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KENOSHA, Wis. — Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another amid protests and rioting over police conduct in Kenosha, Wis., was found not guilty of homicide and other charges on Friday, in a deeply divisive case that ignited a national debate over vigilantism, gun rights and the definition of self-defense.
After about 26 hours of deliberation, a jury appeared to accept Mr. Rittenhouse’s explanation that he had acted reasonably to defend himself in an unruly and turbulent scene in August 2020, days after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black resident, during a summer of unrest following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Mr. Rittenhouse sobbed and was held by his lawyers after a clerk read the jury’s verdict, acquitting him of all charges.
After the shootings, Mr. Rittenhouse was transformed from an unknown 17-year-old from rural Illinois into a national symbol. Some Americans were horrified by the images of a teenager toting a powerful semiautomatic rifle on a city street during racial justice demonstrations, a reminder of the extent of open carry laws in the United States. Others saw a well-meaning young man who had gone to keep the peace and provide medical aid, a response to the sometimes destructive protests that had roiled American cities in the summer of 2020.
“So many people look at this case and they see what they want to see,” Thomas Binger, the prosecutor in the trial, had cautioned jurors before they began deliberations.
The case reflected the sharp split in the country, and political leaders and others weighed in almost immediately, conservatives deeming it a win for the notion of self-defense and liberals labeling it a failure of the criminal justice system.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, said the verdict served as a message to “armed vigilantes” that “you can break the law, carry around weapons built for a military, shoot and kill people, and get away with it.”
President Biden said the acquittal would “leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included,” but he also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful. “I stand by what the jury has concluded,” he told reporters earlier. “The jury system works, and we have to abide by it.”
Republicans, like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said that “justice has been served.” Rebecca Kleefisch, the leading Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor, said that “the justice system worked” and called the prosecution “a complete disgrace.”
Shortly after noon on Friday, the jury forewoman, wearing a jean jacket and a face mask, handed the verdicts to a court official, who passed them to Judge Bruce Schroeder for review. As the verdict was read, Mr. Rittenhouse’s mother and sisters cried, and friends and family of the men Mr. Rittenhouse fatally shot clutched each other’s hands and wept. Several jurors, appearing fatigued, shifted uncomfortably in their seats or folded their arms across their chests.
Outside the courthouse, quiet gave way to shouts from supporters of Mr. Rittenhouse. Gov. Tony Evers had prepared for any unrest after the verdict by authorizing 500 Wisconsin Army National Guard troops. As evening fell, only a few demonstrators holding signs remained on the courthouse steps.
Mark Richards, a defense lawyer, said in an interview that Mr. Rittenhouse, who is now 18, had left the courthouse immediately after the verdict.
“He’s relieved, and he looks forward to getting on with his life,” Mr. Richards said.
On Aug. 25, 2020, Mr. Rittenhouse arrived in downtown Kenosha with his rifle and a medical kit on the third day of civil unrest over the shooting of Mr. Blake by Officer Rusten Sheskey in the former factory town of 100,000 residents. (In January, prosecutors announced they were not charging Officer Sheskey with wrongdoing.) Demonstrators marched peacefully at points, but some smashed streetlamps and set cars and shops on fire. Law enforcement was overwhelmed, and dozens of civilians took up their own firearms to guard businesses and subdivisions, adding to a tense and chaotic atmosphere that included sparring between the groups.
Testimony and video footage shown during the two-week trial revealed that Mr. Rittenhouse was chased into a parking lot, at one point, by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, who was unarmed and behaving erratically. Mr. Rittenhouse turned and shot him at close range, killing Mr. Rosenbaum, who had been living in Kenosha.
