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. I think everyone has the legal analysis of this case wrong. The focus is entirely on statutory self-defense because that’s what attorneys (and public) understand and are familiar with. But self-defense is not the only law at play here. Self-defense is not appropriate for any of the mob because 1) there is no indication that Kyle is an active shooter as claimed — he was not shooting nor targeting anyone until he was attacked, therefor no *imminent* threat to anyone exists; and 2) from a statutory self-defense perspective they are the initial aggressors (even Rosenbaum was because Kyle retreated). So what authority can they claim? The answer is citizen’s arrest of a presumptive fleeing felon. Wisconsin is odd in that there are no statutes regarding citizen’s arrest. But Wisconsin is a common law state (as many are) so the court has to look to common law for guidance. There are not many appeals cases on citizen’s arrest in Wisconsin which might have modified common law on the topic but it has been fairly recently affirmed that citizen’s arrest does follow common law in Wisconsin. English common law of 1776, as adopted by Wisconsin when it became a state, permits using only that force which is necessary and reasonable to affect arrest. But unlike statutory self-defense in Wisconsin, citizen’s arresters can meet deadly force with deadly force but ONLY if there is no retreat possible. All of the arresters should have retreated if they felt Rittenhouse was presenting deadly force. Grosskreutz should have backed up with hands up instead of stepping forward and presenting a threat with deadly force. Again, this is not a statutory self-defense issue but squarely a common law citizen’s arrest issue.

  2. People who are right most of the time, having a good perception of reality, should have all of the power and influence in society.
    People who are wrong, those who function on political correctness and wokism, should have none.

  3. Let’s compare what really constitutes a peaceful event and aggression.

    In Kenosha, rioters arrived to do property damage, commit arson, destroy small businesses, and assault people. Kyle Rittenhouse peacefully passed out water and provided first aid to protestors, although he was armed just in case the situation turned dangerous. Just like someone goes outside to investigate a noise, taking their shotgun with them. They aren’t going outside planning to shoot anyone, but want the ability of defense just in case. Sure enough, people turned violent, aggressively chasing him down and assaulting him. He tried to get away. He only shot at people who physically assaulted him, and only when he was unable to get away.

    Compare and contrast to Waukesha:

    A community was having a joyful, peaceful parade. Children were happily marching with their dance troupe, the band, and their baseball team. A troupe of Dancing Grannies were cheerfully performing. Darryl Brooks broke through the barricade, ignoring pleas to stop. He deliberately zig zagged back and forth, running over as many young children, teenagers, and elderly people as he could. He kept going the entire parade route, his SUV bouncing up and down as he ran over children and the elderly. He killed 5 elderly people and an 8 year old boy.

    He was out on low bail due to pro-criminal Democrat policies. All it took was $1000 for him to get out after punching the mother of one of his children in the face, and then running her over in that same SUV. He dislocated her femur, among other injuries. By letting him out on low bail, he could have returned to finish the job of murdering her. Why didn’t that battery black woman deserve protection by having this guy cool his heels in jail? In addition, he was out on $500 bail for another offense when he ran her over. Why was he even free at the time he nearly murdered her? Why was he free after strangling another person in his past?

    See the difference about what actually is a peaceful event? Hint: it does not involve arson, physical assault, or screaming, “Cranium him! Kill him!”

    Why hasn’t the racist, black nationalist, pro-BLM public comments by Darryl Brooks been mentioned as a possible motive in the mainstream media? Why not his comments about the Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty verdict? They’re already saying this wasn’t domestic terrorism, but that seems rather premature. “They” are the same amorphous group that just knew Rittenhouse was a racist white supremacist who crossed state lines with an illegal weapon. “They” are wrong most of the time, it seems.

