Kyle Rittenhouse speaks with his attorneys during his trial on November 18, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Photo by Sean Krajacic / Pool / Getty Images)
The GOP has a new superstar and his name is Kyle Rittenhouse.On Monday night in Phoenix, Rittenhouse appeared at AmericaFest, a conference organized by the MAGA-friendly youth group Turning Point USA. In the audience, thousands of high school and college-age students screamed and cheered, chanting “Kyle.” Then, the sound system kicked in, playing a song that repeated Rittenhouse’s name. Fireworks exploded.
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Dressed in a navy blue suit and tie, and with one hand casually in his pocket, 18-year-old Rittenhouse finally strolled in.
He was there to speak on a panel called “Kenosha on Camera” and discuss his recent acquittal in the killing of two people and wounding of another with an assault rifle during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer.Since that acquittal on Nov. 19, Rittenhouse’s ascent as the new poster boy for the GOP has been as swift as it has been predictable. Rittenhouse has been lionized by lawmakers within the Republican Party, and embraced by Tucker Carlson and others in right-wing media. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a bill that would have seen Congress award him a Congressional Gold Medal.During her own appearance at AmericaFest, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert praised him on stage; the mere mention of Rittenhouse’s name by Boebert drew a louder cheer than anything else the lawmaker spoke about.
Others were horrified by Rittenhouse’s appearance at AmericaFest. “It is certainly a choice to give a guy an intro hype song when his claim to fame is legally killing two people,” tweeted Jared Holt, a domestic extremism researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “Whether you agree the killing was justified or not, it's another leap and bound entirely to hype it up as epic.”
"The message I get here is not that TPUSA thinks the killing was legal, but that it was awesome,” Holt added. “And that's pretty fucked up for an org that specifically courts young people for politics.”
While on stage, Rittenhouse was joined by Turning Point USA’s founder Charlie Kirk along with conservative commentators Jack Posobiec, Elijah Schaffer, and Drew Hernandez. The teenager didn’t say too much while on stage, but he did say that the experience of the high-profile trial “helped me grow a lot, it’s helped me mature.” The crowd’s response to Rittenhouse’s appearance seemed to cement his position as one of the hottest stars in the GOP ecosphere right now.“[He is] perhaps the biggest celebrity the Right has had since Donald Trump rode the golden elevator into our nightmares,” Jared Yates Sexton, author of American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World But Failed Its People wrote in his newsletter last week. “It has happened so swiftly and predictably that when news broke that Rittenhouse would be appearing as a paid speaker at Turning Points USA’s America Fest 2021, hardly anyone was surprised.”While Rittenhouse’s next steps are unknown, he did tell the crowd in Phoenix to “be on the lookout” for possible lawsuits against media outlets he believes purposely misconstrued the events surrounding the shooting.