Kenosha shooter’s defense portrays him as ‘American patriot’

National

FILE – In this Aug. 25, 2020 file photo, Kyle Rittenhouse, left, with backwards cap, walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wis., with another armed civilian. Four people filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, Sept. 23 demanding that Facebook prevent militias and hate groups from interacting on the site, after a militia group used the platform to draw armed people to protests in Wisconsin last month that left two people dead. Prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse with shooting and killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber during the Aug. 25 protest in Kenosha. The protest was over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Adam Rogan/The Journal Times via AP, File)

KENOSHA, Wisc. (AP) – Lawyers for Kyle Rittenhouse have launched a social media campaign depicting the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooter as not just a scared teenager acting in self-defense, but an American hero akin to the Minutemen who fought at the nation’s founding.

“A 17-year-old citizen is being sacrificed by politicians, but it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they are after. Their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities,” says the voice-over at the end of a video released this week by a group tied to Rittenhouse’s legal team.

“Kyle Rittenhouse will go down in American history alongside that brave unknown patriot … who fired ‘The Shot Heard Round the World,”’ lead attorney John Pierce wrote this month in a tweet he later deleted. “A Second American Revolution against Tyranny has begun.”

The dramatic rhetoric has helped raise nearly $2 million to pay for the 17-year-old’s defense against homicide charges in the killing of two protesters.

“They’re playing to his most negative characteristics and stereotypes, what his critics want to perceive him as — a crazy militia member out to cause harm and start a revolution,” said Robert Barnes, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney.

Rittenhouse’s high-profile defense and fund-raising teams, led by Los Angeles-based Pierce and Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, respectively, refused to speak to The Associated Press about their strategy ahead of the teen’s next court appearance Friday, a hearing in Illinois on whether to return him to Wisconsin.

But in a TV appearance and a blizzard of social media posts, they doubled down on the hero theme, describing Kenosha as a “war zone” and the young shooter as an “American patriot” and a “shining symbol of the American fighting spirit.”

“This is the sacred ground in Kenosha where a 17-year old child became a Minuteman and said ‘Not on My Watch,’” Pierce tweeted above a photo of the city where rioters burned and looted just days before.

Eric Creizman, a former partner at Pierce’s firm, said the heated language in the tweets is not surprising because of his former boss’ tendency toward hyperbole, though he wonders if it will backfire.

“The question really should focus on whether this guy is guilty of what they’re charging him with,” he said, “instead of making it into a political issue.”

One politically charged tactic critics have attacked as a longshot is Pierce’s promise to fight a charge of underage firearm possession, a misdemeanor, by arguing U.S. law allows for an “unorganized militia.” Rittenhouse wielded a semi-automatic rifle.

But some legal experts say there are risks in turning a fairly straightforward self-defense case into a sweeping political argument that could play into a stereotype that he is a gun-crazed militia member out to start a revolution.

There is a temptation to shape court arguments to “keep the money flowing while the battle is ongoing,” said Richard Cayo, a Milwaukee attorney who helps other lawyers in ethics cases. “It puts lawyers at risk of trying to serve two masters.”

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