Republicans Are Falling All Over Themselves to Embrace Kyle Rittenhouse

Some GOP candidates aren't just defending Rittenhouse as a victim—they're celebrating him as a hero.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three demonstrators, killing two of them, during protests in Kenosha after a police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while being arrested in August 2020.
Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three demonstrators, killing two of them, during protests in Kenosha in August 2020. (Photo by Mark Hertzberg-Pool / Getty Images)

Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial has made him the favorite of some right-wingers looking to get in good with the GOP base.

A number of Republican candidates, elected officials, and other influential conservatives have lionized Rittenhouse in recent days. And while some have stuck to arguments that he’s been unfairly maligned in the media and acted in self-defense when he shot three people in Kenosha in August 2020, others have gone much further, portraying him as a vigilante hero.

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The latest came Thursday when embattled Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz offered Rittenhouse an internship.

“He deserves a not guilty verdict, and I sure hope he gets it, because you know what, Kyle Rittenhouse would probably make a pretty good congressional intern,” Gaetz said on Newsmax. “We may reach out to him and see if he'd be interested in helping the country in additional ways.

But it’s not just Gaetz trolling the libs: Republicans with a real shot at winning Senate seats next year have been trumpeting Rittenhouse’s actions in recent days.

Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, who recently met with former President Donald Trump, has called Rittenhouse “the good guy” and pledged to “donate and raise as much as necessary to support his appeals” if Rittenhouse loses in court.

“While so many of our leaders were just cowering to the BLM mob, Kyle was just trying to help. He showed up at a riot and he was trying to help protect local businesses, he was trying to help give medical aid,” he said in a video last week. “Anyone who won’t stand up and defend Kyle right now is someone that won’t stand up and defend you.”

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Mark McCloskey, who became a right-wing hero when he threatened BLM protestors in St. Louis with an AR-15 last summer and is now running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, went one step further. McCloskey showed up in Kenosha to offer Rittenhouse his support and posed for photos outside the courthouse with men flashing the OK sign, a symbol used by some white supremacists.

On August 25, 2020, Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during a protest over the police shooting of an unarmed Black man there a few days before. The teen said he’d decided to go to the town where his father lived after seeing footage of property damage, and joined other armed folks to protect a car dealership.

Rittenhouse was by himself in a parking lot when he was chased by Joseph Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum four times, killing him, after the man got close enough to him to grab the teenager's rifle. Rittenhouse fled the scene and was confronted by a group of protesters on the street. He was struck by several people while running before falling. 

Rittenhouse then shot at a man who was trying to kick him, but missed. Anthony Huber, 26, then ran up, hit Rittenhouse in the head with a skateboard, and tried to take his rifle. Rittenhouse shot Huber point-blank in the chest, killing him. Gaige Grosskreutz—who testified that he thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter—advanced on Rittenhouse with a pistol and was shot in the arm by the teenager. All of the people Rittenhouse shot were white.

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The defense argued that Rosenbaum was erratic and caused the altercation while the prosecution argued that Rittenhouse provoked it by pointing his gun at a group of people.

Many on the right view him as a well-meaning teenager who was forced to defend himself and has been unfairly charged by a “woke” prosecution and maligned by the media. And those further to the right are celebrating him as a vigilante hero who was willing to thwart a mob supposedly menacing society when the government stood down.

That includes some Fox News hosts.

“He did the right thing,” Greg Gutfeld said last week. “He did what the government should have done, which was to make sure these dirtbags—these violent, disgusting dirtbags—weren’t roaming the streets.”

Senior officials at the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank with close ties to ex-President Trump, have celebrated Rittenhouse’s actions.

“He was answering the call to defend persons and their property against left-wing street militias when civil authorities declined to do their duty,” Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams tweeted Tuesday night. “He’s a consummate citizen of America, defending the social compact in a de facto state of nature.”

“We need to make the Rittenhouse as hero movie,” Claremont Institute Vice President Matthew Peterson tweeted that same night.  

“He shouldn’t have been there? Brother, we all should have been there,” Peterson said a bit later, pushing back against the argument from some that while Rittenhouse might be innocent of the charges against him, he still shouldn’t have shown up armed in Kenosha.

Mack Lamoureux contributed reporting.