Unrequited Rage: The Demand for Mob Justice in the Rittenhouse Trial

Below is my column in The Hill on the aftermath of Rittenhouse verdict and how the jury functioned as design to rule on the evidence and the law rather than public passions. Many have called for self-defense laws to be curtailed in light of the verdict. We can certainly have that debate. However, this jury was tasked with applying these facts to existing law. They did not have the luxury of reframing the legal standard to achieve their own concept of justice.

Here is the column:

The aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is a lesson in unrequited rage. After a jury of 12 citizens in Kenosha, Wis., acquitted Rittenhouse on all charges, politicians and media figures lashed out at the judge, the jury and the entire legal system.

Like our politics and our media, the legal system has become a vehicle for collective rage; there is no room for doubt or deviation from our predispositions. Yet in denouncing “vigilante justice,” pundits and politicians seem to be advocating for a form of mob justice.

The difference between vigilante and mob justice? Perspective and numbers.

For some, Rittenhouse running down Sheridan Road in Kenosha with his AR-15 is a vigilante. For Rittenhouse, people chasing him with guns and chains is a mob. Neither involves actual justice, which is what juries mete out through the dispassionate application of law and facts.

Most of us — including his defense counsel, following the verdict — were critical of Rittenhouse and his decision to take his AR-15 to a riot. However, the trial revealed key facts that sharply diverged from past media reports. For the first time, the public was not reading facts filtered and framed by the media. In a great demonstration of the value of cameras in courtrooms, the public could reach its own conclusions.

It turned out that Rittenhouse was not an “outsider” but someone with long, close ties to Kenosha. He spent much of that fateful day in Kenosha cleaning graffiti from the walls of the high school and was asked by a business owner to protect his property that night. He did not chase down his victims and shoot one, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, in the back as Rosenbaum attempted to flee. Instead, he was attacked by all three men he shot, including one who pointed a gun at his head. Rosenbaum, a convicted child molester with a history of mental illness, threatened to kill him and others earlier.

Yet the “white supremacist” narrative was a “fact too good to check” by the media, which almost uniformly failed to report on facts supporting the claim of self-defense.

Within days of the shootings, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden referenced Rittenhouse as a “white supremacist” despite no evidence supporting that widely repeated claim.

Likewise, when the judge ruled on motions for Rittenhouse, he was declared a racist. When the jurors ruled for Rittenhouse, they — including a black juror — were declared to be racists, too. When Rittenhouse was allowed to go free, the entire legal system was denounced as racist.

Even after grudgingly stating that we “must abide” by the verdict, President Biden added that the verdict left “many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included.”

Other leaders went further. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the verdict “disgusting” and a victory for “violent extremism from within our own nation.” Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo denounced the verdict as “a stain on the soul of America” and an example of “supremacist vigilantism.” (Cuomo, soon to be a criminal defendant in his own trial, may want to consider how mob justice could play out in his case.) Declared Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), “The judge. The jury. The defendant. It’s white supremacy in action. This system isn’t built to hold white supremacists accountable. It’s why Black and brown folks are brutalized and put in cages while white supremacist murderers walk free.”

For Bush and others, it is just that simple: Jurors selected at random were racists because they failed to convict a white defendant who shot three white men.

MSNBC legal analyst and Georgetown law professor Paul Butler — who previously described the trial as “white supremacy on steroids” — said the verdict is a message that “vigilante justice prevailed.” MSNBC posted an opinion blog headlined “Kyle Rittenhouse Trial Was Designed To Protect White Conservatives Who Kill.”

Some were not satisfied to simply denounce the jury or judge as racists. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick declared that this was the final proof of a “system built on white supremacy” that “further validates the need to abolish our current system.” What appeared infuriating to Kaepernick about Kenosha was the absence of mob justice, not a victory of vigilante justice: Rittenhouse personified all of our social ills and had to be punished, sentenced to life in prison on the basis of popular opinion.

That, of course, would transcend evidence or law. It would be a system based on demand, not deliberation — the very definition of mob justice.

What is most concerning is the involvement of many in the media in this movement. We live in the age of “advocacy journalism,” in which figures such as former New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones are lionized for declaring that “all journalism is advocacy.” Stanford journalism professor Ted Glasser has insisted that journalism must “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.”

For legal analysts, this often means “freeing” ourselves not just from objectivity but from the criminal code. Indeed, after the jury failed to convict as demanded, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) called for the Justice Department to investigate the “miscarriage of justice.”

In this case, the legal question under Wisconsin law was neither complex nor confusing: “A person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with his or her person by such other person.” Lethal force is allowed if “the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”

Each use of force by Rittenhouse was preceded by attacks by at least four men. The jury simply had a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse acted without a reasonable belief that he faced great bodily harm.

