The way lawyers for Kyle Rittenhouse tell it, he wasn’t just a scared teenager acting in self-defense when he shot to death two Kenosha, Wisconsin, protesters. He was a courageous defender of liberty, a patriot exercising his right to bear arms amid rioting in the streets.
The dramatic rhetoric has helped raise nearly $2 million to pay for the 17-year-old’s defense against homicide charges in the killing of two protesters, and wounding of a third. The shootings happened on the third night of demonstrations following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
“A 17-year-old citizen is being sacrificed by politicians, but it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they are after. Their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities,” says the voice-over at the end of a video released this week by a group tied to Rittenhouse’s legal team.
But some legal experts say there are risks in turning a fairly straightforward self-defense case into a sweeping political argument that could play into a stereotype that he is a gun-crazed militia member out to start a revolution.
“They’re playing to his most negative characteristics and stereotypes, what his critics want to perceive him as — a crazy militia member out to cause harm and start a revolution,” said Robert Barnes, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney.
Rittenhouse’s high-profile defense and fund-raising teams, led by Los Angeles-based Pierce and Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, respectively, refused to speak to The Associated Press about their strategy ahead of the teen’s next court appearance Friday, a hearing in Illinois on whether to return him to Wisconsin.
Earlier this week, a new lawsuit claims Facebook promoted conspiracy theories among the members of militia groups and is responsible for a series of shootings in Kenosha that left protesters dead in the days following the shooting of Jacob Blake.