Mr. Rittenhouse then shot two other people — Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz — who pursued Mr. Rittenhouse as he fled, testimony showed. Mr. Grosskreutz, a medic from the Milwaukee suburbs, survived and testified at the trial, saying he had pulled out a gun because he believed that Mr. Rittenhouse was an active shooter. Mr. Huber, who was 26 and had been protesting the shooting of Mr. Blake — a longtime friend — died after a gunshot to the chest.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors sought to portray Mr. Rittenhouse, a former resident of Antioch, Ill., as an instigator who had behaved with criminal recklessness, inserting himself into a volatile scene of demonstrators and then firing his gun with little provocation.
There was chaos that night in Kenosha, Mr. Binger, the prosecutor, told the jury in his opening statement. But “the only one who killed anyone,” he said, “was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.”
At the heart of the case, though, was a fight over what acts qualify as self-defense. Wisconsin law allows deadly force to be used if a person “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself,” and in the state there is no duty to retreat before using force.
The prosecution struggled to refute Mr. Rittenhouse’s central argument: that he had feared for his life when he was chased by Mr. Rosenbaum, a man who had been captured on video throughout the evening shouting threats and racial epithets and — according to Mr. Rittenhouse and a witness called by the prosecution — had promised to kill Mr. Rittenhouse if he found him alone. Mr. Rosenbaum had been released that day from a hospital where he had received psychiatric care and was treated for bipolar disorder and depression, testimony showed.
It was Mr. Rosenbaum, Mr. Richards said in his opening statement, who “lit the fuse” that night, “trying to take Kyle’s weapon from him to use against him.”
Still, in testimony, some people who had observed Mr. Rosenbaum, who was 5-foot-4, downplayed the danger that they perceived from him that night. Jason Lackowski, a former Marine and resident of Green Bay who said he had traveled to Kenosha with a gun to protect property, testified that he saw Mr. Rosenbaum as “a babbling idiot.”
Perhaps the closest witness to the encounter was Richie McGinniss, a videographer for The Daily Caller, a prosecution witness whose testimony was helpful in establishing a crucial detail for the defense: He said Mr. Rosenbaum had reached for the barrel of Mr. Rittenhouse’s rifle just before Mr. Rittenhouse fired.
“It was clear to me it was a situation where it was likely something dangerous was going to happen, be it Mr. Rosenbaum grabbing it or Mr. Rittenhouse shooting it,” Mr. McGinniss said on the stand.
Mr. McGinniss also became emotional in the courtroom as he described the trauma of the shootings and his fear when he realized he might have been struck by a bullet. After hearing the gunshots only feet away, Mr. McGinniss said, he stamped his legs on the ground to make sure he had not been wounded.
Mr. Rittenhouse had faced five felonies, including first-degree intentional homicide, which is known as murder in most states, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
A sixth charge, for illegal possession of the rifle, was dismissed by Judge Schroeder after defense lawyers argued that Mr. Rittenhouse did not violate the state statute in question because of his age and the length of the weapon’s barrel. The gun was purchased by Dominick Black, a friend of Mr. Rittenhouse’s, because Mr. Rittenhouse was 17 and not legally old enough to buy it, testimony showed.
The trial, which took place in the courthouse in Kenosha that was shuttered and heavily barricaded during last year’s unrest, was marked by angry clashes over judicial procedure between the judge and lawyers, particularly the prosecutor, Mr. Binger.
Last week, the defense moved for a mistrial, suggesting that Mr. Binger — who had introduced questions on a topic that the judge had previously suggested was off-limits — was intentionally sabotaging the trial to avoid an acquittal.
Judge Schroeder, the longest-serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin, insisted that he wanted to keep politics out of his courtroom, scolding a prospective juror who declared that his belief in the Second Amendment made him biased in favor of Mr. Rittenhouse. But the judge also drew attention on Veterans Day for the unusual step of prompting the jury to applaud a defense witness — a veteran — and for periodically launching into meandering asides for the jury on legal theory, Roman history and the Bible.
Jurors heard from dozens of witnesses, including women close to the men who had been shot dead; other armed people who had joined Mr. Rittenhouse on the Kenosha streets that night; and witnesses who had livestreamed the shootings. In the most closely watched day of the trial, Mr. Rittenhouse testified in his own defense.
