The last few years have been some wild ones indeed, they will go down as years to both forget and remember. There were too many news worthy events, scandals, controversies to count, and, of course, a global pandemic. Among these were several events that resulted in polarization of several parts of society, especially in the U.S., including the Kyle Rittenhouse case.
Depending on what side of the political spectrum you fall on, and your stance on civilian firearm ownership, you may have a knee jerk, emotional reaction one way or the other. This particular case though is a perfect case study of self-defence in the 21st century.
Self-defence used to be very simple: They hit you, you hit them back. So long as it didn’t escalate into some kind of 100 year feud that would usually be the end of it, assuming one person didn’t kill the other and there were no witnesses or investigators. It was even simpler, legally speaking, with systems such as the Code of Hammurabi (1) under which if enough people thought you were guilty, you would suffer the consequences, occasionally to the extreme of “an eye for an eye”, a very aggressive version of the famous Biblical phrase “do unto others as you would have do unto you” (2).
In modern times there are now so many aspects of a given situation that need to be considered, such as the practical, the legal, the moral, and the fact everyone has camera and an opinion. Which means if your self-defence situation gets picked up by the media and spun to whatever narrative they seek to reinforce, your life may be in for a wild ride.
Before I get into the basics of the Kyle Rittenhouse case it must be understood that once your name is Googleable and associated with a high profile self-defence case (or a low profile one that resulted in a death) even if you were found not guilty, your life is permanently changed. The Internet is forever. You will find it difficult to get jobs, find dates, or live daily life normally until it is buried deep enough under the latest controversy and the news cycle moves on, hopefully leaving your case to be forgotten. Which is why it is best to avoid conflict if at all possible (it isn’t always). If you are in a country like the USA and this happens to you, and you were wrongfully targeted by the media, you may be able to fight back in the form of lawsuits. In a country like Canada your options after the fact may be very limited.
The Basics of the Case:
Kyle Rittenhouse was 17 years old on August 25, 2020, when he travelled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with a AR-15 rifle, where he killed two men and wounded another during Black Lives Matter protests/riots. This lead to him being charged and tried on a variety of charges including First-degree intentional homicide (3). On November 19, 2021 he was found not guilty on ALL charges that were not already thrown out by the judge.
What made this case even more complicated was the amount of media manipulation and lies that were spread about the the events, the people involved, the laws of the state, and the overall situation, made by most major media outlets. Most notable was the claim that he illegally crossed state lines with a firearm. The confusion was further exacerbated by inflammatory phrasing in headlines such as “Kyle killed two Black Lives Matter protestors,” which lead people to interpret the statement as “Kyle killed several Black people because he disagreed with the cause and was racist.” Yet the facts are that he killed two white men and injured a third, all with questionable pasts and intentions. This misconception still persists (4) in the minds of many.
Post acquittal, as mentioned previously, this will likely end up in multiple lawsuits from Rittenhouse against various media outlets, as there is significant grounds for him to sue (5). Not dissimilar to the Nick Sandmann lawsuits resulting from a misrepresentation of the story in favour of sensationalism (6). This further shows how self-defence is far more complicated, as it often doesn’t matter if you were in the right in the moment, the public opinion regarding violence and the parties involved may paint the situation (and you) differently, regardless of evidence.
If there is one thing that the past few years should have taught you, it’s that you, yes YOU, must look into the source material, references, studies, and evidence before you make a harsh statement or claim related to any given topic. As chances are you may be given seriously manipulated or skewed versions of reality to further one narrative over another.
This series really isn’t about the related politics or my beliefs, but rather an opportunity to take a highly documented case of self-defence and break it down into the various factors that will inevitably need to be considered in any such situation.
With that in mind I want to break this case down, with examples and comparisons, into three categories:
- Practical self-defence
- Legal aspects and their various considerations
- Morality and Ethics
In my view, regardless of case facts, how you think of or perceive each of these specific categories may drastically alter how you view the events of the Kyle Rittenhouse case, or the results of the trial. After all, what country you live in, your upbringing, your culture values, your understanding of the law and how it works can all alter your worldview.
The purpose of this series is simply to make you think about self-defence in a real world context, with all its complications and complexities, using a well documented and, yes, controversial example. It is my hope, now that it is largely out of the media cycle and emotions around the case have calmed down a bit, that it will be easier to take a more objective look at what happened.
Because remember, educating yourself on the world around you is the best way to prepare yourself for whatever it may throw at you. Which hopefully will never be a situation involving being armed and having to defend yourself with deadly force. But consider this; no matter however unlikely, or improbable, a situation may be, if it is at all possible it could still happen.
Written by Jonathan Fader