The acquitted vigilante should spare us his views

Now that he’s been acquitted of murdering two with his illegal semi-automatic, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse  should  go home and spare us from having to listen to his unformed views on current events.

His own lawyer has advised him to change his name and start his life over again. He should, for his own good and that of this deeply divided nation.

But he probably won’t.

The temptation to become an extremist icon will be too great and he will likely let himself be exploited by those who see him as a useful prop for their own pursuits. I hope I’m wrong.

Some of the members of Congress who made noises about making the teenager a congressional intern will follow through on the offer and Rittenhouse or his mother may see it as a nice career move.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, one of our stranger statesmen, released a video after the verdict reminding his followers, “You have a right to defend yourself. Be armed, be dangerous, be moral.” He has invited Rittenhouse to accept an internship in his office where he can be armed and dangerous and moral while getting coffee for the congressman and his staff.

Donald Trump Jr., the noted big game hunter, is promoting a gun rights organization’s plan to send  Rittenhouse a brand, new AR-15 to replace the one the police confiscated.And don’t be surprised if the National Rifle Assn. treats him like its Man of the Year or at least, its Second Amendment poster boy, the living and breathing personification of the 21st century militiaman. Only now we call them vigilantes.

I have no quarrel with the Kenosha, Wis., jury that deliberated 26 hours before unanimously accepting Rittenhouse’s contention that he was defending himself when he shot and killed one demonstrator  who attempted  to seize his gun and the other who attacked him with a skateboard. He then wounded the third who had pointed a handgun at him.

There were many hot button side issues surrounding this case: vigilantism, racial justice, gun rights and the like but the jury accepted the defendant’s claim of self defense and that’s all it had to do.

Legal experts point out that Wisconsin law, like many other states, requires the prosecution to disprove a defendant’s claim he was trying to defend himself when he killed someone and to do it beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Kenosha prosecutors failed but they did show video of Rittenhouse recklessly pointing his semi-automatic at people before the shooting started. The teenager had no firearms training, but he did have the right to openly carry the weapon he was too young to buy or own. If you think this makes no sense, you’re on to something.

The presiding judge, Bruce Schroeder, who seemed hostile to the prosecution, inexplicably dropped a charge of unlawfully carrying a dangerous weapon, which Rittenhouse was clearly doing. And even though it would have been a misdemeanor, probably carrying no jail time, conviction would have at least acknowledged Rittenhouse’s conduct was something less than heroic.

He was, without a doubt, playing vigilante and the vigilante is the next worst thing to the lynch mobster in the lexicon of those who take the law into their own hands. The process of turning him into a hero continued within hours of the verdict with his booking on the Tucker Carlson talk show, with other Fox propagandists waiting in the wings.

Thoughtful conservatives like David French agreed with parents of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting victims in expressing fear that Rittenhouse will soon be joined by copycats who see his verdict as a license for them to obtain a gun and play militiaman.

“When you turn a foolish young man into a hero,” wrote French in The Atlantic, “you’ll see more foolish young men try to emulate his example.”

There won’t be a shortage of foolish younger and older men in a nation that has more guns than people. And if the Supreme Court makes open carrying easier in an upcoming New York case, we can expect more gun toting teenagers and their elders standing their ground, shooting and killing and making not always legitimate pleas of self defense.


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at

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