His testimony began on an emotional note: He burst into tears as he recalled the night of the shootings, prompting the judge to call a recess. But for most of Mr. Rittenhouse’s time on the witness stand, he delivered a calm account, saying he had brought a gun to downtown Kenosha for protection, did not plan to fire it and only did so when he feared for his life.
While on the stand Mr. Grosskreutz, who survived Mr. Rittenhouse’s gunshots, described the chaotic scene after he heard the first several shots ring out. Mr. Grosskreutz testified that he ran in the direction of the gunfire, determined to help anyone who had been injured. Within moments, he encountered Mr. Rittenhouse, fleeing down the street with his rifle, and began to follow in his direction with a pistol in one hand.
When Mr. Huber gave chase and swung a skateboard at the head of Mr. Rittenhouse, who had fallen down, Mr. Rittenhouse shot Mr. Huber in the chest. Mr. Grosskreutz continued to approach, he said in his testimony, first with his gun pointed in the air, then in the direction of Mr. Rittenhouse.
“I was never trying to kill the defendant,” he said. “In that moment, I was trying to preserve my own life.”
After the verdict was announced, Mr. Rittenhouse, his family and his lawyers left immediately, but the crowd on the courthouse steps lingered for hours. In a video clip that the Fox News host Tucker Carlson posted on Twitter later on Friday, Mr. Rittenhouse spoke about his experience.
“The jury reached the correct verdict: Self-defense is not illegal,” Mr. Rittenhouse said, adding, “It’s been a rough journey, but we made it through.”
Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, strongly criticized local authorities, accusing them of racism. But he said he would keep seeking justice.
“We’re going to continue to fight,” he said, “and we’re going to continue to be peaceful. Let freedom ring.”
Lawyers for the estate of Mr. Rosenbaum and Mr. Grosskreutz released a statement calling for peace after the verdict. “What we need right now is justice, not more violence,” they said. “While today’s verdict may mean justice delayed, it will not mean justice denied.”
Mr. Huber’s parents, John Huber and Karen Bloom, said that they were “heartbroken” and that the verdict “sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.”
In a statement on Friday, Mayor John Antaramian of Kenosha urged residents to be civil and respectful in the wake of the decision.
“The jury in the Rittenhouse case has announced its verdict, and I join Kenosha’s community leaders in calling for calm,” he said. “We all may not agree because we all look at the world differently, but we must engage in civil and respectful dialogue.”
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dan Hinkel and Sergio Olmos contributed reporting from Kenosha. Jennifer Medina and Maggie Astor also contributed reporting.
For many Americans, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges on Friday was a vindication of an innocent, if not heroic, teenager with good intentions. For others, it was a brutal disappointment, further evidence that the courts give white men a pass for their actions.
But for legal scholars, it was not a surprise. Once Mr. Rittenhouse claimed that he had acted in self-defense when he shot three men, killing two, during unrest following the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., the onus was on the prosecution to prove otherwise.
“When people look at this, and they’re feeling frustrated, they’re not recognizing just how high the prosecutors’ burden is here,” said Cecelia Klingele, a University of Wisconsin law professor. “It was a real uphill battle to get out from under self-defense.”
The acquittal points to the wide berth the legal system gives to defendants who say they acted out of fear, even if others around them were also afraid.
Wisconsin’s rules for self-defense are well within the national mainstream. If people reasonably believe they are at risk of death or great bodily harm, they can use deadly force. Most states say that someone who provokes violence or is acting illegally waives the right to self-defense, but Wisconsin allows it if the person has “exhausted every other reasonable means to escape from or otherwise avoid death or great bodily harm.”
The state does not have a full-fledged “stand your ground” statute that exists in at least 30 states, but people who believe they are threatened do not have a duty to retreat if they can.
Such rules can be combustible when juxtaposed against the state’s open carry law, which allows for situations like the one at issue in the trial, where numerous strangers were armed and had taken it upon themselves to maintain order.
