Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial may have ended, but his veneration is only beginning.
On Friday, a jury acquitted Rittenhouse on all charges after he shot three men, killing two and injuring one, during protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. Ever since the shootings, far-right groups online have fixated on Rittenhouse as a hero who was being unfairly tried, essentially turning him into 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 it dubbed “the trial of Saint Kyle.” These groups also fixated on the criminal backgrounds of the men Rittenhouse shot, mocked their deaths and celebrated the verdict by calling for more violence. Now, as Rittenhouse receives not only adulation but internship offers from Republicans in Congress, his wide adoption as a right-wing martyr — a phenomenon previously only really embraced by the extreme right — marks just how much closer far-right and mainstream Republicans have gotten.
On far-right message boards and chat groups, celebrations erupted immediately following the verdict. “It’s over. America wins. We can officially celebrate,” read one comment on Patriots.win, a pro-Trump forum that evolved out of the now-banned r/TheDonald subreddit. Many posters wrote that they were crying with relief and happiness. Their approval of the verdict reflects the broader Republican opinion: According to polling from Morning Consult over the weekend, 71 percent of Republicans said they approved of the jury’s decision. But posts quickly devolved into calls for further violence, with many saying they could “reference this case” to defend violent acts. Using slurs for antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement, one poster on Patriots.win said that those two groups “gotta be shitting. We have permission to defend ourselves now.” Another poster responded: “We don’t need fucking permission and never did. But now, it’s legal precedent.” (It should be noted that posters on anonymous message boards are not known for their legal expertise.)
Many posters on the extreme right also called for Rittenhouse to sue media companies whose coverage of the trial they deemed unfair or defamatory, citing Nicholas Sandmann, another conservative teenage martyr, whose family sued The Washington Post over coverage of a viral video in which Sandmann, who was attending a March for Life rally, encountered Omaha tribe elder Nathan Phillips in 2019. The Post settled with the Sandmann family, and many posters said Rittenhouse should seek similar lawsuits.
Republicans and right-wing media have taken advantage of Rittenhouse’s darling status among both the mainstream and far right. Fox News already has a widely promoted one-on-one interview with Rittenhouse set to air during “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Monday.1 Fox News also published a story Saturday suggesting Rittenhouse could have a defamation case against President Biden. Meanwhile, Republican politicians have praised the verdict and Rittenhouse. Former President Donald Trump called into Fox News Friday evening to say he thought that Rittenhouse was “brave” for testifying and that the verdict was a “great decision”; Trump also asserted that the case was baseless to begin with — a common refrain on the far right. Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Madison Cawthorn all seemed to offer Rittenhouse internships. (No word on whether they’re paid or unpaid.) Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the state where the shootings took place, tweeted that justice had been served, and Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky tweeted a video of the verdict being read with the caption: “There is hope for this country.”
Rittenhouse’s evolution into a right-wing martyr is a product of the highly politicized nature of his case and the circumstances surrounding the shootings. The case weaved together multiple issues over which there is stark partisan division, including gun rights and protests over police brutality. But it’s also a part of a long history on the far right of raising certain figures to holy status, as I’ve previously reported.
Almost immediately after he was identified as the shooter last year, Rittenhouse was elevated to a quasi-saint status among the right. This marked the first time this phenomenon occurred in a major way among the mainstream right in America. Since then, we’ve seen it repeating. Take the individuals charged with participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol who have attracted support in the form of fundraisers and rallies. Rittenhouse’s place amid the right-wing hagiography demonstrates how much the far right and the mainstream right have converged, with members of Congress who send out pithy tweets and extreme posters on message boards who call for violence all praying at the same altar of St. Kyle.