Like so many others in modern America, Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal on Friday both exposed and widened the split between the country’s hostile political factions, with Tories calling it a victory for the right to defend themselves and the Liberals. condemning it as a miscarriage of justice.
Mainstream and far-right Republicans celebrated the not guilty verdict of Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old who last year killed two men and injured another during protests against police shooting on a black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson said “justice has been served”. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said on Twitter that “the Rittenhouse verdict reminds us that we have the moral and legal right to defend ourselves.” And former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said the verdict “renews our faith in the jury system.”
On the far right, many saw the verdict as justification and encouragement. Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina told her supporters in a video that “you have a right to defend yourself” and urged them to “be armed, dangerous and moral”. And on social media, a popular meme circulating among accounts associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys showed Rittenhouse in a tuxedo offering a champagne toast.
Democrats called the verdict an endorsement of violence. Governor Gavin Newsom of California said it was a message to “armed vigilantes” that “you can break the law, carry weapons built for the military, shoot and kill people, and you can get away with it. Pull “. And Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, president of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the verdict “inadmissible” and Rittenhouse’s claim of self-defense “ludicrous.”
President Joe Biden said the acquittal “would leave many Americans angry and worried, including me,” but he also urged protesters to remain peaceful, warning that “violence and destruction of property have not their place in our democracy ”.
The case was so politicized that it sparked fundraisers on both sides, with at least one political action committee using the anger at Rittenhouse to raise money for progressive candidates and Rittenhouse supporters raising money for subsidize legal fees.
“We are already expecting legal fees of around $ 110,000 for November, but if we can find 2,500 people to donate in the next 48 hours, everything should be fine,” Rittenhouse’s mother wrote. , Wendy Rittenhouse, in a fundraising appeal released Tuesday. (After Friday’s verdict, former President Donald Trump sent out his own fundraising appeal based on the outcome of the trial.)
The shooting made Rittenhouse an instant Conservative celebrity. Her mother received a standing ovation at a Republican Party dinner last year in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, a month after the shooting. Hours after the verdict, Fox News announced that an interview with Rittenhouse by Tucker Carlson would air on Monday.
Republican politicians, seeking attention and modest campaign contributions, have tried to link up with Rittenhouse. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and Cawthorn publicly offered him internships in their Congressional offices.
After the verdict, an effort was already underway on Gab – a social media network popular among the far right – to capture messages from Rittenhouse critics in the news media for use in possible libel suits.
One account, QAnon John, which is dedicated to conspiracy theory and has over 70,000 followers, wrote enthusiastically about the “massive energy shift” that had just occurred and posted a silhouette image of Rittenhouse wearing wings and carrying a gun over a slogan that read, “KYLE IS FREE.”
Equally enthusiastic were the accounts associated with the Proud Boys on the Telegram chat app. Some channels have attacked the family of Jacob Blake, the black man whose shooting sparked unrest in Kenosha, calling them “parasites”. “Your comrades are dead and your mortal enemies are celebrating,” wrote one of the accounts. “We hope this gnaws at you for a long time.”
Among Democrats, anger has mingled with conciliation.
Like Biden, Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin, a Democrat, kept his tone silent, saying: “No verdict can bring back the lives of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, or heal the wounds of Gaige Grosskreutz.”
But Evers acknowledged that the spotlight was inevitably on the state, which he said had “no doubt reopened wounds that have not yet fully healed.”
Yet other Democrats were much sharper.
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a Democrat who has made a career out of being publicly gentle, has expressed outrage against those celebrating the verdict.
“The fact that some people are applauding a decision which allowed someone to do justice for themselves and free themselves from responsibility after shooting and killing two people is disrespectful to the lives that have been lost,” he said. she declared.
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for a federal review of the verdict by the Department of Justice, describing it as a “miscarriage of justice” that “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“Justice cannot tolerate armed people crossing state borders looking for trouble while people engage in First Amendment protected protests,” he wrote on Twitter.
Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Education Fund to End Gun Violence, said in a statement that “extreme gun culture has rotted our collective soul,” adding, “Only in America ‘a 17-year-old can grab an assault weapon, cross state borders, start a fight, kill two people and injure another and pay no consequences. “
And Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, called the verdict a “parody” that “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“This verdict is a reminder of the treacherous role that white supremacy and privilege play within our justice system,” he said in a statement.
(Rittenhouse’s verdict could be the prelude to an equally explosive trial looming in another corner of the country, as a verdict looms in the case of three white men who shot dead Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was jogging near Brunswick. , Georgia. This case has seen its fair share of racial strife before, with lawyers for the Arbery assailants saying civil rights leaders in the courtroom could unduly influence the jury.
“At the same time they are giving a lot of praise and offering internships and congressional jobs to get to Kenosha with an AR-15,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who appeared in court with the Arbery family, “They are condemning the black preachers for going to Brunswick with Bibles.