Self-defense laws typically do not require someone to have good judgment and tend to consider only the moments leading up to the violence, not whether the person willingly entered a turbulent situation or contributed to the chaos.
“Do you look at the choice to go to a heated, confrontational area with a weapon that would be scary to a lot of people?” said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duke University School of Law, speaking of Mr. Rittenhouse. “You can’t really say that he doesn’t have a right to do that because of the status of gun laws.”
Similarly, even though the three men on trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia chased him through a suburban neighborhood, they are claiming self-defense because, they say, Mr. Arbery tried to get control of a shotgun one was carrying.
Gun laws have generally become more permissive — open carry is now legal, to one degree or another, in almost every state. Gun purchases have soared and the Supreme Court appears poised to gut New York State’s handgun permit requirement in a Second Amendment case.
“If we’re going to have a country in which guns are pervasive and the law has little or nothing to say about where and when one may carry a gun and display a gun,” Mr. Buell said, “then we are going to have a situation where self-defense law can’t really handle it.”
The reasonable fear standard for self-defense has given rise to concerns that it is affected by the same racial bias that permeates the justice system. A mountain of social science research shows that Black people, men in particular, are more likely to be seen as threatening.
“The message that this case sends is to shoot first, ask questions later,” said Kami Chavis, director of the criminal justice program at Wake Forest Law. She added, “If we change the race, the age, the victims, if we change some of these dynamics we very well could have had a different result.”
Mr. Rittenhouse went to downtown Kenosha with a military-style assault rifle slung to his chest, saying he wanted to protect property and volunteer as a medic, though he was only 17 years old and not a certified E.M.T.
During the unrest he was pursued by a man, Joseph Rosenbaum, who Mr. Rittenhouse said he feared would wrest control of his gun. Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed him. That, according to evidence presented at the trial, caused members of the crowd to perceive Mr. Rittenhouse as a dangerous aggressor.
One man, Anthony Huber, used a skateboard as a weapon against him. Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed him before facing off with a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who had pulled out a handgun. Mr. Rittenhouse wounded him in the arm.
Even assuming that everyone involved had the best of intentions, it would be difficult to tell aggressors from defenders. A police officer testified that so many armed people were roving the area that when Mr. Rittenhouse approached with his hands up, he made no connection to the shootings that had occurred.
The jury was not asked to consider whether Mr. Rittenhouse was in error for bringing a gun to a volatile situation. The only gun charge against Mr. Rittenhouse — possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 — was dismissed at the 11th hour. The judge agreed with a defense argument that the law made an exception for long guns, a common provision that allows teenagers to hunt. The law was written at a time when military-style assault rifles were not widely available.
Since the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018, in which the gunman was 19, Florida, California and Vermont have raised the age to purchase a long gun to 21, and Washington State did the same for semiautomatic rifles.
A Gallup poll last year showed that support for gun regulation, which surged after the Parkland shooting, has ebbed during the coronavirus pandemic and a spike in violent crime. Still, a healthy majority of Americans support stricter gun laws.
“What happened in Kenosha isn’t some fluke,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for Law & Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “It’s the logical consequence of state and federal laws being written by the N.R.A. and going unopposed for decades.”
For many who followed the case, especially on the political left, the verdict raised uncomfortable questions about the scope of self-defense laws. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, Wis., called the verdict “deeply disturbing” and expressed concern about the message it sent.
“Unfortunately, this will perpetuate distrust in the justice system and further normalize gun violence,” Ms. Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. “Allowing vigilantism to masquerade as self-defense is a terrible precedent.”
Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who now teaches at Marquette University Law School, said the trial was an instance in which many people’s opinions about what was morally acceptable clashed with the jury’s interpretation of what the law allowed.
“I, too, share that view that had he not brought that gun into Kenosha that day, and just come with his medic bag, we probably would not have had any deaths,” Ms. Geske said.
