If you hadn’t already heard your fill from Kyle Rittenhouse, Fox News was happy to give you one more chance to listen on Monday night. Watching Tucker Carlson interview Rittenhouse, it was easy to forget, the teenager was facing homicide charges just last week. I kept waiting for Carlson to ask some pretty simple questions: Have you apologized to the families of the people you hurt?, for instance. But this wasn’t that kind of interview. Instead, it was all about Rittenhouse, the teenager who brought an AR-15-style rifle to racial justice protests and ended up shooting three people. He was now declaring, “I’m not a racist person. I support the BLM movement. I support peacefully demonstrating.”
Stacy St. Clair reported on Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial for the Chicago Tribune and got a different view of him in the courtroom. “He was painted by prosecutors as a chaos tourist who just wanted to impose his own sense of justice on the people that he thought were doing bad things in the city of Kenosha,” she said. “And the defense painted him as a do-gooder, if a naïve one, who went and tried to help a community.
St. Clair says if you got whiplash watching the Tucker Carlson interview, she gets that. St. Clair was in the courtroom when Rittenhouse burst into tears on the stand, as he recalled fearing for his life the day he killed two people. “A lot people have asked me, ‘Do I think that was real emotion?,’ ” she said. “And I do. I was in the courtroom when it happened, and I don’t think anyone’s that that good of an actor. I also think the prosecution raised a legitimate question: Who was he crying for? Was he crying for himself? Was he crying for the people he killed? Was he crying for just the complete tragedy of the whole situation?”
These kinds of unanswerable questions about Kyle Rittenhouse and his motivations have dominated the discussion about what happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a year ago. But on Tuesday’s episode of What Next, we pivoted the camera ever so slightly—to stop asking so much about Kyle Rittenhouse, and to figure out whether the jury’s decision was inevitable. My conversation with St. Clair has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mary Harris: The Kyle Rittenhouse trial became about so many different things: a referendum on Black Lives Matter protests, a Rorschach test for how Americans feel about guns.
But Stacy St. Clair says, to understand the verdict, you have to understand that, for the jury, their decision wasn’t about any of those things. They’d been told to see the night through Kyle Rittenhouse’s eyes. And on Aug. 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse showed up at a Kenosha car dealership looking to guard it against racial justice protesters and potential looters. He brought a medical kit and an AR-15-style rifle. He ended up shooting three men: Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz. Only Grosskreutz survived.
The reason Rittenhouse started shooting? He told the jury he felt his life was in danger. The jury just needed to decide whether that belief was reasonable.
Stacy St. Clair: And that’s why Kyle Rittenhouse’s testimony was important because he goes up there and says, “I was afraid for my life,” and it’s really hard to disprove something so subjective as that.
So were you surprised when Rittenhouse was found not guilty of all charges?
I wasn’t. Criminal cases are terrible referendums on larger issues. I understand all the larger issues that are being talked about and are on trial outside the courtroom. But inside the courtroom, I know the jury had a very technical question to answer. And then when you have to think about what happened that night and what a 17-year-old could have reasonably believed, then I thought it was quite possible the jury would find him not guilty on all counts.
Because you and I aren’t on the jury, I’m wondering if we can shift the perspective a little bit, and look at what happened the night Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people from different perspectives. Perspectives, not his own. Because we got those at trial. They were just complicated. I wonder if we can start with the victims, the people who were there the night that he used that gun. Can you start maybe with Richie McGinnis, who was an observer? He wasn’t hurt, right?
Richie McGinnis, he’s the director of videography at the Daily Caller. And he had met up with Rittenhouse earlier in the evening. Rittenhouse, he said, told him he was an adult and that he was a certified medic. Rittenhouse is neither. He was 17 and a lifeguard at the time of the incident. McGinnis followed him around for a little bit, got separated from him, and then saw sort of a chase began between Joseph Rosenbaum and Kyle Rittenhouse.
Joseph Rosenbaum, 36-year-old victim of Rittenhouse, who also had just been released from the hospital after having some issues with mental illness, is that correct?
Yes, he had been in a psychiatric wing of a Milwaukee hospital, had been dropped off at the Kenosha bus station that day. He was carrying around that night the plastic bag you get at the hospital. He had a water bottle in it and some deodorant, but nothing that would be considered a dangerous weapon.
So what did he say about how he perceived of the interaction between Kyle Rittenhouse and Joseph Rosenbaum?
McGinnis, I thought of all the witnesses, was perhaps the most credible one that that testified. He really didn’t take a side either way, and he scored points for both sides, actually. He said that he thought the presence of Kyle Rittenhouse and the other armed guards heightened the tensions in a way that he hadn’t seen in other cities that he had been in. And he worried about the escalating tensions that the presence of those rifles and the military garb created.
He said that when the chase started, Rittenhouse was being chased by Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum yelled, “Fuck you” and then lunged unsuccessfully for Kyle Rittenhouse’s gun. He said he wasn’t sure whether Rosenbaum actually touched the gun, or if he did touch the gun, it was a glancing touch, and he started to lose his balance because he had lunged and missed, essentially. And as he was falling toward the ground, that’s when Kyle Rittenhouse fired his gun.
