Rittenhouse Is Acquitted, People Still Can't Get Basic Facts Of His Case Right
As I’m sure you already know, this past Friday Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all five of the charges brought against him. While the verdict came as little surprise to anyone familiar with the facts of the case or who watched the trial, the length of the jury deliberations led some (myself included) to wonder if the jury would come back with either a split verdict or as a hung jury. As I wrote at the end of the testimony portion of the trial I wasn’t sure the jury would see Rittenhouse’s shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum as self-defense under Wisconsin law, and as deliberations stretched through the week I thought the possibility of a split verdict was fairly high. But as veteran defense attorney Lara Yeretsian explains:
“If you’ve got them convinced of self-defense, if you’ve got them to believe that everything he did was to defend his life and his life was at risk, that if he wouldn’t have shot those men he’d be dead himself – that’s it
“‘As far as his testimony goes, the jurors clearly found him credible, and that in itself is huge,’ she said. "If you believe him when he says self-defense, then you have to acquit him.’”
The case hinged on the prosecution having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse did not act in self-defense when he shot Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz. That’s it. Not who belonged where, or had what weapon, or who crossed state lines. The jury, or at least enough members of it, believed that Rittenhouse could have been acting in self-defense, so they found him not guilty.
Facts are not very good for selling a specific narrative, however. In my previous post criticizing how the media has framed and covered this story, I pointed out that most of the information shared during the trial was information anyone could have had prior if they were interested in having it. Nothing that was mentioned during the trial, such as when Rittenhouse took possession of the gun, the amount of family he has in Kenosha, the fact that his mother lives one mile away from the state line, or how he came to be in Kenosha on the night of August 25th, 2020 was unknown before the trial.
And yet, even after the conclusion of a trial that was broadcast live from beginning to end, certain false narratives persist
Here is Representative Jerry Nadler, who has called on the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the Rittenhouse case, repeating the false narrative the Rittenhouse crossed state lines with the gun.
The narrative that Rittenhouse was an outsider in Kenosha breaking curfew to incite violence has proven to be very sticky as well
Then some seem to think Jacob Blake did not survive his altercation with the Kenosha police
Blake is still among the living, albeit paralyzed after being shot seven times, a widely reported fact that anyone writing a prepared statement or writing a story could have checked before publication.
Out of all the easily disproven false narratives that have emerged from the Rittenhouse story, the one that surprises me the most is that the men Rittenhouse shot were black
Lest I be accused of nutpicking, this narrative has been believed and promoted by news outlets across the globe
There is this, from The Guardian
Here is News 12, a major Israeli news outlet, reporting that Rittenhouse killed two black men
Glenn Greenwald reports much the same from Brazil
It’s a bit hard to argue with Greenwald that the US media cultivated this narrative when MSNBC runs subheadlines like this
The misunderstanding can be easily explained — if the narrative you heard was “white kid shoots three men at a Black Lives Matter rally, killing two”, would you not assume the men who were shot were black? Especially if the discussion around the shootings focused solely on race and white privilege? And news outlets placed pieces published about the case under their “racial injustice” subcategory?
The obvious question after the Rittenhouse trial is how could so many people be so wrong about the basic facts of a case they claim to care deeply about? How could it be that one group of people doesn’t merely have its own opinions but its own alternate set of facts?
If you have never read Julian Sanchez’s thread on the concept of epistemic closure, stop reading this and go read it. The shorthand version is this; epistemic closure isn’t being stuck in an echo chamber or bubble where certain information is never shared, it is being exposed to information that contradicts one’s worldview but having mental guardrails in place to account for this “bad” information and frame anyone giving it to you as suspect. Sanchez explores this in regards to Trump supporters being given unflattering information about him but the concept holds up in this circumstance as well — anyone speaking to the facts in the Rittenhouse case is treated at best as someone who supports Rittenhouse, at worst as someone who is a foot soldier of white supremacy and fascism who cannot be trusted. Once those labels have been placed on someone they can be disregarded as a source of information, much like how Trump supporters wave off criticism as “fake news” or as coming from “the Deep State.”
It didn’t help that the majority of mainstream media outlets, members of Congress, then-candidate Joe Biden, and commentators with massive platforms were happy to lend a hand in creating the false narratives around Rittenhouse and the events that took place. I’d suggest bookmarking Drew Holden’s Twitter thread detailing how Rittenhouse was found guilty by the press and commentators before his trial even started. Thanks to their efforts, we have thousands of people flooding social media with commentary on the trial and the verdict based on lies that were told to them and are still being told.
In his thread, Sanchez mentions one of the worst parts of epistemic closure — nobody has devised a way to break through that wall. Even in a situation like this, with video footage of the shootings and a timeline of events published in the New York Times, thousands of people have decided they would rather believe a narrative that fits their prior assumptions about what happened. It is easier to believe that Rittenhouse is a monster who gamed the white supremacy system to avoid jail time for his cold-blooded murder of peaceful protesters than to admit the people you trusted lied to you in order to push an agenda.
The key driver of false narratives and alternate facts is an audience who wants to believe them. Until someone can figure out a way to solve that, nothing is going to change.
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