Ms. Geske said she believed that the jurors could have defensibly reached a guilty verdict. They could have, for example, decided that Mr. Rittenhouse’s fear of death or great bodily harm was not reasonable in the situation.
“It’s hard, because most of the victims at some point were approaching Rittenhouse,” Ms. Geske said. “All those factors made it hard for the jury to be satisfied that it wasn’t a reasonable belief.”
Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial has shined a searchlight on the violence and destruction that enveloped Kenosha, Wis., for several days in August 2020. But the not-guilty verdicts in the trial will not be the final word on those events.
Civil lawsuits are pending in federal court that accuse the authorities of wrongdoing, both during the turbulence in the city and in the police shooting that instigated it. Here is a look at some of the unresolved cases.
Lawsuit by Jacob Blake
The episode that first prompted the angry demonstrations in Kenosha was the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer, Rusten Sheskey, on Aug. 23, 2020. Mr. Blake was hit by seven shots — including several that struck him in the back — in an encounter that was captured on video. Acts of arson and vandalism during and after the demonstrations are what drew some armed civilians, including Mr. Rittenhouse, to downtown Kenosha. They have said they intended to guard businesses.
Michael Graveley, the Kenosha County district attorney, announced in January that neither Officer Sheskey nor Mr. Blake, who had a knife when officers were struggling to arrest him on a warrant for a sexual assault charge, would be charged in connection with the encounter.
Mr. Blake sued Officer Sheskey in federal court in March, saying that the officer violated his civil rights by using excessive force. Officer Sheskey’s lawyers have denied the allegations in court.
Lawsuit by Anthony Huber’s family
The most serious charge in Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial, first-degree intentional homicide, concerns Anthony Huber, the second man Mr. Rittenhouse fatally shot on Aug. 25, 2020.
Mr. Huber’s parents filed suit in federal court in August 2021 against the Kenosha Police Department, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department and others, including Sheriff David Beth and the current and former city police chiefs. The suit accuses the defendants, among other things, of allowing civilians like Mr. Rittenhouse to “patrol the streets, armed with deadly weapons, to mete out justice as they saw fit,” and of actively enabling and conspiring with them.
The suit portrays Mr. Huber as a “hero” who tried to disarm Mr. Rittenhouse by hitting him with a skateboard after Mr. Rittenhouse had shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum.
The defendants have filed motions asking the court to dismiss the case. A lawyer for the county defendants, Samuel Hall, called the allegations “demonstrably false.” A lawyer for city officials declined to comment.
Lawsuit by Gaige Grosskreutz
Mr. Grosskreutz was the third man shot by Mr. Rittenhouse. He was badly wounded but survived, and he testified in Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial.
His suit in federal court levels accusations similar to those in the Huber family’s lawsuit against several of the same defendants. The suit states that Mr. Grosskreutz, who was approaching Mr. Rittenhouse with a handgun when he was shot, lost 90 percent of his right biceps as a result.
As of earlier this month, none of the authorities named as defendants had yet responded in court to Mr. Grosskreutz’s lawsuit. Mr. Hall, the lawyer for county officials, noted that Mr. Grosskreutz had not sued Mr. Rittenhouse.
Mr. Grosskreutz’s lawyer, Kimberley Motley, also represents the estate of Mr. Rosenbaum, the first man Mr. Rittenhouse shot. No litigation has been filed so far on behalf of Mr. Rosenbaum’s survivors.
At the center of the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse was a narrow legal question that had little to do with the larger political issues of gun rights and vigilantism that his case has come to symbolize.
From a legal standpoint, the jurors were asked to decide whether Mr. Rittenhouse was reasonable in his belief that shooting three men — two fatally — was necessary to save himself from death or serious injury.
In the end, a jury decided the shootings were justified, and acquitted Mr. Rittenhouse on all counts.
The prosecutors in the case “respect the jury verdict,” the Kenosha County district attorney, Michael Graveley, said in a statement on Friday.