  4. Jonathan: Not content with just quietly reveling in the Rittenhouse acquittal you predicted from day one you are now attacking anyone who has criticized the trial and verdict. You say they suffer from “unrequited rage” and are urging “a form of mob justice”. Many of us have criticized the trial, e.g., the open bias of the judge, the law of defense in Wisconsin that puts the burden on the prosecution to prove the negative beyond a reasonable doubt rather than the defendant, the gun laws in Wisconsin, etc. But we don’t urge “mob justice”. You think Rittenhouse was not a “vigilante” but was simply there to defend property owners. Vigilantism has a long history in this country. Private citizens were empowered to capture and return run away slaves. That was a time when there were no organized police departments. On that fateful evening the Kenosha police were in charge of crowd control and protecting property owners from looting. Although he was a wannabee cop Rittenhouse was acting as a vigilante–not a law enforcement officer. Instead of telling Rittenhouse to leave town with his AR-15 the Kenosha police welcomed his presence. That police collusion created the toxic mix that resulted in the deaths of 2 and the wounding of a third protester.

    You spend a lot of column space trying to portray Rittenhouse as a model citizen– a law-abiding young man “cleaning graffiti from the walls of the high school and was asked by a business owner to protect his property that night”. Really? The two owners of the car dealership Rittenhouse claims he was defending say they never asked Rittenhouse for protection. Not satisfied you then engage in character assassination. You say Rosenbaum, one of the victims, was a “convicted child molester with a history of mental illness”. How is that relevant? Maybe, in retrospect, Rittenhouse was just carrying out street justice against someone who deserved his fate? Sounds like the Gorge Floyd redux. He was also attacked because he had previous run ins with the police. Had Rosenbaum survived and testified do you really think even Judge Schroeder would have allowed such prejudicial evidence into the record? In defending Rittenhouse’s unwarranted presence in Kenosha and attacking the victims it seems you are the one “addicted to rage”.

    1. Another who has no clue what vigilante means. Look it up in a dictionary then let’s talk. If you look closely at the rulings, the judge was more biased toward the prosecution than the defense. He didn’t even sanction Binger for his blatant transgressions on KR’s rights and then he let in video offered at literally the last second without expert testimony to defend it. Do you honestly believe the testimony of the two CarSource brothers? You must be the only one. In a just world these two would be tried for perjury. As soon as the questioning got too close to home for them all of a sudden it was “I don’t understand the question” or “I can’t recall” or “can you repeat the question” or “that wasn’t my job”. These guys were lying their butts off. Then the defense put up two witnesses who testified that they did in fact authorize the group to stand guard and there was a picture of one of them at one of the lots with the armed group. So yea, they did know and approve. Rosenbaum’s long record, including prison incidents, is completely relevant in that it goes to character — the propensity to initiate violence and anger management issues. Did it ever occur to you that he is on video saying twice “SHOOT ME!”. It has been said that he was in a psych ward in the previous days because of either a suicide attempt or threat. Is it possible he was looking for someone to help him with that effort and he chose “suicide by Kyle?” Compare the background and mental state of KR , a boy scout, to JR, a long-time criminal.

    2. Dennis, returning run away slaves under the laws of the time has no relevance to the Rittenhouse case. The laws have obviously been changed by elected representatives from time to time through Constitutional methods. We are all welcome to affect other changes with enough support. Giving up the right to self defense would be a hard sell for most people. Having you decide which citizen’s travels are “unwarranted” is a chilling concept.
      Rittenhouse did not know that the first man shot was convicted of five child rapes nor did he shoot until that man tried to disarm him. It is not really hard to stay out of trouble by obeying the law. Maybe you should advocate for that.

  5. For much of the summer of 2020, the left and mainstream media told us our eyes were lying to us about the cities we watched burn. When it was impossible to deny, zealous distinctions were made between BLM protestors and rioters. It is noteworthy that no such distinctions were made for protesters at The Capital. Now BLM and its supporters claim as their own, four men (a number of whom have serious criminal history) who were caught on video for the better party of an evening engaging in all manner of criminal conduct, then likewise filmed assaulting Rittenhouse. Friends on the left, if you want to be taken seriously, if you want your causes to be taken seriously, you MUST BE A BIT MORE DISCERNING AND HONEST.

