The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse is over, but his worship is just beginning.
On Friday, a jury acquitted Rittenhouse of all charges after he shot three men, killed two and injured one during protests against the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. Since the shootings went online, far-right groups have fixated on Rittenhouse as a hero falsely tried, essentially making him one of their many living martyrs. A far-right group with 12,500 followers on Telegram, a chat messaging app, posted daily updates on what they called the “Saint Kyle Trial”. These groups also focused on the criminal background of the men shot by Rittenhouse, made fun of their deaths and celebrated the verdict by calling for more violence. Now that Rittenhouse has received not only praise but internship offers from Republicans in Congress, his widespread acceptance as a right-wing martyr – a phenomenon previously only truly embraced by the far-right – shows how much closer right-wing and mainstream Republicans have come are .
Celebrations broke out in right-wing extremist message boards and chat groups immediately after the verdict. “It’s over. America wins. We can officially celebrate,” said a comment on Patriots.win, a pro-Trump forum that emerged from the now banned r / TheDonald subreddit. Many posters wrote that they wept with relief and joy. Their approval of the verdict reflects broader Republican opinion: According to a Morning Consult poll over the weekend, 71 percent of Republicans said they agreed with the jury’s decision, but posts quickly became calls for further violence, and many said they could “reference this case” to defend violent acts. Using insults to Antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement, a poster on Patriots.win said these two groups “have to shit. We have now permission to defend ourselves. ”Another poster replied,“ We don’t need any fucking permission and we never did. But now it’s a legal pr ecedent. “(It should be noted that posters on anonymous message boards are not known for their legal expertise.)
Many far-right posters also urged Rittenhouse to sue media outlets whose coverage of the trial they believed was unfair or defamatory, quoting Nicholas Sandmann, another conservative teenage martyr whose family sued the Washington Post for reporting a viral video , in the Sandman, who took part in a March for Life rally, met Omaha elder Nathan Phillips in 2019. The Post reached an agreement with the Sandmann family, and many posters said Rittenhouse should file similar lawsuits.
Republicans and right-wing media have exploited Rittenhouse’s favorite status with both the mainstream and the far right. Fox News already has a high profile one-on-one interview with Rittenhouse that will air on Monday during Tucker Carlson Tonight. Fox News also published an article on Saturday suggesting that Rittenhouse could be conducting a defamation case against President Biden. Meanwhile, Republican politicians have praised the verdict and Rittenhouse. Former President Donald Trump called Fox News Friday night to say he thought Rittenhouse was “brave” for testifying and that the verdict was a “great decision”; Trump also claimed the case was a priori unfounded – a popular refrain from the far right. Republicans Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Madison Cawthorn all appeared to offer Rittenhouse internships. (No word on whether they’re paid or unpaid.) Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the state where the shootings took place, tweeted that justice was done, and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted a video of the reading of the Judgment entitled, “There is hope for this land.”
Rittenhouse’s development to become a right-wing martyr is a product of the highly politicized nature of his case and the circumstances of the shootings. The case linked several issues where there is a strong partisan divide, including gun rights and protests against police brutality. But it is also part of a long story on the far right, as I previously reported, that certain characters were elevated to sacred status.
Almost immediately after being identified as a marksman last year, Rittenhouse was elevated to a quasi-saint under the Right. This was the first time this phenomenon had occurred on the mainstream right in America. Since then we have seen it repeat itself. Take those accused of being involved in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol who received support through fundraising drives and rallies. Rittenhouse’s square in the middle of the right-wing hagiography shows how much the extreme right and the mainstream right have come closer together.