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Kyle Rittenhouse and the New Era of Political Violence

A police officer in Kenosha, Wis., shoots a Black man named Jacob Blake seven times from behind, leaving him partially paralyzed. [gunshots] “Black lives matter!” Crowd: “Black lives matter!” Crowd: “Black lives matter!” Two days later, in the midst of protests and unrest, a teenager carrying an assault rifle kills two people and wounds a third. [gunshots] [yelling] [screams] “Oh, my God!” Now that shooter, 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, is standing trial on charges of murder. The case will likely focus on the few crucial minutes around the fatal shootings on Aug. 25 of 2020. [gunshots] But our investigation of these events reveals that the story is about much more than a single person. We analyzed hours of footage from that day and traveled to Kenosha just weeks after the events to hear from witnesses, several of whom have now been subpoenaed in the Rittenhouse trial. “It felt volatile. It felt tense. It felt like a war zone.” “We’re not like, bad people or like, people just going out to like, [expletive] up.” “I feel like had we not been there and not reacted the way that we did to the situation, I think we could have been looking at an even worse scenario.” We also spoke with the sheriff who led law enforcement’s response that night, which has become the subject of lawsuits. “Black lives matter!” While protests against systemic racism were what first drew out crowds in Kenosha, Rittenhouse, his victims, and many of those closest to the shootings, were white. What we found was a complex set of motivations on the streets that night that reflected the growing polarization in the country and helped set the scene … [gunshots] … for violence. On the Sunday before the Rittenhouse shooting, Kenosha police officers respond to a domestic complaint and try to arrest Jacob Blake. As Blake moves away from them and leans into his car, he’s holding a knife. [gunshots] An officer shoots him. [gunshots] Blake’s lawyer later said that Blake didn’t pose a threat. Video of the shooting quickly spreads online. “To hear about it is one thing. But to watch it, I guess it got to the point where, how many more?” Koerri Washington, who’s a local live streamer and now subpoenaed in the Rittenhouse trial, arrives to document the situation. “I mean, there was tons of people already starting to gather there. In the air you could kind of feel the tension.” “At a certain point, more sheriffs arrived on the scene. And their presence kind of aggravated the crowd. And from there, it just started going crazy.” [explosions] For the next 48 hours, the protests intensified. [crowds chanting] And at night, local businesses are looted and set on fire. Eventually, a new group inserts themselves into the already chaotic scene — dozens of men, mostly white, equipped with military-style weapons and gear. And soon, a Facebook post will incite more of them to come. It’s Tuesday morning, 13 hours before the Rittenhouse shooting, when on a Facebook page called the Kenosha Guard, a post publishes. “So my post just basically said, are there any patriots among us willing to take up arms and defend our lives, our families, our neighborhoods and our businesses?” The author of the post is Kevin Mathewson, a controversial former city councilman, who’s now been subpoenaed in the Rittenhouse trial. Hours after his post, thousands have seen it, and Mathewson arrives at Civic Center Park, the epicenter of the recent protests. “I wanted people to come play defense. I wanted people to come to protect themselves.” Reporter: “But did any business owners ask you for help for protection?” “I was not asked directly by a business to defend anybody.” “Say his name.” Crowd: “Jacob Blake.” At this point, demonstrators are marching peacefully in downtown Kenosha. They’re demanding an end to police violence against Black people. The presence of openly armed white men inflames the situation. “The Second Amendment is meant for everybody. It’s not exclusive to white people.” “Out of everyone that I saw with the militia, they were all white males. So I honestly feel that they came to incite more racial problems.” Porche Bennett, who’s a local activist, has been protesting for the last two days. “You get to see the people now that you have been living around forever. There are no more masks being worn.” “Are there some truly peaceful protesters that may have been a little intimidated about seeing an armed person with a gun? Probably. But the Second Amendment is very clear. And my rights don’t end where somebody else’s feelings begin.” Throughout the day and early into the evening, more openly armed men arrive near the protests. Some position themselves close to businesses that had been damaged on earlier nights. This is where we first see Ryan Balch, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran from a town 40 minutes away, who’s there with a group of friends. He’s also been subpoenaed in the Rittenhouse trial. “I would say what brought me to Kenosha was that I felt like something needed to be done. If law enforcement is not going to try to keep the peace, then somebody else needs to go out there and make sure that that happens.” Balch argues that his military training gave him the skills to help bring events under control. “We kind of trusted ourselves to insert ourselves in that situation, and bring the situation to the correct conclusion.” At the time, he also supported the extremist Boogaloo movement, which is anti-police and calls for the government’s overthrow. He says he later stopped supporting the movement. Balch and his friends eventually link up with other openly armed men. Among them is Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse is 17 years old. He’s come to kenosha from his home in Illinois. Balch says he didn’t know Rittenhouse or the people he was with, but decided to team up with them anyway. “They weren’t on the level of me and my guys. I don’t think they trained formally together at all. But the more