Not surprisingly, those facts often were not given as the context for legal analysis. Instead, more amenable hypotheticals were trotted out. After the verdict, MSNBC legal analyst Joyce Vance explained that the verdict was “something akin” to “saying if you go into a bank and rob it and people are trying to apprehend you, you can then shoot your way out and claim self-defense.” Except that Rittenhouse was not robbing a bank when he was attacked; he was not doing anything illegal in guarding a business at the owner’s request or walking down the street. The jury decided that the men he shot were not “apprehending” him but, instead, were attacking him without provocation.

The facts of the case are now as irrelevant as the verdict, however, because we are a nation addicted to rage — and rage does not allow for doubt. In the minds of some, Rittenhouse was a vigilante, so his acquittal was vigilante justice. However, swapping mob justice for vigilante justice lacks the same critical element: justice.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

82 thoughts on “Unrequited Rage: The Demand for Mob Justice in the Rittenhouse Trial”

  1. And just a few days after listening to the MSNBC mob scream about “white vigilantism” and tell us how afraid black people are now to protest in public, we saw in both WI and GA black militia groups gathered to “protect” the idiots protesting the Rittenhouse verdict and intimidate the Arbery jury. And not a peep about these vigilantes from Joy Reid or the rest of the liberal media. Moral relativism — hypocrisy — is alive and well on the left. But their hate speech has consequences, and we saw those consequences in Waukesha where a black racist deliberately killed five elderly people and sent numerous children to the hospital. Again, not a peep from the race hustlers. It’s time the major cable networks stopped supporting racist hate speech aimed at “all white people.” And it’s time to cease and desist this Democratic party strategy of racial division.

  2. “Off comes the make up
    Off comes the clown’s disguise
    The curtain’s fallin’
    The music softly dies.”


  3. From my perspective there were numerous attempts to intimidate the lawyers, the judge, and the jury. Public figures and the media attempted, without evidence to poison the jury pool. I think we owe the judge, jury, and lawyers a debt of thanks for standing up to the mob and showing that the justice system works.

  4. “The aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is a lesson in unrequited rage. After a jury of 12 citizens in Kenosha, Wis., acquitted Rittenhouse on all charges, politicians and media figures lashed out at the judge, the jury and the entire legal system.”
    In their rampant and at times hilarious hypocrisy, the Left eschews juries and their verdicts until the land squarely in their favor. Juries can and do get it wrong sometimes on factual matters. But, by and large, they get it right legally.

    Question: Did the state prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the preemptively innocent KR intentionally and without legal excuse or justification killed and/or wounded three men? Jury: No. That’s the legal answer most rational folks would come to after seeing the evidence. The case is closed.

  5. Professor Turley…..you admit you and others were critical of Rittenhouse having a Rifle that fateful night.

    The Trial demonstrated with absolute clarity that Riittenhouse was in full compliance with Wisconsin State Law re his possession of that firearm.

    The Trial also demonstrated that Rittenhouse did not have the intent and disposition to commit any crime that fateful night.

    Evidence also demonstrated Rittenhouse had no prior criminal record or impediment to his being able to buy that Rifle as opposed to borrowing it as he did.

    Now…on the other hand….the other person that had a handgun that night…and got shot through the arm by Rittenhouse had a criminal record, was carrying the handgun illegally, and assaulted Rittenhouse by pointing that handgun at Rittenhouse as he aggressively advanced upon Rittenhouse at close range….causing Rittenhouse to fear for his life and making Rittenhouse fire his rifle in self defense.

    Why are you less critical of the criminals who were rioting, committing arson, and for sure attacking Rittenhouse who had committed no criminal act that night or In his Life?

    Rittenhouse in my judgement was ill advised to even be present at the riot and had he stayed home….nothing would have happened…..that is true.

    The point of fact you and others continue to ignore…..is if the rioters had stayed home….had the protest remained peaceful….nothing would have happened to the three that Rittenhouse shot with that Rifle.

    How about we start pointing the finger at the right targets and for the right reason as did young Rittenhouse.

    Rittenhouse made some bad decisions for good reasons….while the Rioters made bad decisions for bad reasons.

    In life we are all responsible for our own decisions and actions.

    Rittenhouse was taken to task by the Criminal Justice system….why not all of those who engaged in Riot…..they broke the Law……Rittenhouse did not.

    Lets not ignore or forget that fact as we discuss what happened in Kenosha.

  6. Our justice system is designed to protect the people from the government. Successful here, because the government files capital murder charges in 48 hours. Not enough time for a thorough examination of law, and evidence.

    I so wish the mob would get what the demand. Good and hard.

  7. If Biden does not apologize and reverse course then I will not vote for him in the next dem primary.

  8. There are talking heads and followers. Does anyone else think that some talking heads are disappointed to the point of anger when the tentacles of mob rule don’t influence matters such as the Rittenhouse trial? There are some views that strike me as so irrational that the only answer is irrational. Their definition of justice is mob rule, and anyone who doesn’t follow this line of thought is not a follower and thus a member of the other team, the enemy. They could read Mr. Turley’s summary of the case, they could watch the case themselves, and no matter what their legal knowledge is, they would reach the same conclusion “your team won, we lost”. As someone else basically said, if the witches in the Salem Witch Trials were members of the other team, they would’ve been among the throng screaming: “Burn witch burn!”

