MADISON, Wis. — Prosecutors won't be allowed to argue at trial that a man who shot three people during a Wisconsin protest against police brutality believes in the Proud Boys' violent tactics or was affiliated with the white nationalist group the night of last year's shootings, a judge ruled Friday.
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder's decision marks a victory for Kyle Rittenhouse as he prepares for his trial in November. The ruling removes a line of attack for prosecutors who had hoped to show that Rittenhouse, as Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger described him in court, was a “chaos tourist” drawn to Kenosha “like a moth to a flame."
It was among several requests that Schroeder was considering Friday, including whether jurors will see video that prosecutors say shows Rittenhouse talking about wanting to shoot people.
Rittenhouse traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, after seeing a post on social media for militia to protect businesses. The city was in the throes of several nights of chaotic protests that began after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, during an altercation as police tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. The shooting left Blake paralyzed from the waist down.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, opened fire with an AR-style semiautomatic rifle on Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, killing both. He also shot Gaige Grosskreutz, of West Allis, who survived. All three men were white, as is Rittenhouse.
His attorneys argue all three men attacked Rittenhouse and that he was acting in self-defense. The case has become a rallying point for conservatives, who funded Rittenhouse's $2 million bail with donations. Black Lives Matter supporters have painted him as a trigger-happy racist, pointing to photos of Rittenhouse posing with Proud Boys members at a Racine Bar in January. Binger said in court Friday that Rittenhouse traveled to Miami days after the meeting at the bar to eat lunch with the Proud Boys' national president.
Binger argued he should be allowed to argue that Rittenhouse has adopted the Proud Boys' philosophy and was looking to perpetuate violence in Kenosha.
“Most everyone there was there because of their beliefs, one way or the other, in regards to the shooting of Jacob Blake,” Binger said. “Chaos tourists like the defendant were drawn like a moth to the flame to our community. He was drawn to this incident because of his beliefs, which align with the Proud Boys. They take pride in using violence to achieve their means.”
Rittenhouse attorney Cory Chirafisi countered that there's no evidence Rittenhouse was affiliated with the Proud Boys the night of the shootings and there's no evidence on his cellphone related in any way to any white nationalist groups. He also pointed out that Rittenhouse opened fire on three white men.
“There is nothing in this evidence that would support that the shootings were race-based,” Chirafisi said. “We are hoping to try this case on the facts."
Schroeder said nothing suggests the meeting at the Racine bar was prearranged or that Rittenhouse knew who the Proud Boys members were. The judge said it's reasonable to assume Rittenhouse was just happy to take pictures with supporters.
“I certainly would keep the door open if you can show that there is any connection between the defendant on the day in question and this organization,” Schroeder said. "But as I said before, if this this this organization embraces the defendant after the fact because he’s lionized because of his behavior, that is not something that the jury can make anything out of that would be lawful.”