Americans can see what they want in the Rittenhouse case

Since Kyle Rittenhouse killed three people in Kenosha as a result of protests against the shooting of a Black police officer, he has been a symbol of America's polarization.

Americans can see what they want in the Rittenhouse case

The Illinois teenager, aged 17, who carried an AR-style rifle with him and idolized police, was cheered and supported by those who detested the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the sometimes violent protests that followed George Floyd’s death. Pro-gun conservatives praised him, saying he was exercising his Second Amendment rights as well as defending cities against "antifa," a term that refers to leftist militants.

Others saw him in the worst example of vigilante citizens using guns on the streets, often with tacit support from police -- a "chaos tourists," according to the lead prosecutor who arrived in Kenosha to seek trouble.

Although Rittenhouse and the three men he shot were white, many people see racism at Kenosha's heart. Rittenhouse was an armed white teenager, who was welcomed by police into a city where activists were protesting the shooting of a Black officer. He was allowed to walk past a line of police officers after he had shot three people.

This division will likely be displayed at Rittenhouse’s trial which begins Monday with jury selection. Rittenhouse, 18, is facing several charges including homicide and could face a life sentence if she is convicted.

John Baick, who is a professor of modern American history at Western New England University, Springfield, Massachusetts, stated that "it's another battle within what has become the main story of our times --- the culture wars."

The key question at trial in many ways is: Was Rittenhouse acting as self-defense? There is plenty of video evidence that shows the events, and legal experts support this. Bruce Schroeder (the judge in charge of the trial) has stated strongly that it is not going to become a political trial.

However, the case was exactly as it should have been, almost immediately after the shootings occurred -- driven by powerful interests groups, extremists and politicians using it to advance their agendas.

Rittenhouse's family and defenders have taken to heart some of the symbolism. Website dedicated to Rittenhouse's defense and raising funds for it greets visitors with a quote from James Monroe: "The Right of Self-Defense Never Ends." It briefly sold merchandise branded "Free Kyle" before the vendors pulled out.

Ryan Busse is a former firearms industry executive and now works as a senior advisor at Giffords gun-safety group. Giffords was founded in 2011 by Gabrielle Giffords. Rittenhouse was also shot in the assassination attempt.

Busse stated, "I am concerned about empowering more actors such as him who think that it's glamorous for them to kill someone with a gun."

Rittenhouse traveled the 32-kilometer (20-mile) distance from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha. This was during chaotic demonstrations in the city, where an officer had shot Jacob Blake in his back after a domestic disturbance. Rittenhouse's lawyers claim that Rittenhouse was not brought to the city by at least one call sent out via social media to armed citizens.

He was seen bragging about his medical skills in videos taken that night. Video also shows Rittenhouse being welcomed by police, who hand him water bottles.

Video later in the evening shows Joseph Rosenbaum, a man, following Rittenhouse through a parking lot at a used car dealer. Rittenhouse then shoots and kills him. Rittenhouse, who was being pursued by protestors, shot and killed Anthony Huber who swung his skateboard at Rittenhouse and also shot and wounded Gaige grosskreutz who had stepped towards Rittenhouse holding a gun.

The video shows Rittenhouse running toward police, his arms raised, his rifle over his shoulder as protesters shout that he had just shot people. Rittenhouse returned home and surrendered to police the next day.

Ayanna Pressley (Democratic U.S. Rep. from Massachusetts) tweeted that Rittenhouse had been arrested and that Rittenhouse had been shot by a domestic terrorist white supremacist.

Rittenhouse's defense team countered that assertion, stating Rittenhouse wasn't a white supremacist or aware of hateful rhetoric on social media regarding the Kenosha protests which led up to the shootings. His social media accounts were not found to be extremist by the Anti-Defamation League.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rittenhouse was adopted by the Proud Boys. This is a far-right extremist organization that generally promotes white nationalism. Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the group, was seen wearing T-shirts saying, "Kyle Rittenhouse did nothing wrong!" Rittenhouse was soon freed on bond and photographed with members of the Proud Boys. Rittenhouse also sang a song that has become the group's anthem. Rittenhouse also used the hand signal.

According to Alex Friedfeld, an investigator for the Center on Extremism and the Anti-Defamation League, Rittenhouse was not a member any extremist group prior to the shootings.

He stated that extremists would be seeking to make the trial more favorable. Friedfeld stated that Rittenhouse's arrest is evidence that the courts and system are biased against white people or that Rittenhouse was charged.

He said, "It begins to sort of lay the foundation for the idea that people must tear down these institutions. The system is broken and requires action."

Baick, a historian, described the Rittenhouse trial as "a moment for reality television" and stated that the whole case is in the midst of one of the most turbulent periods in American history.

He said, "We must link in Jan. 6." He said, "We must link in military units across the country, antimask protests and school board protests. These debates about the role and law of government -- whether it's Kenosha or Minneapolis or the whole state of Florida -- are deeply unsettling in America right now.

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