  9. Even if it did mean that, does that mean he stopped having rights for being what he was?
    Should it be a crime to be something based on your doing things that you have a right to do?
    Sounds like witch-hunting to me.

    1. Of course he doesn’t stop having rights. But Turley and others say there is “no evidence” of his being a white supremacist. Progressives cite this photo as evidence. So my question was simply whether anyone knows the context for it. I believe it was taken well after he was charged. Personally, I suspect he did not know these guys and welcomed support from anyone who would provide it. So it is evidence of nothing. Does anyone know more abut it?

      1. Whether or not Kyle is a white supremacist is irrelevant. I don’t believe he is, but it does not matter. It is not illegal to be a white supremacist, per se. The only issue is whether Kyle broke any laws, and the jury concluded that he did not.

      2. No, but I can tell you that half the hunters, including kids as young as 14, in the Upper Midwest use AR-15s to hunt. That’s why he was in compliance with WI law. That photo of Kyle could represent any of hundreds of 17-year-olds in the Midwest. The media has managed to turn the focus on Rittenhouse and his gun, and completely blot out the context of a violent riot and three violent felons trying to kill him because he had the audacity to put out their fires.

  10. Those who claim KR was a white supremacist point to a photo of him in a bar with a couple of alleged Proud Boys making the OK sign. They say this means you can’t say there is “no evidence” of his being a white supremacist. Does anyone know the context of this photo?

    1. Months after he was charged and finally bailed out a group at a restaurant approached him while he was eating with his family and asked to take a photo with them. AFAIK, he really didn’t even know who they were.

    2. Proud Boys aren’t white supremacists, so the context really doesn’t matter anyway.

  11. The Rittenhouse case is a reminder how fragile our Constitutional system of government is. So many people– mainly democrats and “progressives”– have condemned our jury system because in the Rittenhouse trial it failed to deliver the result they wanted. Perhaps they resent the fact that our jury system is designed specifically to protect us ordinary citizens from the likes of them. There can be no serious doubt that there has been and is a concerted effort to tear down our most basic institutions. In many major cities, law and order is in shambles, presided over by prosecutors elected with George Soros’ money who do not support the police and shun even the most basic duties owed to the communities they supposedly serve. There is and has been a concerted effort to do away with fundamental American values like freedom of speech and religion with most of our own media providing unlimited propaganda, as well as giving an open mike to buffoons like Jerry Nadler and Joy Reid. I hope we are able to hang onto what we have, but the jury is still out.

    1. honestlawyermostly — Well said! Soros not only funds these anti-prosecution prosecutors, but he also shovels money to local groups still trying to defund the police, as in Minneapolis. Antifa gets a chunk of his money also, and I’m sure BLM does too.

  12. Someone needs to sue the media companies and celebrities and take the case to trial. No more non-disclosure agreements. When Morning JO is faced with a $50 million judgment that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy he won’t be bloviating about crossing state lines.

  13. All journalists are taught that the purpose of writing is to inform and persuade.
    It is hypocritical to persuade readers and viewers to do something, and then
    not accept any of the blame for what you persuaded them to do.
    They are also supposed to be taught that logical fallacies are a bad thing to be avoided,
    but they embrace them with open arms.

    1. What’s the difference between a hypocrite and liar?

      A liar knows he is lying. The hypocrite believes his lies.

  14. The Law and facts cannot be changed to satisfy any group.
    Self defence laws must be expanded.

  15. When asked by reporters about the trial outcome the President said we should accept the verdict. He was alone, just getting off the helicopter. Later, his handlers put out a WH statement expressing his “anger” even though he had not seen the trial and had earlier made his own statement.

    Professor Turley hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “For the first time, the public was not reading facts filtered and framed by the media.”

    This is the heart of the matter.

    But, how many really watched an unfiltered version of the trial?

    King Solomon penned these words three thousand years ago, yet their wisdom has withstood the test of time. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out. And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”

  16. The Jury did its job and blocked out the nuts, liberals, left wing politicians, Dems, Media and etc. and came to the right outcome NOT GUILTY.

  17. Nicely done Professor. Of course, all these 19th and 20th Century concepts of impartial juries, presumption of innocence, and due process are just not relevant in this day and age – until they are. It all depends on who is charged and the talking points.

    Will be interesting to see all the deflections today.

  18. The network of Antifa-BLM spiteful mutants who (at the very least) want to make his life hell exist throughout the American Empire. That means asking for political asylum in Russia would be his best bet for a normal low stress life. It should be a lock to get asylum w all the threats and denunciations by Democrats, major taking heads and professional lunatics. He’s young enough to learn Russian rapidly.

  19. For examples of what Turley is discussing, go no further than the posters on this blog.

    Wait for the usual suspects to start their “whataboutisms”: But Trump…”, “What about Fox…”.

    They show us that the left doesn’t care about justice. They only care about winning power.

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