Thoughts On The Rittenhouse Trial
The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the man accused of killing two people and injuring one during the riots in Kenosha last year, is currently taking place. As of this writing, the testimony portion of the trial is complete with closing arguments set for Monday.
To say this trial has been controversial would be an understatement — conservatives are pointing to the very existence of this trial as an example of the criminal justice system gone amok, while progressives are accusing the judge of being biased in favor of Rittenhouse and that this trial is an example of the perniciousness of white supremacy. This piece won’t be a roundup of online reaction thus far to the case — there will be plenty of time for that once the verdict is handed down — but instead a collection of my thoughts on the original situation, the trial, and the media coverage of both.
If you are a bit fuzzy on the details of the shootings and the circumstances surrounding them, Isaac Saul has a fantastic rundown for his newsletter, Tangle, which will bring you up to speed.
The very condensed version -- Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in relation to the events of August 25th 2020, in which Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, injuring Gaige Grosskreutz. He has claimed he shot all three men out of self-defense, and Rittenhouse has a solid case for that claim:
“While patrolling the streets, Rittenhouse was confronted first by Joseph Rosenbaum, a 36-year-old who had spent most of his adult life in prison for sexually assaulting children, and had been released from a Milwaukee mental hospital that day after attempting suicide. Rittenhouse testified that in his first interaction with Rosenbaum, the man threatened Rittenhouse's life. Later that night, Rittenhouse and Rosenbaum had a second confrontation in the parking lot of a car dealership, surrounded by demonstrators and militia members.
Rosenbaum was carrying a plastic bag the hospital had given him, which contained deodorant, underwear, and socks. Rosenbaum threw the bag at Rittenhouse, and then charged him. Rittenhouse testified that Rosenbaum tried to grab his gun, and Rittenhouse then fired, hitting Rosenbaum in the back and groin, and then the head. Immediately after the shots were fired, Rittenhouse began jogging away from the scene. Protesters surrounded Rosenbaum, trying to stop the bleeding. Rittenhouse was seen in a video on his cell phone, telling a friend "I just killed somebody." Rosenbaum died from his wounds. “Get his ass!” someone yelled as Rittenhouse fled.
As Rittenhouse ran past Grosskreutz, he stumbled and fell. One man tried to deliver a flying kick to Rittenhouse but missed. Rittenhouse, now on the ground, fired at the man but missed. Then Huber approached, swung his skateboard at Rittenhouse and tried to grab his rifle. Rittenhouse fired again, hitting Huber in the chest. Finally, Grosskreutz approached, running toward Rittenhouse with his gun drawn. Rittenhouse fired again, hitting Grosskreutz in the right bicep. This entire sequence happened in a matter of seconds (Warning: the link contains video of the shootings). Huber died from his injuries, and his family — who declined an interview with The Washington Post — released a statement describing him as a hero. Grosskreutz was tended to using his own medical kit and survived.”
Worth noting is that Grosskreutz, in his testimony during the trial, admitted that Rittenhouse didn’t shoot him until he raised his gun at him:
“‘It wasn't until you pointed your gun at him, advanced on him…that he fired, right?’ asked Chirafisi.
‘Correct,’ Grosskreutz replied.”
Wisconsin’s law regarding self-defense and when it can be legally claimed is key to this case, and both Rittenhouse’s lawyers and Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger have spent time trying to establish if he meets the criteria. The law states that "A person who provokes an attack, whether by lawful or unlawful conduct, with intent to use such an attack as an excuse to cause death or great bodily harm to his or her assailant is not entitled to claim the privilege of self-defense” but makes an allowance if the subject feels he was to be subjected to “great harm” and "exhausted every other reas means to escape or avoid death/great harm.”
On those grounds, it’s a pretty fair assumption that Rittenhouse will be acquitted on the charges related to Huber and Grosskreutz — when the two men confronted him he was already on the ground with limited options to protect himself outside of opening fire on them. As to the charges pertaining to his shooting of Rosenbaum, that is going to be up to how the jury interprets that confrontation and if they decide Rittenhouse had no other options other than to shoot him.
Rittenhouse is not someone to be valorized. That does not need to be said as a throat clear or a preamble to another point, it needs to be said as a standalone statement. He made an insanely reckless decision that, had things gone slightly differently, he would have paid for with his life. He may still pay for it with the loss of his freedom.