“Certainly, issues regarding the privilege of self-defense remain highly contentious in our current times,” said Mr. Graveley, who heads the office that prosecuted Mr. Rittenhouse but did not try the case himself.
The lead prosecutor in the trial, Thomas Binger, tried to convince jurors that Mr. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, had behaved in an ignorant and reckless fashion when he brought a military-style semiautomatic rifle to Kenosha, Wis., during a third night of turbulent protests in the city over the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.
Mr. Binger elicited testimony from witnesses that was meant to show that Mr. Rittenhouse had provoked the people he shot, and that he was not in danger of being killed when he chose to fire. “This is someone who has no remorse, no regard for life, and only cares about himself,” Mr. Binger said in his closing argument.
But some prosecution witnesses gave complex accounts that were not wholly favorable to the prosecution’s case.
Richie McGinniss, a videographer for a conservative news and opinion site, witnessed the first shooting, when Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, who had chased him into a parking lot and was rushing at him.
Mr. McGinniss gave the defense a crucial piece of testimony: He said he saw Mr. Rosenbaum lunge at Mr. Rittenhouse and reach for the barrel of Mr. Rittenhouse’s rifle.
“He threw his momentum toward the weapon,” Mr. McGinnis said of Mr. Rosenbaum.
That appeared to support Mr. Rittenhouse’s emotional testimony about his state of mind on Aug. 25, 2020, the night of the shooting. “If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it, and probably killed more people,” Mr. Rittenhouse said on the stand.
Other prosecution witnesses also gave testimony that helped the defense.
Gaige Grosskreutz, the only one of the three men Mr. Rittenhouse shot who survived, testified that he chased Mr. Rittenhouse after Mr. Rosenbaum was shot because he “thought that the defendant was an active shooter.” Mr. Grosskreutz, an emergency medical technician, was armed with a handgun, which he took out.
Mr. Grosskreutz described the encounter as he was shown photos that captured him pointing his gun at Mr. Rittenhouse, who shot him in the arm.
“It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him, advanced on him with your gun — now your hands down, pointed at him — that he fired, right?” Corey Chirafisi, a defense lawyer, asked.
“Correct,” Mr. Grosskreutz replied.
The jurors saw video showing the third victim, Anthony Huber, hitting Mr. Rittenhouse with a skateboard before Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed him. The video gave the defense added fodder for the self-defense argument.
Prosecutors clashed several times with Judge Bruce Schroeder, whose rulings often did not go the prosecution’s way. He warned against referring to any of the three men who were shot as victims, and blocked the prosecution from introducing some evidence, including a video made by Mr. Rittenhouse a few weeks before the shooting.
Shortly before closing statements, the judge threw out the one charge in the case that seemed to be a surefire conviction for the state: a misdemeanor charge of illegal possession of a deadly weapon by a minor.
Prosecutors argued that Mr. Rittenhouse was too young to legally possess the military-style rifle he had with him. But the defense successfully made a technical argument that the length of the barrel on Mr. Rittenhouse’s Smith & Wesson M&P 15 put it outside the law’s proscription.
Sophie Kasakove contributed reporting.
Like so much else in modern America, Friday’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse both revealed and widened the split between the country’s hostile political factions, with conservatives calling it a victory for the right to defend yourself and liberals condemning it as a miscarriage of justice.
Mainstream and far-right Republicans alike celebrated the not-guilty verdict for Mr. Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old who last year shot and killed two men and wounded another during protests over the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis.
In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson said that “justice has been served.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said “the Rittenhouse verdict reminds us we have the moral & legal right to self-defense.” And Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, said the verdict “renews our faith in the jury system.”
On the far right, many saw the verdict as vindication and encouragement. Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina told supporters in a video that “you have a right to defend yourself” and advised them to “be armed, be dangerous and be moral.” And on social media, one popular meme circulating among accounts associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys showed Mr. Rittenhouse in a tuxedo offering a champagne toast.