  6. Quoting from Cicero: definitions of justice in his De Natura Deorum (III.38)

    [justitia suum cuique distribuit, “justice renders everyone his due”]

    “There is in fact no subject upon which so much difference of opinion exists, not only among the unlearned but also among educated men; and the views entertained are so various and so discrepant, that, while it is no doubt a possible alternative that none of them is true, it is certainly impossible that more than one should be so”.

    1. Was Red Beach hit on Tet ’68? Were you in the command bunker, on the berm or outside the wire? Was the ’60 heavy to hump with those belts of 5.56? Maybe the “Prik” 25 was heavier with a back-up battery, right? CAR, PH, etc.???

    2. As in life as in politics one must consider the action of the pendulum. With mathematical precision she sways one way and the next regardless of perception belonging to this camp or that one. One might surmise her actions are to balance an out of cirque system with its own form of unrelenting natural laws. Murphy’s Law comes closer than most to its ideas.

  7. Unfortunately for them, the Wonderful Warriors of Antifa ™ picked on the wrong guy! Despite what they may believe concerning the “righteousness” of their cause, it probably isn’t a good idea to point a firearm at a guy holding an AR-15.

    Keep it up, s@@tlibs, your actions are doing more to radicalize ordinary people than you can imagine.

    https://www.amren.com/videos/2021/11/keep-it-up-white-haters/

    antonio

  8. Tribalistic instincts governed humans and social primates for millions of years. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these social instincts still dwell in every human being, buried in our ancestral DNA. From that perspective, the long path to civilization has been a struggle to tamp down those default perceptual/thought patterns, and replace them with higher-order thinking skills. Our justice system is a triumph of
    cerebral conscious willpower over our primate defaults.

    Yet, something has gone horribly amiss with civilized living in the past 15 years. It is happening all over the world, but it likely started in the United States and spread like a cancer. It was throwing down the gauntlet of “anyone can publish” via websites and social media. Before this Age of Rage, we had media gatekeepers (editors, TV producers) who saw it as their responsibility to exercise quality-control and societal norms over public expression. Last week, a rock music performer named Sophia Uriste pulled down her pants on-stage and urinated on the face of a “can-man” while belting out a song. If you haven’t heard about it, think about what that omission signifies on the part of the national news media. Yes, there are media execs and audiences who, depending on their tribalist-response to information, alternatively amplify or censor. The good-image of the tribe (and sinister oppo-branding of the “other tribe”) defines newsworthiness.

    The problem of civilizational collapse is compounded by the fact that primate social thinking does not have to be taught and learned, it’s inborn. Whereas, civilization is a complex constellation of thinking tools (which have in common learned impulse control) that are not passed along automatically — they have to be taught, learned and mastered over decades of practice. If the education system falters, society quickly heads back in the direction of inborn tribalism.

    Isn’t that what we’re seeing? Is it recognizable as such?

  9. Our system of justice is designed to protect Kyle Rittenhouse from the government. Very much needed in this case. The government filed capital murder charges within 48 hours. A raw abuse of power.

  10. “By the second night of rioting, streams of out-of-state professional Black Lives Matter and Antifa rioters had flooded into the city.”

    “BLM rioters burned his lot two nights in a row, destroying all the cars and stealing from the office before burning that too. “This is not the America I came in to,” said Sam.

    “I’m a minority too. I’m a brown person. I have nothing to do with this,” said Sam. The 17 people Sam employed have all lost their jobs “for nothing.” Sam has lost “every dime” he has in last few days.”

  11. “… he was not doing anything illegal in guarding a business at the owner’s request or walking down the street….”