guys you got, the better off you are.” As for Rittenhouse, we don’t know whether he sees himself as some kind of neutral force between the protesters and the police, like Ryan does. His social media posts at the time seem to indicate he was a strong supporter of law enforcement. Since the shooting, he’s also been seen flashing white power signs … … and he’s become an icon for far-right groups. Crowd: “Black lives matter.” Soon, Balch and Rittenhouse will come face to face with racial justice protests. Crowd: “No justice! No peace!” The organized daytime protests at the park are now over, and law enforcement has announced a curfew. “Our goal that entire evening was to disperse people from the Civic Center after curfew and to get them to leave, to get them to go home.” Kevin Mathewson, who called for the presence of armed civilians that morning, says he left because he was worried about the safety of his family 10 miles away. “My wife was on the phone with me saying, ‘Hey, get your ass home. Kids are scared. I’m scared.’” [car alarm] “Breaking curfew was worth helping to create some type of positive change. It’s one thing to sit at home and say that, yes, Black Lives Matter. But it’s so much more impactful to put another body on the street.” Nathan Peet has been demonstrating in Kenosha for days. But tonight’s protest is different, and he’s carrying a gun. “I don’t normally like to carry at protests because I don’t want it to be seen as a sign of aggression. But I did carry on Tuesday specifically because of the threats that I saw floating around in the Kenosha Guard group.” [car alarm] Just arriving at the protests are Hannah Gittings and her boyfriend, Anthony Huber. Both are unarmed. But by night’s end, Huber will be shot and killed by Kyle Rittenhouse. Gittings has now been subpoenaed for Rittenhouse’s trial. “I wouldn’t really say we were like, heavy activists or anything previously. But we knew Jake Blake, and felt like we needed to be present and standing united with the people who believe the same things that we do and want basic human rights, civil rights, equality.” The standoff between protesters and the police becomes more violent. [car alarms] “Everything started to move super quickly.” “Police in riot gear all yelling to disperse and go home, you’re breaking curfew.” [car alarms] “I got grabbed by the police. And he threatened to lock me up if he caught me out there again at night. I just went home.” Faced with this massive show of force, only a small number of protesters choose to stay. Among the shrinking crowd is Gaige Grosskreutz, a paramedic from Milwaukee, who’s also under subpoena for the Rittenhouse trial. “When you go into a protest or a march in a medic capacity, you’re essentially waiving that luxury to be able to pick a side because ethically speaking, you know, you’re there to treat everybody.” Like Nathan Peet, Grosskreutz decided to come armed with a handgun. “’Cause it’s my right. Simple as that.” He’ll later be shot by Kyle Rittenhouse after drawing his gun and trying to stop him. [car alarms] “It was going the direction we wanted it to go.” Law enforcement has one clear plan on this night. “We’re not going to let the city of Kenosha burn because you want to in the late evening hours start destroying stuff.” Over the course of the next two hours, officers force some of the protesters southeast across the park and onto this street, Sheridan Road, in the direction of the openly armed civilians. Balch, Rittenhouse and other armed men are still stationed a few blocks down the road near businesses that were damaged on previous nights. “I think that the police set the stage for it. They knew that there were armed groups down there. And they could have not pushed the protesters down Sheridan.” The sheriff told us that the police didn’t plan for the armed presence down the road. Reporter: “What did you tell your deputies to do if they encountered armed militia people?” “By the time I think I knew that they were out there doing this, we had — our staff was already deployed out there protecting the area. There was no direction to deal with the Kenosha Guard in any way at that point.” “We were midstream on this one, and we were going forward with the plans we had already had.” Once protesters and openly armed civilians encounter each other, there’s a confrontation. As Balch and his group argue with protesters, Peet is live streaming. “Between Ryan and his group and the other protesters, I definitely felt quite a bit of tension. There were a couple very, very hot-headed members of his group actively agitating protesters.” “Hey, hey, hey, hey.” Balch tells protesters to keep moving. “Right.” Reporter: “One of the militia members claims that a police officer told him that the officers were going to push the protesters out of Civic Center Park, and that the militia would handle them.” “I don’t believe that for a second.” The police continue pushing protesters further down the road to this intersection near a gas station. Here is where we first see Joseph Rosenbaum, the first person Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shoots that night. He joins the fight against the armed civilians … … as other protesters tried to stop him. Rosenbaum has just been released from the hospital after undergoing mental health treatment. His reasons for being here are unclear, and he doesn’t appear to have attended a protest before. But his actions on this night will add to an already volatile situation. At this point, the group of protesters has thinned out even more. “All of this is done pretty much in the name of Black Lives Matter, and there is definitely Black people in the crowd. But there definitely was more white people.” The armed men chalk up any conflict with the protesters to miscommunication. “We had some negative interactions. But that was more of a confusion on their part about what we were about.” But many of the protesters feel uncomfortable with the armed presence. They accuse Balch and others of playing vigilante. “Why else are you going to show up — especially Kyle