Alan Endries was among them. When asked what led him to make the 40-mile drive from Milwaukee to President Donald Trump’s visit to Kenosha on Tuesday, he said he felt empathy for Rittenhouse. “I just feel bad for this 17 year old.”
“He is a hero. He stood up for the population and the owners, ”said Endries. “He didn’t come here just to shoot people. He came here to defend himself. ”
The defense of Rittenhouse by Trump supporters reflects the divide that has opened across the country following deadly violence in Kenosha and Portland, Ore. Activists on the left rushed to defend Jacob Blake, a black man who has been shot seven times in the back by a white police officer who is starting a series of demonstrations protesting what is known as police systemic racism.
But many people on the right see a different dominant narrative other than Kenosha: a teenager falsely charged with murder and supposed to be made a lion. Online crowdfunding petitions have sprung up and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Rittenhouse. And he got a hand from the president himself, who this week refused to denounce the teen̵
The divisions were seen on Tuesday in Wisconsin, one of the most important swing states in the country. During Trump’s visit, his supporters and Black Lives Matter activists clashed on the street along the main government complex near downtown and exchanged chants of “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter”.
BLM activists held signs advocating Blake, whose shots sparked both peaceful protests and devastating unrest. Meanwhile, more than a dozen Trump supporters interviewed Tuesday questioned the Rittenhouse case, accusing the media of tarnishing the facts on the case.
Rittenhouse, who was carrying a military-style gun that he could not legally carry at his age, shot and killed three protesters, killing two of them. His lawyer said Rittenhouse defended himself.
As an adult, Rittenhouse was charged with six criminal offenses, including two first-degree homicide cases in shootings that killed two men, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured a third. In videos of the incidents, Rittenhouse was followed before he fired his gun. The criminal complaint filed against Rittenhouse states that Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at him. The footage also shows Huber trying to beat Rittenhouse before he was shot in the chest, perforating his heart, aorta, pulmonary artery, and right lung, according to authorities.
“You shouldn’t put a gun in a kid’s hand,” said Shawn Lyons, a Trump supporter from nearby Burlington. “But it was definitely self-defense. I think we could have avoided all of this if the National Guard had been protecting Kenosha at the time, instead of having kids wondering how their family’s business is going to deal with all the mobs. ”
“Free him. Free Kyle, ”said another man who said he was a resident of Kenosha but declined to give his full name. “He was here to protect us.”
His friend agreed. “He’s a patriot, he protected people,” said the man, who also refused to give his name. “People out there are trying to make him look bad. He shot some people – that’s bad. He killed two people, that’s bad, I understand. But that’s our right as Americans to protect ourselves, or? ”
Rittenhouse’s interactions with the police have come under scrutiny, especially when compared to the officers’ quick reactions to black suspects.
JA Moore, a Biden supporter and South Carolina lawmaker whose sister was one of nine black parishioners killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015, recalled officers bringing fast food to shooter Dylann Roof. Moore and others compared this to the Kenosha police, who supplied Rittenhouse with water and thanked his armed group shortly before the shooting last week.
“If he were black, he would be a ‘thug’. But because he’s white, he’s a ‘young man’, ”said Moore of the portrayal of Rittenhouse. “He’s not a young man. He’s a murderer. “
Rittenhouse has become a celebre on the right. Shortly after the shootings, someone tweeted that Rittenhouse should be their bodyguard. Ann Coulter tweeted back that she wanted the teen to be “my president.” Aubrey Huff, a former San Francisco Giants baseball player, called him a “national treasure”.
And Fox News host Tucker Carlson quickly devoted time to Rittenhouse history. Carlson drew violent backlash when he appeared to justify the shootings by asking why anyone would wonder that “17 year olds with guns decided to keep order when no one else would”.
Carlson was beaten up by Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter died at school in Parkland, Fla. In 2018, while others urged his Fox News advertisers to boycott the show.
The rush to defend Rittenhouse prompted a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times to ask, “How does a youth vigilante become a hero?”
But right-wing activists and Trump supporters began to use new information, including a detailed sequence of time leading up to the New York Times published shootings, to argue that Rittenhouse had no choice but to defend himself. In his initial remarks on Rittenhouse on Monday, Trump refused to condemn the shootings and appeared to suggest that they might be justified. He also “liked” a tweet that offered support for Rittenhouse.
“He must be in jail,” said Jayden Brown, a Kenosha resident who is black.
Bryan Lanza, who worked on the 2016 campaign and remains close to the White House, praised Trump’s trip to Kenosha and said the Rittenhouse celebration helped create a narrative about the president that is helpful to draw supporters motivate.
“The facts will work out,” said Lanza. “What happens in the suburbs is that you have the right to defend yourself and there is no prosecutor or attorney general who can take that away from you. If the facts show that he had a gun for security reasons and was using it to defend himself because he was attacked, that’s a pretty strong case. “
But other Republicans believe that Trump’s refusal to denounce Rittenhouse – also because he likes a tweet that says, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a great example of why I chose Trump” – could backfire. GOP strategist Rob Stutzman said he thinks the rush to back Rittenhouse will stave off key segments of the electorate that the president needs.
“The image of a stupid lunatic with an AR-15 doesn’t comfort the city,” said Stutzman. “The type of weapon he had influenced these perceptions in my opinion.”
Rittenhouse attorneys have portrayed him as a “good kid” who works as a lifeguard, saw kenosha on fire and spoke to a kenosha business owner before he went there to keep watch.
The lawyers did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. However, previous statements and cable interviews said Rittenhouse’s gun never crossed state lines and was legal in Wisconsin, an open-carry state.
Joe Biden hasn’t spoken at length about Rittenhouse, despite saying last week he was concerned about armed militias. In a statement Monday after Trump’s press conference, Biden criticized the president for refusing to turn down the Kenosha shootings.
“He’s too weak, too afraid of the hatred he’s aroused to put an end to it,” said Biden. He urged Trump to say with him: “Violence is wrong, period. No matter who does it, no matter what political affiliation they have. Period.”