    The problem I see is the reasoning behind Kyle “guarding a business” as justification for having an AR. Realistically Kyle wouldn’t have been able to use his AR to protect the business for several reasons. The law is pretty clear about when and how you can use a deadly weapon. As he demonstrated in court he KNEW the limitations on using his AR. He couldn’t shoot anyone vandalizing the property. He couldn’t shoot anyone trying to enter it either. The only legal reason he could fire his weapon if he was in imminent danger of losing his life. His “guarding of the business” Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum first after he threw a plastic bag at him. Rosenbaum was unarmed.

    Throwing a plastic bag at Kyle was not an imminent threat to his life yet Kyle fired at Rosenbaum. That act itself was illegal. Wisconsin doesn’t have a stand your ground law. Rittenhouse was obligated to retreat from the threat if he had the means to. A plastic bag being thrown at him was not justification for firing his weapon. I believe that’s one key charge the prosecutors should have had no problem with, but given the bad mistakes they made and the focus on other charges it didn’t get the attention it deserved.

    1. Svelaz — Let me guess, you get your news from MSNBC! You left out the part where Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse and tried to grab his rifle. Earlier in the day, Rosenbaum had threatened to kill Rittenhouse and others — the guy was clearly unstable. So grabbing someone’s gun after having threatened to kill them is the context. And that’s why the jury found self-defense to be the most reasonable verdict. Most everyone — except the hardcore racists — who objects to this verdict does so because they don’t have the facts. And they don’t have the facts because they watch too much CNN and MSNBC, who were reporting false information even after the verdict. This was not journalistic error — it was a calculated attempt to undermine the jury system, which we already know the left hates and wants to abolish. Liberals have adopted the BLM line that the US legal system is inherently racist and must be destroyed (destruction being their go-to solution for everything). This is false, but the left never bothers to do any research, so how would they know. They still view the US through the prism of 1619.

      1. Svelaz — Let me guess, you get your news from MSNBC!

        Svelaz crosses state lines to post from IP addresses Darren hasnt blocked…yet

        😉

      2. Giocon1 says:

        “it was a calculated attempt to undermine the jury system, which we already know the left hates and wants to abolish”

        Wait until Allen Weisselberg and other Trump associates and, perhaps, Trump himself, are in the dock being prosecuted.

        Then we’ll watch to see the Trumpists’ fidelity to the jury system! They will scream, “WITCH-HUNT.”

    2. Throwing a plastic bag isn’t, but lunging to grab a weapon by the barrel and forcibly take it sure is. Interesting how people conveniently ignore that fact.

    3. …Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum first after he threw a plastic bag at him. — Svelaz

      I may be blind, but it’s easy to see thru you.

    4. He doesn’t need a justification to carry a rifle. But, post hoc, it’s obvious that he needed the gun.

    5. Wow, you must not have followed the case except the lies by the mainstream media. Please look into the facts. It was not a plastic bag that triggered Mr. Rittenhouse to shoot. Shees.

    6. “guarding a business” as justification for having an AR.

      You can cede all of you rights, Gods speed.

      I am going to fight to protect mine. I do not need any justification of exercise my rights.

      You are the last person to lecture others on what is ‘proper’.

    7. The problem I see is the reasoning behind Kyle “guarding a business” as justification for having an AR.

      Your “problem” has a problem. There are legal justifications for use of deadly force when “guarding a business.” As Rittenhouse proved, he was aware of what those justifications were, as evidenced by his exercising his right to self defense. No problem.

  12. Sometimes satire and sarcasm when combined are an effective method of communication….Gutfeld does it well.

    Let’s frame all discussion about Officer involved shootings, University infringement upon freedom of speech, and even the Rittenhouse case….and now the Kenosha Christmas Parade Massacre using Gutfeld’s observations.

    I would encourage Gutfeld and Turley meet sometime and have a quiet evening to talk about what is going on in this country…..for sure it would yield some new targets for Gutfeld’s insightful humor.

    Turley would appreciate a bit of good humor I am sure.

    Gutfeld is spot on when he talks about the effect prisms have on our points of view and how some are influenced by that altered view or reality.

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