Kyle Rittenhouse – the Illinois teenager who fatally shot two demonstrators at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake – pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to felony charges including intentional homicide.
Rittenhouse, who just turned 18 on Sunday, entered the plea during a brief video hearing.
Rittenhouse is accused of leaving his home in Antioch, Illinois, before traveling to Kenosha to team up with a group of armed adult volunteers who were in the city to allegedly protect private property from demonstrators protesting the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man who was shot seven times in the back and left paralyzed.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the killings, is charged with five felonies: first degree intentional homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; first degree reckless homicide of Anthony Huber, 26, attempted first degree intentional homicide of Gaige Grosskreutz, 22, as well as two counts of recklessly endangering safety, for shots fired at others.
He also faces charges of being a minor in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor, and with violating a curfew in effect on Aug. 25, a civil citation.
Rittenhouse was armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle, and allegedly killed Rosenbaum after he threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse – and missed – before coming towards him and attempting to wrestle away the rifle.
In video captured of the aftermath of the deadly altercation, various protesters can be heard shouting “get him” and “beat him up” after Rittenhouse fatally shot Rosenbaum. When Rittenhouse tried to flee down the street, he tripped and fell to the ground. Huber then struck him with his skateboard and attempted to take the rifle. Rittenhouse then opened fire, killing Huber and injuring Grosskreutz, who was armed with a handgun.
Rittenhouse turned himself in at a local police station in Antioch the morning after the shootings, where he apparently admitted to shooting protesters, according to records from the Antioch Police Department. He was with his mother when he walked into the police station before 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 26.
“I shot two white kids,” Rittenhouse reportedly admitted, adding that he had “ended a man’s life.”
Rittenhouse’s attorneys claim that their client feared death or bodily harm and acted in self-defense when he fired on demonstrators. They also claim that the charges are politically motivated and that the extradition violates the accused killer’s constitutional rights.
Conservatives and far-right figures have also sought to depict Rittenhouse as a patriot and heroic figure who took up arms to protect people and property from protesters for racial justice and against police brutality, and have raised enough money for the teenager to make his $2 million bail.
Others see Rittenhouse as a domestic terrorist and right-wing vigilante who arrived in Kenosha with the intent to incite, or even kill, protesters.
The Kenosha killings came three months after the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody, when the 46-year-old Black man was being restrained by police officers in Minneapolis in striking footage that was captured by bystanders and galvanized a massive wave of outrage and protests across the United States and worldwide.
The killing of Floyd, as well as other police-committed killings of Black people, galvanized a rapid upsurge in activism by communities opposed to systemic racism and police impunity who united under the banner of the Black Live Matter movement.
The protest movement, which was accompanied by scenes of widespread unrest in major metropolitan centers across the country unseen since the Civil Rights era, quickly became a fault line in U.S. politics. President Donald Trump blasted protesters as “terrorists” and aggressively pursued a hard-nosed message stressing the need to restore order in an unsuccessful bid to capitalize on the unrest to press his case for reelection in Wisconsin and other battleground states.
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