sand has been crossed. If Kyle cannot defend himself under the circumstances shown in videos, we are all at risk. Think about it," Wood further tweeted.

Discussing the argument, Flores-Williams said: "Attorneys have to do the best possible job they can for him [Rittenhouse]. "If self-defense is the way to do that, I'm not going to criticize anybody."

Newsweek reached out to the Kenosha County District Attorney for further comment regarding the charges but did not receive any at the time of reporting.

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Demonstrators revisit the site where a protester was killed on August 26, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. On August 25, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of killing two demonstrators. Brandon Bell/Getty