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Is Kyle Rittenhouse A Hero, A Villain, Or Something In Between?

While it seems that Rittenhouse likely went to Kenosha with good intentions, he had no business being there in the first place.

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old, who shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Tuesday night and wounded a third, has been arrested by police and charged with murder. Some are calling Rittenhouse a hero while others say that he is a vigilante. As usual, facts can be muddled and internet claims can be exaggerated or fictional, so here is what we know so far.

CBS News reported that numerous cellphone videos showed a man identified as Rittenhouse in the aftermath of the shootings. Rittenhouse, who is not from Kenosha, was arrested at his mother’s house in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles away, per the Chicago Tribune. He is reportedly being held without bond pending extradition to Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Rittenhouse was with armed older men on the night of the shooting. He also appears in photos on Fox News of a group cleaning graffiti earlier on Tuesday. He is not armed in the photos but is seen again later that night, wearing the same clothes but carrying an AR-15, in a video interview posted to Twitter with Richie McGinniss of the Daily Caller.

In the video, Rittenhouse says, “People are getting injured and our job is to protect this business. And my job also is to protect people. If someone is hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle; I’ve gotta’ protect myself, obviously. But I also have my med kit.”

It is also unclear whether the militia members were asked to defend the property or where they were there on their own initiative. It seems unlikely that Rittenhouse was being paid to do the “job” of protecting the property.

The Journal-Sentinel reports that the Kenosha Guard, a militia group that has organized an “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property” event on Facebook, has fielded members in response to the demonstrations. However, Justin Mishler, a self-identified member of the Kenosha Guard, said that Rittenhouse is “not one of us.”

Mishler speculated that Rittenhouse may have been a member of the boogaloo, a loosely affiliated militia group that has also been present in Kenosha. However, boogaloo members are often anti-police, unlike the Kenosha Guard, which offered to help local authorities maintain order.

Another Twitter video shows the armed Rittenhouse and other apparent militia members walking around the streets in close proximity to vehicles belonging to the Sheriff’s Department. A voice on the loudspeaker can be heard telling protesters that they are trespassing and to disperse, but the officers offer water to the militia members and tell them, “We appreciate you guys, we really do.”

There are numerous reports that Rittenhouse’s social media accounts showed “Blue Lives Matter” material and photos of himself with a gun similar to the one in the videos from Kenosha. His Facebook page, which has since been taken down, also showed that he belonged to the Grayslake, Lindenhurst, Hainesville Public Safety Cadet program, per the Chicago Tribune. Despite some claims to the contrary, there seems to be no evidence of racist or misogynistic material on Rittenhouse’s social media. Buzzfeed reported on a video that Rittenhouse posted to TikTok showing himself on the front row of a Trump rally in January.

It seems unlikely that Rittenhouse, who greatly admired the police, would have been a part of the boogaloo movement. Even if he was not a part of the Kenosha Guard, he may have been a member of a similar group or simply responded to the open call for assistance on social media.

The events leading up to the shooting are also uncertain at this point. The New York Times has put together a timeline of sorts that places Rittenhouse in the vicinity of a Kenosha car dealership with other self-proclaimed militia members for several hours prior to the shootings. The interview with the Daily Caller reporter and another Facebook live stream broadcast occurred at this point. The video with the police vehicles reportedly was recorded about 15 minutes before the first of two shootings.

Yet another video shows Rittenhouse walking the streets with this rifle about six minutes prior to the shooting. The Twitter thread by a New York Times reporter states that the shooting took place shortly before midnight about four blocks from the car dealership that Rittenhouse had said he was protecting. It is not clear why he was in this area.

The dozens of videos present confused images, but Rittenhouse appears to return fire after a muzzle flashes from the crowd. A protester goes down and then Rittenhouse takes out his phone. As he runs past the camera, he can be heard to say, “I just killed somebody.”

A video showing a different angle on the Twitter thread appears to show Rittenhouse being chased by demonstrators, some of whom are armed. It isn’t known what preceded this video or why Rittenhouse was being chased.

Another video shows a second shooting in which the crowd chases Rittenhouse after identifying him as the person in the original shooting. Rittenhouse is knocked to the ground. He turns and fires at his pursuers. One falls to the pavement while another appears to be hit in the arm and runs away.

A third scene shows Rittenhouse walking up the street with his hands up but still carrying his rifle as police respond to the shooting. A voice yells, “He just shot [unintelligible]. Hey, the dude right here just shot [unintelligible]. The dude right here just shot all of them down there.”

