By Mark Guarino
Kyle Rittenhouse has been a folk hero for the political far right since he was identified in August 2020 as the teenager who killed two people and wounded a third in the Kenosha unrest. His supporters have raised nearly $3 million on his behalf and routinely flood social media to make their case for the 18-year-old’s innocence.
Actor and conservative activist Ricky Schroeder contributed to Rittenhouse’s $2 million bail last year. And Rittenhouse’s legal team had raised more than $650,000 for his defense as of last month through the “Free Kyle USA” website, with messaging that reflects themes typically found in conservative media.
The site names “Big Tech, a corrupt media, and dishonest politicians and prosecutors” as adversaries who are “trying to censor, silence and ruin the life of Kyle Rittenhouse.” A slogan, “Free Kyle,” has appeared on clothing and other merchandise sold on the site.
Many of the prominent conservative voices that lambasted the Black Lives Matter protesters — Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Jesse Kelly and others — vigorously defended Rittenhouse on their platforms in the aftermath of the shooting. Malkin, a Newsmax TV host, referred her followers to Rittenhouse’s former #FightBack fundraising site, tweeting that “Kyle & his family face serious and ongoing security threats by Antifa/BLM thugs who are supported by Dems & elites in power.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) shared a link to the “Free Kyle USA” donation site on Twitter last month in a post calling Rittenhouse a hero at a time when “Democrats seeded chaos and stoked violence.”
In the courtroom, Rittenhouse’s legal team echoed the language used by his defenders in the media. The shooting victims, among those who filled the city’s streets that night, were characterized in hearings as antifa, the anti-fascist protest movement that Donald Trump often denounced while in office. “
The high-profile supporters, the nearly $3 million raised and the fervent public support from the right make Rittenhouse “an unusual criminal defendant,” said Keith Findley, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
“This is so far from the norm. Most criminal defendants are at a serious disadvantage to the state in terms of resources and in all sorts of respects,” he said. “So in many ways, that script is flipped in this case.”