NEW YORK (AP) — Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted on charges stemming from killing two men and wounding another during the unrest that followed the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer, says in a new interview that he’s “not a racist person” and supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This case has nothing to do with race. It never had anything to do with race. It had to do with the right to self-defense,” the 18-year-old tells Fox News host Tucker Carlson in an interview that aired Monday night. Rittenhouse is white, as were the men he shot.
Rittenhouse was 17 last year when he traveled 20 miles from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, which had been racked with protests in the wake of the August 23 shooting of Jacob Blake. That shooting and the response in Kenosha—protests that turned destructive—became part of the national reckoning over police use of force against Black people following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis the previous May at the hands of police.
Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-style semiautomatic rifle, joined others who said they were intent on protecting private property from potential damage on Aug. 25. During his trial, prosecutors argued that the teenager was a “wannabe soldier” who went looking for trouble that night. Rittenhouse countered that he fired in self-defense after he was attacked and in fear for his life.
“I thought they came to the correct verdict because it wasn’t Kyle Rittenhouse on trial in Wisconsin — it was the right to self-defense on trial,” Rittenhouse said in the interview. “And if I was convicted… no one would ever be privileged to defend their life against attackers.” He said some people, including some who have made threats against him, are “too ignorant to look at the facts.”
The shootings quickly made Rittenhouse a rallying cry for supporters of Second Amendment rights and those angered by the sometimes violent protests seen in some American cities after Floyd’s death. Rittenhouse was photographed in a bar before the trial with apparent members of the far-right Proud Boys. Rittenhouse’s attorneys have said he is not a white supremacist.
“I’m not a racist person. I support the BLM movement, I support peacefully demonstrating,” Rittenhouse told Carlson. He said, “I feel like my life has been extremely defamed,” and hinted that he may be taking action, saying: “I have really good lawyers who are taking care of that right now.”
He also hit hard at his former attorneys, John Pierce and Lin Wood, who he said used him to promote a “cause” as they raised $2 million for his bail. When asked about that over the weekend, Pierce said he had no comment. Wood told The Associated Press that the foundation he heads, Fightback Foundation, raised money for Rittenhouse’s bail and publicly said the case was a Second Amendment issue.
“I was not an attorney pushing for a cause,” Wood said. “Fightback has a mission that includes the right to bear arms and self-defense.”
Rittenhouse told Carlson that he wishes the shootings in Kenosha “never would’ve happened.” He continued, “But it did, and we can’t change that. But how… polarized it became is absolutely sickening, like right or left, people using me for a cause that should never have been used as a cause.”
Rittenhouse said that his life is different from what he had planned. He said he is taking college prerequisites to become a nurse and hopes to study on campus, but is now also thinking about studying law. He plans to move from the Midwest, but is not exactly sure where he will go.
“I’m going to go lay low and live my life and enjoy it,” he said.
A jury last Friday found Rittenhouse not guilty on charges of homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.
Black Americans see biased system in Rittenhouse verdict
For many Black Americans, Rittenhouse’s acquittal on all charges by a Wisconsin jury confirmed their belief in two justice systems: one for white people and another for Black people. Rittenhouse, the two men he killed, and the man he wounded were all white, but the case has been linked from the start to issues of race and the criminal justice system.
Activists have previously pointed to differences in how police handled Rittenhouse’s case and that of Blake, the Black man who was shot by a white Kenosha police officer in August 2020, sparking protests in the city that became destructive and violent.
Video footage played during the trial showed Rittenhouse running toward police still wearing his rifle, and continuing past the police line at officers’ direction. He turned himself in to police in Antioch, Illinois, early the following day.
And though Kenosha prosecutors filed serious charges that had the potential to put Rittenhouse in prison for life, the criminal trial also struck many activists as unusually deferential to the defendant. “You can really smell and see the underlying systemic racism that’s in the judicial system and the policing system,” said Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, following the verdict.
Black activists in Kenosha said the verdict showed they need to continue pushing for change in their city and state—in local elections, in education and in changes to policing. “You cannot tell me that these institutions are not sick,” said Kyle Johnson, an organizer with Black Leaders Organizing Communities. “You cannot tell me that these institutions are not tainted with racism.”
Many legal experts had said Rittenhouse had a strong argument for self-defense under Wisconsin law and could be acquitted. Prosecutors had to overcome Rittenhouse’s claim that he feared for his life, and some of the states’ own witnesses made that more difficult.
Still, Judge Bruce Schroeder’s handling of the case drew scrutiny at several points, including when he said before it began that the men Rittenhouse shot could not be referred to as “victims” at the trial—a longstanding rule in his courtroom. Schroeder also led a round of applause for military veterans just as a defense witness who had served in the Army was about to testify, and let Rittenhouse himself draw juror numbers to dismiss alternates—also his longstanding practice.
Local attorneys characterized most of the 75-year-old judge’s rulings and methods as typical for his courtroom and within the boundaries of the law, and Rittenhouse attorney Mark Richards said he had “never seen so much made of so little.”
But others questioned whether Schroeder’s decisions influenced the jury. “From the outset, this case has pulled back the curtain on the profound cracks in our justice system—from the deep bias routinely and unabashedly displayed by the judge, to the apathy of officers who witnessed Rittenhouse’s crimes and did nothing,” said Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who has represented the families of Jacob Blake, Trayvon Martin, and Ahmaud Arbery. “If we were talking about a Black man, the conversation and outcome would be starkly different.”
Richards said Schroeder has a reputation for tough sentences but “gives you a fair trial as a defendant.” he said, “If we lost, we knew what was going to happen,” to reporters after the verdicts. “It wouldn’t have mattered whether it was that judge or some other judge. He’s getting life in prison.”
Frankie Cooks of Kenosha, standing at the courthouse steps shortly after Rittenhouse’s acquittal, wasn’t angry over the outcome. She said she couldn’t be sure jurors got it wrong. The complaint from Cooks, who is Black, was that she has never heard of Wisconsin’s self-defense laws working in favor of those in her community.
“Rittenhouse wouldn’t have been acquitted if he was a Black man,” she said. For Cooks, it’s personal. She said her 20-year-old son, Tyrese Sherrod, is charged with opening fire at several men who she says attacked him at a Kenosha gas station in October. He faces five felony counts, including first-degree recklessly endangering safety and first-degree reckless injury, according to the Kenosha News.
According to a complaint and video in the case, at least one person who Sherrod shot at had earlier pulled a gun on him. After Sherrod fired around 10 shots, he reportedly fled the scene. “I’d like to see them handle his case—the case of a Black kid—like they handled this one,” she said. “I want to see that.”
Rittenhouse’s acquittal created fear that protesters against racial injustice and other causes will be in danger from right-wing causes that already deemed Rittenhouse a hero after the shootings. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader and activist, told the Associated Press that it suggests “it’s open season on human rights demonstrators.”
“The concern over this verdict is compounded by the fact that (Jacob) Blake, who was originally the issue, was shot by a policeman seven times in the back. He’s in a wheelchair today, paralyzed forever. And that policeman is walking the streets of Kenosha, on the force today,” Jackson said.