The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.

He was found not guilty on all charges.
Isaac Saul Nov 22, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

We're taking a final look at the Rittenhouse verdict. Plus, a question about the Proud Boys.

Kyle Rittenhouse embraces his lawyer after the verdict is read. Screenshot: ABC News
Kyle Rittenhouse embraces his lawyer after the verdict is read. Screenshot: ABC News

Welcome!

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Something new.

Today, we're experimenting with a little bit of a new format to make Tangle easier to digest. We're going to include some primary bullet points for the main opposing arguments, that way you can get a good understanding of each side's take in a digestible way (we still encourage you to read the newsletter in its entirety, of course). This is something readers have asked for in the past, so please let us know what you think!


Quick hits.

  1. At least five people were killed when a vehicle plowed into a Waukesha, Wisconsin Christmas parade. (The tragedy)
  2. The FDA cleared the Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for all adults regardless of which vaccine they got. (The approval)
  3. Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman to ever hold presidential power in U.S. history after serving for 85 minutes while President Biden was under anesthesia for a colonoscopy. (The history)
  4. Protesters in New York City, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands hit the streets over the weekend to voice opposition to vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions. (The protests)
  5. The House passed President Biden's $1.75 trillion climate and social spending bill, which now goes to the Senate, where it will be re-written and debated. The final vote was 220-213, with no Republicans joining Dems in supporting the bill (The vote). Here's what made it in, via MSNBC:
MSNBC screenshot
MSNBC Screenshot

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

The Rittenhouse verdict. On Friday, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges related to his shooting of three people during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year. The jury deliberated for three and a half days and found Rittenhouse not guilty on all five counts, including charges of reckless homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26.

As the not guilty verdicts were read, Rittenhouse collapsed into the arms of his lawyer. Experts largely expected the outcome after the judge in the case, Bruce Schroeder, granted a defense motion to drop a gun possession charge against Rittenhouse, which was viewed as the most likely charge to stick. The misdemeanor charge carried a maximum sentence of nine months in prison, but Wisconsin law has an exception that allows minors to carry shotguns and rifles as long as they're not short barreled. When the prosecution conceded that Rittenhouse's rifle barrel was longer than 16 inches, the minimum length allowed under the statute, Judge Schroeder granted the defense's motion to toss out the charge.

On November 11th, we published a lengthy explainer about what happened on that night in Kenosha, as well as what had happened during Rittenhouse's testimony and the charges he faced. You can read that coverage here.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to the verdict from the right and left, then my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The evidence made it clear that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, which is why the jury was unanimous.
  • The prosecution did a poor job during trial and overcharged in the case thanks to public pressure.
  • Americans were woefully ignorant of the details of the case because of misleading and biased media coverage.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said the verdict "shows that when presented deliberately with evidence and forced to reason with one another, Americans can still agree on basic facts."

"And the facts presented at trial made it very hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Rittenhouse did not act in self-defense when he shot three men, killing two, who attacked him amid an anarchic scene in downtown Kenosha last summer when he was 17. The encounters were captured on video. Joseph Rosenbaum sprinted after Mr. Rittenhouse, who ran away across a parking lot. Rosenbaum lunged toward the rifle before Mr. Rittenhouse, who was trapped against parked cars, fired. According to Mr. Rittenhouse and another witness, Rosenbaum had threatened to kill the teenager earlier in the night.

"As Mr. Rittenhouse tried to flee toward police lines, he was pursued by a mob," the board said. "The teenager eventually fell down, and fired when one man tried to kick him in the face, another tried to hit him with a skateboard, and another approached him and raised a pistol. The prosecution said Mr. Rittenhouse was a 'chaos tourist' who provoked the violence. Yet the teenager worked as a lifeguard in Kenosha, where his father lived. However bad his judgment in showing up with a weapon he didn’t own at a riot, his intention was to stand guard in front of businesses and administer first aid."

In USA Today, Jonathan Turley said the "result was hardly a surprise to many of us who watched the trial rather than the media coverage."