The police vehicles roll by to the scene of the shooting without stopping. This is likely because they were on their way to render aid and did not know that Rittenhouse was the killer. The officers inside the armored vehicles may not have been able to hear the people on the street accusing him. What is certain is that Rittenhouse was not detained but went home.

The Journal-Sentinel identifies the three victims of the shootings. The two dead men were residents of the area while the man wounded in the arm is a member of the Milwaukee-based People’s Revolution Movement and had volunteered as a medic at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Wisconsin over the past few months. Media sources do not mention any other criminal records on the part of the victims, but Andy Ngo claimed on Twitter that the three all had criminal histories.

The first victim was Joseph Rosenbaum, 36. Rosenbaum was originally from Texas but had moved to the Kenosha area. Anthony Huber, 26, was the second fatality. Photos in The Sun show Huber’s skateboard laying beside him as he falls to the pavement. Another photo posted by Ngo shows Huber hitting Rittenhouse with the skateboard. A GoFundMe page description says that Huber died “while peacefully protesting” as he “selflessly tried to aid in taking down an attacker.” Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, who was shot in the arm, is shown holding a pistol in a photograph.

Whether Rittenhouse was a formal member of a militia or not, the vigilante label does fit. His group had no legal authority to enforce the law and their right to be on the car lot itself was questionable. The fact that police were tacitly encouraging the group’s participation in containing the riots seems to have been poor judgment on the part of Kenosha’s official law enforcement officers.

It is also questionable whether Rittenhouse was legally justified in either shooting. Wisconsin does allow open carry and the Badger State’s laws allow for self-defense without a duty to retreat when a person “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” Subsequent videos and witness testimony will probably shed more light on how the altercation started.

Self-defense could be claimed more reasonably in the second shooting when Rittenhouse was defending himself from pursuing demonstrators, but that justification may hinge on whether the first shooting was justified. Killing to protect yourself after committing a crime is not self-defense and is specifically excluded in the law.

Further muddying the waters is that Rittenhouse was too young to open-carry legally in Wisconsin. His rifle may also have been illegal in Illinois, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Illinois requires a valid Firearm Owner’s Identification card. A FOID holder typically must be 21 years old, but exceptions are made for younger people with parental consent.

The Kenosha shootings seem to be a tragic instance in which, like the original shooting of Jacob Blake that prompted the demonstrations, both sides were in the wrong. The demonstrations had turned violent and included property destruction but the actions of the rioters did not provide justification for Rittenhouse and the other militia members to insert themselves into a situation where they had no legal authority to intervene.

In the second shooting, it is very possible that the victims thought that they were doing the right thing in attempting to subdue an active shooter who had already killed a member of the crowd. Both Rittenhouse and Huber may have believed they were legally in the right.

In aviation, we speak of accident chains. It is usually a series of events that leads to an accident, rather than one specific action. In this case, the chain starts with the shooting of Jacob Blake and the decision to take to the streets in protest, the turn toward violence, Rittenhouse’s decision to play soldier, the acceptance of the militia presence by the police, and Rittenhouse’s ultimate decision to pull the trigger make up additional links. If any of these links in the chain had been broken, the two demonstrators would still be alive and Rittenhouse would not be in jail.

The Kenosha shootings show what can happen when untrained and unprepared civilians attempt to do the job of law enforcement. Controlling demonstrations and stopping mobs is difficult and dangerous even for trained professionals. When the militias insert themselves into the mix, the situation becomes even more tense and unstable.

While it seems that Rittenhouse likely went to Kenosha with good intentions, he and the other militia members, especially those from out of town and out of state, had no business being there in the first place. These people, some of who were undoubtedly looking for trouble as much as the rioters were, were probably drawn to Kenosha by a power vacuum as law enforcement failed to protect property and quell the riots. The inadequate police response was another link in the chain.

It is too early to say for certain whether the evidence will ultimately support a claim of self-defense in the shootings, but it is certain that the killings have intensified tensions on both sides. There are fringe members of both sides of the political spectrum who favor violence. With every incident, these people become more convinced that violence is the only answer and the situation spirals further out of control.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Rittenhouse and his colleagues should not have been carrying their guns on the streets of Kenosha, but the demonstrators also should not have rioting and destroying property. State and local law enforcement need to stand up and control the unrest before the situation devolves to one in which vigilante militias feel it necessary to patrol the streets themselves. Police should be better trained and work to avoid questionable shootings. Citizens should cooperate with police so that they don’t get shot. Politicians on both sides should stop stoking the fires under the assumption that unrest will help them politically.

Both sides are showing poor judgment in a situation that is escalating and spiraling out of control. Cooler heads need to prevail before a larger national tinderbox ignites.

If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.

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