Even if he is acquitted of all charges, he will forever be Kyle Rittenhouse. He will never be able to escape his past and all the baggage that now comes with it.
And Kenosha still burned.
Do I think that night played out the way Rittenhouse planned? No, I’m sure he thought he would go down to the riot, mill around, give some interviews, take some pictures, maybe chase off a rioter or two, and go home. But as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Violent movements attract violent people. Riots are not video games or movies or comic books. I don't care how many of you have Punisher logos on your AR lowers, you are not Frank Castle.
Let Rittenhouse serve as a warning as to what can happen when you interject yourself into a situation you can’t control.
What this case is meant to determine is not “did Kyle Rittenhouse have any business going to an active riot zone” it is “did Kyle Rittenhouse act in self-defense when he shot three men.” Those are two separate issues, anyone trying to conflate them is attempting to substitute one argument for the other.
I’ve never fired a gun at someone, let alone killed someone, let alone killed two people and injured another. I imagine if I had, even if I felt I was well within my right to do so in self-defense, I’d be pretty messed up about it. If I had to testify to it in court, I would certainly have an emotional breakdown and have to be excused.
So I don’t presume to judge the validity of the emotional state of someone in that position.
Binger did a bang-up job of handing Rittenhouse either a mistrial (which his lawyers have already asked for and Schroeder is taking into advisement) or excellent grounds for appeal if he is found guilty. Good job doofus
And no that’s not a “biased judge”, that’s a judge ripping a prosecutor a new asshole for questioning a defendant’s right to remain silent after arrest. They do still teach Constitutional law in law school right?
Schroeder has been criticized for being a judge that favors the defense in cases he hears. Given that the US criminal justice system has a presumption of innocence and a burden of proof that falls on the prosecution, shouldn’t we have more judges that favor the defense?
The media reporting on this story from day one has been horrifically bad. In the wake of the Virginia gubernatorial election progressives have blamed everything from that loss to their toast coming out burnt on white supremacy, and this story is no different. It was always doomed to be this way however, this post by Jesse Singal from December of last year has proven to be prophetic:
“A major cause of this is the complete evisceration of journalism — an evisceration that has disproportionately hit the small and midsized newspapers most committed to old-school, ‘traditional’ newswriting, a style which certainly has its faults but which also has a natural built-in resistance to epistemic closure. Those who are still employed in journalism are more likely to have jobs where the incentives point toward outrage and tribalism — again, rightside norms rather than accuracy norms. If you’re a journalist or pundit in good standing among your fellow progressives, and you watch the videos and think Kyle Rittenhouse has a decent self-defense case, the last thing you want to do is publicly express that opinion, because 30 seconds after a story like this breaks, it becomes, as that Washington Post video put it, a “litmus test” for people’s tribal identifications.
Many people are walking around with a false notion of what happened in Kenosha on August 25th in their heads. They have been misinformed by media outlets, pundits, and some politicians. That’s a problem because it leaves them ill-equipped to interpret whatever comes next. The outrage over his (very high) bail is one example. But other, bigger ramifications could ensue. Let’s say I’m right, the self-defense claim prevails, and Rittenhouse is subsequently acquitted of the most serious charges. For those of us who know and have absorbed the full facts, this won’t be all that surprising. For those whose view of the world is distorted by a fog of epistemic closure, it will be shocking, outrageous — He killed three people in cold blood! The only explanation for his acquittal will be white supremacy or some other corruption, because how else could a jury acquit such a monster? And this explanation will serve only to further reinforce people’s preexisting ideological and tribal commitments, driving them deeper into their worldview and toward pundits and journalists who see the world the same way they do. Epistemic closure is a one-way street.”
Robby Soave, co-hosting on The Hill’s Rising morning show, echoed the same concerns over media coverage and how it has left both members of the media and viewers unprepared for the possibility of an acquittal
An even worse possibility — there will be a split verdict, which is a possibility I’ve not seen anyone on either side of the media aisle prepare for. For reasons I laid out above I think that a split verdict is a very real possibility, and that will please nobody who needs to see this case as either a full damnation or a full vindication of Rittenhouse.
No matter what the verdicts will be, social media is going to burn, but an acquittal will be the equivalent of Chernobyl. Buckle up, next week is going to be a disaster.