"From the outset, politicians and media figures insisted that this was a case of murders committed by a white supremacist," Turley said. "Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden labeled Rittenhouse a 'white supremacist' in a tweet showing his photo and demanded to know why then-President Donald Trump did not 'disavow white supremacists.' Much of the media followed suit with an echo chamber of coverage that led some people to believe that these were essentially executions on the streets of Kenosha... The pressure clearly had an impact on the prosecution, which overcharged Rittenhouse (including with a count that was invalid). The case began to fall apart as the prosecution called its witnesses, who contradicted the core elements of these charges."

"What happened next was even more chilling," Turley concluded. "Faced with a collapsing case in court, many of the same media outlets struck out at the judge, the jury, and the legal system. MSNBC host Tiffany Cross advocated for the judge's removal. Rittenhouse was mocked for his 'male, white tears' on national television. Georgetown law professor Paul Butler called the trial 'white privilege on steroids.'... By misrepresenting and not reporting key facts, media increased the likelihood that the acquittal will be read as confirmation of a racist trial in a racist justice system."

In American Greatness, Roger Kimball wrote a horrible miscarriage of justice had already been perpetrated.

"Rittenhouse had already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion," he wrote. "One swamp entity, GoFundMe, canceled a campaign to raise funds to pay for Rittenhouse’s bail and legal fees because, according to CEO Tim Cadogan, the company doesn’t support people charged with violent crimes. What about the presumption of innocence? GoFundMe said nothing about that.

"Remember, 'the process is the punishment.' Rittenhouse was charged in order to enact a bit of political theater," he added. "He was a convenient white boy, perfect for the role of fall guy. In this sense, as Julie Kelly put it, the entire episode is the opposite of a win for American justice. On the contrary, although a guilty verdict would have been obscene, his very trial was 'a horrific example of government prosecutors bringing bogus charges for political reasons.' Who knows what will happen now. There is talk of Rittenhouse suing various people and entities for defamation. I hope he does."


What the left is saying.

  • The outcome is a reminder that our gun laws are too loose, and that the judge in this case had biases.
  • It's another example of a white vigilante becoming a hero on the right, even though what he did was wrong.
  • Rittenhouse should have been treated like an active shooter, but wasn't.

In CNN, Jennifer Rodgers argued that the jury's decision was reasonable, and that what we need to change is Wisconsin's open carry law.

"Without question, Rittenhouse did not have to be in Kenosha with his weapon strapped across his body as he ran around the streets in what was clearly an unpredictable and ultimately dangerous situation," Rodgers wrote. "But in Wisconsin, that initial decision, as poor a decision as it was, does not constitute a crime, and the jury found his later actions justified. Those of us who don't want to have to worry about whether people like Kyle Rittenhouse will continue to brandish guns at public gatherings, thereby greatly increasing the danger of violence, should direct our energy toward changing the open carry laws in Wisconsin.

"Public sentiment after an episode that is viewed as unfair -- and there are plenty of people who are incensed that Rittenhouse went free because of a self-defense claim when he placed himself in the situation in the first place -- can spark change," Rodgers added. "For example, in Georgia, after the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, the legislature repealed the citizen's arrest law that Arbery's alleged killer and his co-defendants are relying on for their defense (although the defendants in the Arbery killing are still able to assert it). If public concern about Rittenhouse's conduct and its results leads to a re-examination of Wisconsin's gun laws, that will be one positive thing to come out of this tragic episode."

In The New York Times, Charles Blow said Rittenhouse is another in a long line of "white vigilantes."

"One can argue about the particulars of the case, about the strength of the defense and the ham-handedness of the prosecution, about the outrageously unorthodox manner of the judge and the infantilizing of the defendant," Blow said. "But perhaps the most problematic aspect of this case was that it represented yet another data point in the long history of some parts of the right valorizing white vigilantes who use violence against people of color and their white allies.

"The idea of taking the law into one’s own hands not only to protect order, but also to protect the order, is central to the maintenance of white power and its structures. The killers of Ahmaud Arbery on trial in Georgia are also vigilantes," Blow said. "You could also argue that our rapidly expanding gun laws — from stand your ground laws to laws that allow open or concealed carry — encourage and protect vigilantes. It goes without saying how ominous this all is for the country. Or, to turn the argument around, how intransigent the country is on this issue of empowering white men to become vigilantes themselves. Black vigilantes are not celebrated, but feared, condemned and constrained by the law."