And only one of the three people who Kyle Rittenhouse shot survived their encounter, Gaige Grosskreutz. What did he say when he got on the stand?
So Gaige Grosskreutz, when he got on the stand, gave his background and that is he is a trained paramedic. And he had been going to protests and areas of social unrest throughout the summer in Wisconsin and offering medical assistance to people. Mostly he said it was dehydration. Sometimes it was rubber bullets. But he was there in that same role that night, and he said he actually never participated in the protests themselves because he felt like he needed to be more of a of a neutral player if he was going to provide medical assistance.
He was also carrying his own weapon.
Yes, he said that he is a big believer in the Second Amendment and that any time he left his house to go to a protest that summer, he always took his keys, wallet, phone, and gun, and he was nearby when Kyle Rittenhouse shot Joseph Rosenbaum. He didn’t see it, but he heard the gunshots. He knew what they were, and he started running toward the shots, believing someone might need help. He’s also recording it on his phone, and he crossed paths with Kyle Rittenhouse, who was running away. Richard McGinnis had actually asked Kyle Rittenhouse to call 911, while McGinnis was trying to save Joseph Rosenbaum’s life.
He’s trying to find the wound and put pressure on it and he turns to— he doesn’t really recognize who it is—but he turns to the person next to him, who is Rittenhouse, and he says, call 911. He sees the person, Rittenhouse, grab his phone, and he assumed that that’s happening. But really, Kyle Rittenhouse has called a friend to say he just shot someone and he begins to run away. While he’s running away, he crossed paths with Gaige Grosskreutz, the paramedic, and Grosskreutz says to him, “Did you just shoot somebody?” And Rittenhouse says, “No, I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m going to get the police.” And he continues to run down the street. As he continues to run down the street, more people are following, and Grosskreutz testified that as he saw Rittenhouse go down the street, he thought either Rittenhouse was going to be seriously hurt or someone following him was going to be seriously hurt. So he continued to follow as well.
If Gaige Grosskreutz thinks Kyle Rittenhouse is going to be hurt as this group is following him down the street, then why wouldn’t it be reasonable for Kyle Rittenhouse to think he was going to be hurt as the group was following him down the street? So Gaige Grosskreutz follows the group down the street.
Kyle Rittenhouse trips and falls. One man who is never identified in court jumps over Rittenhouse as if to kick him. Doesn’t make really good contact. As he lands on the other side of Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse fires twice at him and missed both times. There was a reckless endangerment charge involving that. The jury also found Rittenhouse not guilty of that.
Then Anthony Huber tries to stop Rittenhouse by blocking him with his skateboard, and Rittenhouse fires one shot into Anthony Huber’s chest, killing him almost immediately. That’s when Gaige Grosskreutz initially puts up his hands—he has the pistol in one hand and his phone in the other. He has his hands in the air, and he sees Rittenhouse look and fiddle with his gun, which he took to mean that that Rittenhouse was preparing to rerack and shoot at him. And that’s when he takes a step forward toward Rittenhouse. And under defense cross-examination, Grosskreutz acknowledged that it does appear that his gun was pointed toward Kyle Rittenhouse. He said I wouldn’t have shot him, I wouldn’t have killed anybody, it’s not the kind of person I am. But to get that concession from him that the barrel is pointed toward Kyle Rittenhouse, I think the defense thought that was a big moment for them. And it probably was.
Because it made it look like Kyle Rittenhouse was legitimately defending himself.
Correct. If someone has a gun pointed at you and you shoot them, then it made it easier for the jury to get to their decision on him.
What’s interesting about you laying out the entire story like this is that it’s clear that Kyle Rittenhouse might have thought his life was in danger, but the reason for that was that a plurality of people around him thought he was behaving recklessly.
Yeah, from the get-go people thought he made a bad decision and a reckless decision by showing up at all. His mother, even—she didn’t testify—but she told me he had no business being there. And I think that’s accurate. There’s a moment in one of Richard McGinnis’ videos where Rittenhouse is walking through the streets yelling, “Medical, medical,” offering his medical services to people. And it’s clear he wants to be taken up on it. He wants to have this role during the unrest. And McGinnis, by the way, who has extensive experience covering social unrest, said it was the first time he’d ever seen a medic at one of these things walking around with an AR-15.
But as McGinnis is following him, you hear a bystander yell at Kyle Rittenhouse, “You think you’re in a movie?” And I think that’s the best description of what I’ve seen of Kyle Rittenhouse’s behavior that night. He’s trying to provide medical services that he’s not really qualified to provide. He’s running around with a fire extinguisher, trying to put out fires. He’s speaking in police vernacular on these videos. When other people were running away, he was going to be running into danger. He had this vision of himself that did not match the reality of the situation. And, ultimately people die because of it.