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Executive Summary: THE IMPLICATIONS OF KYLE RITTENHOUSE’S ACQUITTAL

Beatriz Adell Quesada, Diana Smith, Angeliki Siafaka, Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team

Week of Monday, November 29, 2021


A Kyle Rittenhouse Supporter[1]


On November 19, 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all five charges pressed against him after he fatally shot two men and wounded one during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020.[2] The jury ruled that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, deeming his use of force necessary to protect himself “from imminent death or great bodily harm.”[3] Rittenhouse’s acquittal will likely lead right-wing extremists in the US to believe that they can engage in vigilantism with impunity, encouraging them to perpetrate violence against left-wing protesters. The verdict will very likely be perceived as a miscarriage of justice by left-wing US citizens, undermining their trust in the US judicial system. An increase in far-right vigilantism will likely motivate left-wing extremists to retaliate, leading to political violence and deepening the political polarization in the US. However, an increase in the usage of Facebook to promote violent vigilantism will likely encourage the company to improve its content moderation strategies to undermine extremists’ use of their platform, leading far-right groups to use alternative social media platforms with lax rules on content moderation.


Members of far-right online forums celebrated Rittenhouse’s acquittal and suggested that he should run for president of the US.[4] Far-right extremist groups will very likely hero-worship Rittenhouse and encourage individuals to bring guns to protests organized by left-wing activists. Bringing guns to protests will likely increase insecurity at these rallies, leading to confrontations between individuals from far-right and left-wing groups. Far-right extremists will very likely interpret the verdict to support their belief that they need to protect the US from the threat of left-wing ideologies, justifying far-right vigilantism against left-wing protesters. Far-right extremist groups will very likely use the verdict to create propaganda promoting racial violence and white nationalism, leading to a rise in violence against individuals promoting racial justice. Following this verdict, far-right extremist groups and anti-government militias will likely believe that they can act with impunity under the pretext of being protected by the law. The likely rise in far-right vigilantism and the presence of armed counter-protesters at rallies organized by left-wing groups will likely lead to support for political violence on both sides of the political spectrum.


Civil rights groups and left-wing activists believe that the verdict is an example of white privilege and racial bias, claiming that a person of color, in similar circumstances, would not have been acquitted.[5] Rittenhouse’s acquittal will very likely undermine trust in the justice system among left-wing activists and African American communities. Left-wing citizens likely feel that the far-right groups will use the verdict to encourage vigilantism during racial justice protests, contributing to the discontent caused by the verdict. The discontent was likely exacerbated as many of the Wisconsin state’s witnesses appeared to support Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument during the trial.[6] Left-wing extremist groups are likely to use Rittenhouse’s acquittal to create propaganda promoting anti-government sentiments and supporting violence against right-wing groups. Civil rights groups will likely feel that Rittenhouse’s acquittal was a miscarriage of justice and they will likely interpret the decision as allowing violence against left-wing protesters to go unpunished. Left-wing activists will likely see the acquittal to discourage protests or activism against police brutality and systemic racism in the US against African Americans. This would likely increase the feelings of insecurity among African American communities, exacerbating the distrust in law enforcement.


While Rittenhouse resided in Antioch, Illinois, he allegedly traveled to Kenosha to protect local businesses from rioters and looters amid the growing unrest.[7] On August 25, 2020, militia members in Kenosha had been called to action by a Facebook group called “Kenosha Guards,” which had created a Facebook event page called “Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property.”[8] While no connection has been established between Rittenhouse and the Kenosha Guards, the militia members who attended the protest will likely increase their presence on social media in response to the acquittal. Their increased social media presence will likely enable them to reach a larger audience and encourage others to engage in vigilantism. Right-wing extremist groups on social media are likely to use Rittenhouse’s acquittal to promote propaganda supporting violence against left-wing groups and encouraging their members to bring weapons to protests.


A lawsuit against Facebook was filed after the August 25, 2020 protests, alleging that Facebook provided a platform for militia groups to recruit and coordinate “a call to arms.”[9] While the lawsuit was dropped by the plaintiffs, if militias increase their use of Facebook as a platform to promote vigilantism, Facebook will likely overhaul its security measures to ensure more effective monitoring of extremist content on the platform. This will very likely lead to more effective long-term moderation of extremist groups on Facebook and other media platforms, like undermining their recruitment and coordination efforts through Facebook. Successful moderation will likely decrease the militia’s influence on some social media platforms and hinder their ability to commit attacks. However, in response to Facebook’s content moderation, extremists will likely shift to platforms with more lax rules and regulations on content moderation and use Facebook to promote the transition to other platforms.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team in consultation with the NORTHCOM Team will continue to monitor developments in the activity of right-wing extremists and left-wing groups in the US and examine their behavioral patterns, particularly their use of Rittenhouse’s acquittal to justify and promote political violence. The CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will remain vigilant to threats in the NORTHCOM region by monitoring global events 24/7 and producing relevant, fact-based analysis reports.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is a subdivision of the global consulting firm Paladin 7. CTG has a developed business acumen that proactively identifies and counteracts the threat of terrorism through intelligence and investigative products. Business development resources can now be accessed via the Counter Threat Center (CTC), emerging Fall 2021. The CTG produces W.A.T.C.H resources using daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement CTG specialty reports which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning. Innovation must accommodate political, financial, and cyber threats to maintain a level of business continuity, regardless of unplanned incidents that may take critical systems offline. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.

 

[1]File:A Kyle Rittenhouse supporter in Kenosha Wisconsin” by Lightburst, licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Kyle Rittenhouse Found Not Guilty of All Charges, Time, November 2021, https://time.com/6117401/kyle-rittenhouse-verdict-not-guilty/

[3] 2014 Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations 939. Crimes — general provisions. 939.48 Self-defense and defense of others., Justia, https://law.justia.com/codes/wisconsin/2014/chapter-939/section-939.48

[4] The far-right is calling for Kyle Rittenhouse to run for president, and extremism experts warn his acquittal may offer a ‘blank check’ for racial violence, Insider, November 2021, https://www.insider.com/kyle-rittenhouse-verdict-reaction-online-acquittal-racial-violence-kenosha-president-2021-11

[5] Anger, disappointment, joy: US reacts to Rittenhouse acquittal, Al Jazeera, November 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/19/anger-disappointment-joy-us-reacts-to-rittenhouse-acquittal

[6] Why the Kyle Rittenhouse ‘not guilty’ verdict is not a surprise to legal experts, NPR, November 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/11/19/1057422329/why-legal-experts-were-not-surprised-by-the-rittenhouse-jurys-decision-to-acquit

[7] Shootings, Arrest, Trial and More: The Kyle Rittenhouse Story Explained, NBC Chicago, November 2021, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/shootings-arrest-trial-and-more-the-kyle-rittenhouse-story-explained/2684756/

[8] Facebook removes Kenosha militia page following deadly shooting, CNBC, August 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/26/facebook-removes-kenosha-guard-page-after-deadly-shooting.html

[9] Plaintiffs drop lawsuit over Facebook militia posts, The Seattle Times, January 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation/plaintiffs-drop-lawsuit-over-facebook-militia-posts/

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