In Slate, Jeremy Stahl said Rittenhouse's lawyers successfully re-defined what an active shooter is.

"In the final hours of the trial, the prosecution attempted to co-opt the language of the right and its popular pro-firearm motto that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Stahl wrote. "As the prosecution told it, Rosenbaum was the one reacting rather than provoking: He saw a man wielding a semi-automatic weapon and pointing it at someone he knew, which was backed up by video evidence, and he tried to put a stop to it... Prosecutors pointed out that Rittenhouse did not stick around to surrender himself to the police, but instead continued to wander with his gun aimed at other protesters. Because Rittenhouse was an active shooter, then, the prosecution could paint those who were seeking to disarm him—including Huber who attacked Rittenhouse with a skateboard and Grosskreutz who approached him with a gun—as heroes trying to save lives.

"The prosecution attempted to force the jury to decide: In a world where everyone is entitled to defend themselves, how can the victims of a shooting be classified as the assailants and the active shooter be classified as the one acting in self-defense?" Stahl wrote. "The defense apparently won out by claiming Rittenhouse’s shootings were all justified because he feared for his life during each attack, despite being the one attacking."


My take.

Not a whole lot about my position has changed since I wrote about this case 11 days ago.

Wisconsin's self-defense laws are commonplace across the U.S., even if Wisconsin’s tilt a bit more toward favoring a defendant like Rittenhouse. Once someone says they are acting out of fear, even if those around them were too, the law requires definitive proof about intent from the prosecution to convict a defendant like Rittenhouse. It was always clear to anyone who watched the trial that this prosecution was fighting an uphill battle.

The media criticisms in this case are well-deserved, insomuch as the public discourse I've seen tends to be totally detached from reality. Rittenhouse didn't live in Kenosha, but he worked there, and his dad, grandma, cousins, aunt, uncle and best friend apparently did, too. He was less of an out-of-towner than many of the people protesting or rioting that night.

The judge in the case is a bizarre character who did bizarre things throughout the trial. I certainly raised my eyebrows when his cell phone played what is ostensibly the Trump theme song in the middle of the trial. But some of the criticism also seemed undeserved: His rule to not allow the prosecution to describe the deceased as victims, for instance, was a longstanding rule in his courtrooms and one I think is the only reasonable guideline for a trial that seeks to answer that very question of whether they were victims (or instigators). In a different hypothetical where this rule was applied to a Black man being accused of assaulting a white woman, progressives would likely cheer the way it leveled the playing field. And, for what it's worth, Judge Schroeder was appointed twice by Democrats and is the longest serving state judge in Wisconsin.

Common misunderstandings of the case, like the assumption that Rittenhouse shot Black protesters or the misnomer that he illegally carried a gun across state lines (one that was accidentally repeated in this newsletter last week) all bolster the argument of a botched job by the media and social media disinformation clouding the conversation.

But that cuts both ways. Upon the verdict being handed down, conservative commentators immediately predicted that Kenosha was going to "burn" to the ground and that riots would break out across the country in response, something that never came close to happening, and was almost certainly a product of right-wing media trying to paint social justice protesters as violent. Instead, it was an entirely peaceful weekend, with President Biden, the leader of the Democratic party, insisting he stood by the jury’s decision. “The jury system works and we have to abide by it,” he said.

While making a martyr out of Rittenhouse, conservative media outlets have also taken cues from Judge Schroeder and turned their backs on the tangential evidence that he might not be such a stellar dude after all: The video of him "wishing" he had his AR-15 to "start shooting" people he suspected were shoplifters; his meetings with the Proud Boys, a group that celebrates political violence; his trolling of liberals with the "ok" sign poses in "Free as F—" t-shirts; the video of him punching a girl from behind who was fighting his sister. None of this supports the image of a humble young hero washing graffiti off of walls that’s been invented in right-wing echo chambers.