Democrats called the verdict an endorsement of violence. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said it served as a message to “armed vigilantes” that “you can break the law, carry around weapons built for a military, shoot and kill people, and get away with it.” And Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the verdict “unconscionable” and Mr. Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim “ludicrous.”
President Biden said the acquittal would “leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included,” but he also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful, warning that “violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy.”
The case was so politicized that it drew fund-raising on both sides, with at least one political action committee using anger at Mr. Rittenhouse to fund-raise for progressive candidates and Mr. Rittenhouse’s supporters raising money to subsidize his legal fees.
“We’re already expecting legal costs of about $110,000 for November, but if we can find 2,500 people to donate over the next 48 hours, we should be okay,” Mr. Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, wrote in a fund-raising appeal issued on Tuesday. (After the verdict on Friday, former President Donald J. Trump sent a fund-raising appeal of his own based on the trial’s outcome.)
The shooting made Mr. Rittenhouse an instant conservative celebrity. His mother received a standing ovation at a Republican Party dinner last year in Waukesha County, Wis., a month after the shooting. Hours after the verdict, Fox News said that an interview with Mr. Rittenhouse by Tucker Carlson would air on Monday.
Republican politicians, in search of attention and small-dollar campaign contributions, tried tying themselves to Mr. Rittenhouse. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and Mr. Cawthorn publicly offered him internships in their congressional offices.
After the verdict, an effort was already underway on Gab — a social media network popular among the far right — to screenshot posts by Mr. Rittenhouse’s critics in the news media for use in possible defamation suits.
One account, QAnon John, which is dedicated to the conspiracy theory and boasts more than 70,000 followers, wrote enthusiastically about the “massive energy shift” that had just occurred and posted a silhouetted image of Mr. Rittenhouse wearing wings and carrying a rifle over a slogan that read, “KYLE IS FREE.”
Accounts associated with the Proud Boys on the chatting app Telegram were equally excited. Some channels attacked the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man whose shooting set off the unrest in Kenosha, calling them “parasites.” “Your comrades are dead and your mortal enemies are celebrating,” one of the accounts wrote. “We hope that eats away at you for a long time.”
Among Democrats, anger mixed with conciliation.
Like Mr. Biden, Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, a Democrat, kept his tone muted, saying, “No verdict will be able to bring back the lives of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, or heal Gaige Grosskreutz’s injuries.”
But Mr. Evers acknowledged the inevitable spotlight shining on the state again, which he said had “undoubtedly reopened wounds that have not yet fully healed.”
Still, other Democrats were far more pointed.
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, a Democrat who has made a career out of being publicly mild-mannered, expressed outrage at those celebrating the verdict.
“The fact that some people are cheering a ruling that has allowed someone to take the law into his own hands and walk free from any accountability after shooting and killing two people is disrespectful to the lives that were lost,” she said.
Representative Jerrold L. Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for a federal review of the verdict by the Justice Department, describing it as a “miscarriage of justice” that “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“Justice cannot tolerate armed persons crossing state lines looking for trouble while people engage in First Amendment-protected protest,” he wrote on Twitter.
Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, said in a statement that “extreme gun culture has rotted out our collective soul,” adding, “Only in America can a 17-year-old grab an assault weapon, travel across state lines, provoke a fight, kill two people and injure another and pay no consequences.”
And Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., called the verdict a “travesty” that “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“This verdict is a reminder of the treacherous role that white supremacy and privilege play within our justice system,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s verdict may serve as a prelude to a similarly explosive trial looming in another corner of the country, as a verdict approaches in the case of three white men who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging near Brunswick, Ga. That case has already seen its share of racial strife, with lawyers for Mr. Arbery’s assailants arguing that civil rights leaders sitting in the courtroom could unduly influence the jury.
“At the same time they are giving a lot of praise and offering congressional internships and jobs for going to Kenosha with an AR-15,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has appeared in court with the Arbery family, “they’re condemning Black preachers for going to Brunswick with bibles.”
Alan Feuer and Maggie Astor contributed reporting.
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