Rittenhouse — show up to a city you don’t even [expletive] live in, armed to the [expletive] teeth to protect your community? This is not your community, pal. You don’t live here.” “You’re welcome.” But the police praise the armed men, and offer them assistance. “This is not the group of people we want here. But you can open carry weapons. So there wasn’t a violation of the law.” But just like the protesters, the armed civilians are violating the curfew … “Thank you.” … and police treat them much differently. Reporter: “After that curfew, it didn’t seem like police was trying to actively disperse or arrest any of the armed civilians. Why is that?” “I am not aware of any of the protesters that weren’t being violent that were arrested either. Peaceful people were not getting arrested that night.” The armed men appear emboldened by the inaction of the police towards them. Minutes after encountering the officers, Rittenhouse explains to a reporter from the Daily Caller why he thinks he belongs in Kenosha. It’s about 15 minutes until he’ll fire his first shot. At this point, several of the people we’ve been hearing from are now close to each other, and the situation is about to turn deadly. Nathan Peet is filming from here. Hannah Gittings and her boyfriend, Anthony Huber, are nearby. Koerri Washington is here. His footage captures both Gaige Grosskreutz and Ryan Balch walking by. Then, Kyle Rittenhouse runs past his camera. “I had been looking kind of at him the entire time because he looked young, he had a gun. So at the point where I see him run by me, I was like, that’s weird. So I followed down in that direction. Rittenhouse walks towards a parking lot where cars are being vandalized. He passes Joseph Rosenbaum, who was fighting with the armed men at the gas station, earlier. Rosenbaum now starts chasing Rittenhouse, and throws a plastic bag that holds his belongings from the hospital. Close behind them, a man holds up a handgun and fires it. [gunshot] We don’t know why. Then Rosenbaum lunges towards Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse fires four times. [gunshots] “Had I been in his shoes getting chased, and then I heard a gunshot, I can’t say that I would have done anything differently.” Rosenbaum, who’s been hit, falls to the ground. [gunshots] There are three more shots from someone else in the parking lot. “Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. And I was like, oh, so they are really shooting.” “Oh, man. Maybe they really are really just trying to kill people. And if they were going to take advantage of a situation, I’m a Black person. And there is — I don’t want to be a target.” Rittenhouse calls a friend while others are helping Rosenbaum, who’s on the ground. Then, he flees the scene. “He didn’t disarm himself after the first shooting. He continued to run around. As a gun owner, I view his actions as completely irresponsible.” “You come running through looking wild with a gun on you, people are going to think that you’re doing something wild with a gun on you. So they reacted the way they should have reacted.” “And as soon as they were all saying he shot somebody, Anthony was gone. And I tried to grab onto him. And nobody was going to stop him, you know? And then I hear a bunch more gunshots down the road. And I was like, I just had a feeling. I just had a feeling it was him.” Rittenhouse trips and falls. Anthony Huber hits Rittenhouse with a skateboard, and attempts to disarm him. Rittenhouse shoots him in the chest. Here is Gaige Grosskreutz with his gun drawn. He also gets shot and calls out for help. “The reality of it is, is this is going to be a part of my life from here on out.” Rittenhouse runs toward police vehicles and raises his hands. The police make no attempt to stop him, and he isn’t arrested until the next day. “I didn’t talk to them, but I’m sure they didn’t know what this person was doing.” “I was looking for my partner. Like, I’m just trying to find where he went. I knew he had been shot, you know. And then later on I saw that video. They had pulled Anthony into that truck like minutes before I got there.” Both Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber died from their injuries. “Anthony Huber, man, he went down like a hero, you know. That’s — he thought there was a threat there, and he was reacting to it. And he just wasn’t quick enough to react to that threat. And so I mean, he got a really good death out of that.” “He was 26. He had like — it’s just like brutally cruel and unfair how that can be snatched away like that by anybody who feels like it. Yeah. It’s awful. It’s awful. And there’s no — there’s no words to say to like, make that feel any better.” “I believe truly in my heart that if it wasn’t for my actions, and these brave men and women who answered my call to arms, I think that we would have seen a way worse outcome than what we saw.” Reporter: “But two people died.” “Yeah, two people died, and that’s terrible. But when you have people burning down buildings, there’s always that chance life is going to be lost.” “Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys that night? I don’t think there were any. I think the militia guys and the protesters were just individuals who were stuck in a situation, and were doing the best they could with it.” “Kyle came here, and he played cowboy. He played vigilante. He came here looking for a confrontation, and he found one.” “Who’s responsible? I can’t tell you. You know, I guess everyone who was there that night holds some level of responsibility. And who carries the most, I can’t tell you.” “Why didn’t you guys arrest him right then and there? Because if it would have been one of us, things would have happened a lot faster and a lot differently.” “Some people feel like Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero, and some people feel like he is a murderer. I feel personally that the situation, regardless of what was happening, should have resulted in something completely different and not people dying.”

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