Ultimately, this case really seems to come down to the first shooting, of Joseph Rosenbaum. If Rittenhouse was defending himself in that shooting, everything that comes after tracks similarly. If you believe Rittenhouse initiated the violence unnecessarily, then the people chasing him, pulling guns on him, or trying to hit him with their skateboards were simply hoping to stop an active shooter. Video evidence shows Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse, and witnesses say they heard Rosenbaum threaten his life earlier in the night. That alone always seemed to be enough to bolster Rittenhouse's self-defense case, and it did.

Yet none of it feels great or just or right to me. The weapons charge was dropped and, because the law is one giant murky contradiction, I'm not surprised. In a vacuum, Rittenhouse walking free of any charges at all is enough to make me uncomfortable, even if the homicide charges were never going to stick. But when you add the context that he's being celebrated as a hero or could be paraded around at political conferences, let alone serve as inspiration for other teenagers to pick up arms and go monitor street protests, it makes my stomach turn. It just feels like another step forward into an increasingly Wild West political world, one that becomes a bit more frightening every day.


Winner, winner.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Are the Proud Boys actually a "white nationalist" organization?

— Damien, Asbury Park, New Jersey

Tangle: It depends who you ask. In 2018, the FBI categorized them as an extreme organization with ties to white nationalists, which I think is a pretty fair description of who they are.

What a lot of people don't know is that the Proud Boys have a Cuban-American leader named Enrique Tarrio, and a large contingent of Hispanic members. Without getting too much into the whole "who can be racist" or "are certain Cubans 'white'" debate that I don't think serves much of a purpose here, it's also worth noting that the Proud Boys don't even agree internally on who the Proud Boys are.

In 2020, leaked messages showed that Kyle Chapman, who leads the violent militant arm of the Proud Boys, wanted to stage a coup against Tarrio and re-brand the organization as explicitly anti-Semitic and white nationalist. Other Proud Boys leaders denounced Chapman and said it was all B.S.

Regardless, the group is composed of a bunch of violent clowns, plenty of whom have openly expressed their hatred of Jews and other minorities. They enjoy escalating situations, starting street violence and pretending they are somehow responsible for the success of Western civilization. Whatever you want to label them, I think being associated with them or being a member of their group should be embarrassing and a stain on one's reputation.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

President Biden will name Jerome Powell to continue to serve as the chairman of the Federal Reserve for a second four-year term. Powell, who faced some opposition from Democrats, will now be responsible for guiding Fed policy on how to address inflation and the continuing economic recovery from Covid-19. Officials have said they don't want to overreact and raise interest rates, which could be premature if supply chain issues begin to get resolved and inflation slows down. But if they do nothing, the inflation could compound, sending the economy careening toward long-term challenges and the risk of hyperinflation. Powell was named to the Fed's seven-member board 10 years ago by Barack Obama, then elevated to chairman by President Donald Trump, and has now been re-appointed by Biden. The Wall Street Journal has the story.


Numbers.

  • 22%. The percentage of U.S. adults who believed Kyle Rittenhouse would be found guilty of homicide, according to an Economist/YouGov poll.
  • 41%. The percentage of U.S. adults who did not believe Kyle Rittenhouse would be found guilty of homicide, according to an Economist/YouGov poll.
  • 37%. The percentage of U.S. adults who said they were unsure if Kyle Rittenhouse would be found guilty of homicide, according to an Economist/YouGov poll.
  • 43%. The percentage of voters who think the climate and social spending package will make inflation worse, according to Politico.
  • 15%. The percentage of voters who think it will have no impact on inflation.
  • 26%. The percentage of voters who think it will improve inflation.


Have a nice day.

A Boston hospital is beginning trials on a nasal spray that could be used as a vaccine or treatment for Alzheimer's. 16 participants aged 60 to 85 will be in the trial, each with early symptomatic Alzheimer's. Two doses of the vaccine will be given one week apart. Phase I trials are used to establish safety and dosage, and if it is successful the drug could move into a much larger trial to test effectiveness. The spray uses Protollin, a drug that boosts the immune system. "Protollin is designed to activate white blood cells found in the lymph nodes on the sides and back of the neck to migrate to the brain and trigger clearance of beta amyloid plaques — one of the hallmarks of AD [Alzheimer's disease]," the hospital said. CBS News has the story.


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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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