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A year after Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, the battle to define his public image continues

Kyle Rittenhouse was justified charged in the Kenosha killing a year ago, but that didn’t stop him from calling out the killer on social media.

The former Antioch resident has vowed to sue celebrities and media figures who used such language to describe him, but his attorney, Todd McMurtry, told the Tribune the larger goal is to change the discourse about Rittenhouse.

“That’s the whole point of a lot of the lawsuits I’m involved in, to reduce people’s online behavior,” said McMurtry, who specializes in high-profile defamation lawsuits. “When you start making provably false statements, you’ve crossed the line.”

It promises to add a new chapter to the still-intense battle to define Rittenhouse’s image after a trial that captured the world’s attention.

Rittenhouse was just 17 when he shot two men and wounded a third during the 2020 overnight riots that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black.

Kenosha County prosecutors charged him with murder, but he claimed self-defense. After a 15-day trial, the jury found him not guilty.

His lead defense attorney told reporters at the time that he hoped Rittenhouse would remain sober after the verdict, but that hasn’t happened. Despite initially expressing a reluctance to be a “man of affairs”, Rittenhouse gained attention as a figure in conservative politics and the gun rights movement.

“I’m just warming up,” he said told critic on Twitter earlier this month. “Make yourself comfortable.”

But while Rittenhouse vows to hammer his detractors, he remains embroiled in his lawsuits. The family of Anthony Huber, one of the men killed by Rittenhouse, is suing him and a number of Wisconsin law enforcement officials for allegedly conspiring to deprive Huber of his constitutional rights.

In August, Rittenhouse’s attorneys filed papers seeking to have him dismissed from the case, alleging, among other things, that a private investigator who was looking for the teenager across the country served a subpoena at a home in Florida where Rittenhouse does not actually live. comment, but his Twitter page lists his location as Texas).

The judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

In this undated video still, Kyle Rittenhouse, right, is interviewed by Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson.

Rittenhouse and his supporters are raising money for both legal battles. Media Accountability Project, Rittenhouse LLC, Nevada introduced on the Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight is accepting donations “to hold the media accountable in court for their malicious lies, defamation and propaganda.”

The teenager also endorsed a video game called “Kyle Rittenhouse’s Turkey Shoot,” which he said was designed to fund his lawsuits. Footage of the game, which is due out before Thanksgiving, shows an avatar resembling Rittenhouse shooting a “fake news turkey.”

GiveSendGo is raising money for his defense in Huber’s lawsuit, as is the National Gun Rights Foundation, which is portraying the case as a Second Amendment fight.

“(If) Kyle loses, mark my words, it will be open season on gun owners and every American’s God-given right to self-defense,” foundation president Dudley Brown said on the group’s website.

Neither Brown nor the Media Accountability Project responded to the Tribune’s requests for comment.

Kyle Rittenhouse waves to cheering fans during a panel discussion at Turning Point USA America Fest 2021 in Phoenix on December 20, 2021. The panel discussion, titled "Kenosha on camera," It's been a month since Rittenhouse was acquitted in the Kenosha shooting deaths in 2020.

Rittenhouse’s attorney would not disclose the targets of any defamation lawsuits that may be filed, but in an interview he singled out Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who described shootings as “mass murders” shortly after they occurred.

McMurtry said he believed the statement was defamatory and that comments made by others, including “social media influencers,” could also be prosecuted.

“I don’t think the average person understands how devastating it is to attack people online; they cause real trauma,” said McMurtry, who also represents Nick Sandman, a former high school student who sued media organizations over how he was exposed while meeting a Native American at the Lincoln Memorial.

Some cases have been settled, while others have been dismissed but are on appeal.

Rittenhouse has said on Carlson’s show that the media has jeopardized his job prospects and made it difficult for him to be in public without protection. But Roy Gutterman, a law professor and director of the Talley Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, said the teenager would likely be considered a public figure if he sued, reducing his chances of success.

“He will have to prove that these false statements were published with actual malice, knowingly false,” he said. “…The fact that much of Rittenhouse’s public image is the result of highly publicized public controversy should limit his ability to recover (damages).”

Legal matters aside, Rittenhouse recently announced plans to a YouTube channel is about guns, though he’s only posted one short video so far.

In an an interview In a blog post last month called “The Truth About Guns,” Rittenhouse said he was in pilot school and plans to someday fly for a cargo company. He also said he continues to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“(I) occasionally get depressed or sad or wake up with night terrors or cold sweats … but you realize the things that help,” he said, relying on the support of his girlfriend, service dog, friends and a psychiatrist.

Although Rittenhouse said immediately after his acquittal that he didn’t want to get involved in politics, he said in a blog post that changed when he discovered that Second Amendment advocacy “is quite political.” During the midterm elections, his Twitter account endorsed far-right US Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Bobert and other candidates he said would stand up for gun rights.

He established himself as an enthusiastic fighter on the platform, taunting his critics while flaunting his newly acquired blue check mark and posting self-referential memes: one is using footage of him sobbing on the witness stand in Kenosha to blame President Joe Biden for high gas prices.

Such a culture war could complicate any reputational turnaround Rittenhouse might want, said Joseph Blaney, a communications professor at Illinois State University who has written about the image overhaul.

“You have to choose your goals,” he said. “I don’t know what his intentions are, but if he was going to cultivate the image of a right-wing satellite, he is doing it more effectively than if his goal was to strike a conciliatory tone with the public to improve his image.”


Twitter @JohnKeilman


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