The Illinois teenager accused of fatally shooting two men and wounding another in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has raised alarm about the specter of armed vigilante groups seeking to confront rioters in the name of protecting U.S. cities beset by protest mayhem.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, faces murder charges after turning himself in to authorities in Antioch, Illinois. He is to be extradited Friday to Wisconsin, where he allegedly shot and killed two men and wounded a third during protests Tuesday in Kenosha.
His arrival coincided with an event promoted by a group called the Kenosha Guard on social media, which encouraged people to descend on the town of 100,000 to “Protect our Lives and Property” after rioting on Monday, according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab.
“While the full details of the fatal incident are still being investigated by law enforcement, the seeds of potential violence were planted over the course of the day leading up it, as multiple threads on Facebook and reddit encouraged militiamen and other armed individuals to head to Kenosha, ostensibly to protect local businesses from protesters,” said the council analysis.
The surge of vigilantism came as outrage over the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake on Sunday continued to fuel the Black Lives Matter movement, most visibly as major sports figures and leagues boycotted games and discussed cancelling their seasons.
Mr. Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, may be permanently paralyzed after being shot seven times in the back by a white officer after police were called for a domestic dispute. Mr. Blake was shot as he leaned into the driver’s side of his car, where he had a knife, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
NBA playoff games were postponed again Thursday to show solidarity for Mr. Blake, while several NFL teams opted not to practice. The NHL also delayed its playoff games, while the MLB continued to call off games.
The NBA, which has promoted the “Black Lives Matter” message on its practice shirts and courts, said in a statement that games are expected to resume Friday or Saturday.
In a statement, the Milwaukee Bucks called for the Wisconsin state Legislature to reconvene and “take up meaningful measures to address the issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.”
In Kenosha, authorities said Thursday that the previous night’s protests were relatively calm after the arrival of 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops and a surge of federal law enforcement aimed at defusing the mayhem spurred by Sunday’s police shooting of Mr. Blake.
Kenosha police Chief Dan Miskinis described the crowd of several hundred people as comparatively small and peaceful, with fewer arrests made, mostly on weapons charges and outstanding warrants.
“The situation is much calmer, the persons are lawfully protesting, and that continues late into the night and early into the morning with persons making their views, making their concerns known,” Chief Miskinis said. “Many people were out expressing their views yesterday, in support of every cause, different sides of issues, whether they’re pro-protesters, anti-protesters, pro-police, anti-police, many people were out speaking their minds.”
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said, “I think the people who were here last night were Kenosha’s people.”
“We didn’t see streams of cars coming in from out of Kenosha County,” Chief Beth said Thursday at a press conference. “A huge part of me thinks that a lot of our issues start when different people with different agendas come here to Kenosha.”
Social media also has advertised for anti-police protesters to show up and raise a ruckus, he noted, pointing to one that “looked like a party invitation,” asking people to “wear your black outfits, wear black masks, bring your backpacks filled with Molotov cocktails and rocks.”
While Democrats have for the most part been slow to condemn the rioting and looting, several were quick to denounce the vigilante shooting, describing it as the work of a white supremacist.
“A 17 year old white supremacist domestic terrorist drove across state lines, armed with an AR 15,” tweeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts Democrat. “He shot and killed 2 people who had assembled to affirm the value, dignity, and worth of Black lives.”
Portland journalist Andy Ngo tweeted back, “What evidence do you have that he is a white supremacist domestic terrorist? No media has found white supremacist links or sympathies & authorities have said nothing to that effect.”
The suspect, Mr. Rittenhouse, is White, as were all three shooting victims: Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wisconsin; and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, were both killed; and Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis, was shot in the arm, according to media reports.
Photos of Mr. Rittenhouse on social media show him in a police cadet uniform and a firefighter outfit, and his social media posts reveal a number of pro-police statements, according to Heavy.com.
In an interview that night with The Daily Caller, he said he was there in front of a business to guard it.
“People are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business,” Mr. Rittenhouse said. “And part of my job is also to help people. If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle because I can protect myself obviously and my med kit.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul condemned “armed vigilantes, arsonists, and other opportunists” in a Wednesday statement.
“The heavily armed vigilantes, arsonists, and other opportunists who have come to Kenosha to attempt to spur chaos have interfered with that and caused drastic harm to people,” Mr. Kaul said. “If those engaging in violence and destruction of property believe they are furthering some broader goal, they are wrong. They should leave Kenosha.”
Meanwhile, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said nobody should be surprised by the shootings after three months of protest mayhem that some U.S. cities, notably Portland, Oregon, seem unable to defuse.
“Kenosha has devolved into anarchy because the authorities in charge of the city abandoned it. People in charge from the governor of Wisconsin on down refused to enforce the law, so are we really surprised that looting and arson descended into murder?” Mr. Carlson said. “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would? Everyone could see what was happening in Kenosha. It was getting crazier by the hour.”
Video of the incident shows the suspect being chased by protesters, being hit with a skateboard and falling to the ground before firing his rifle, fueling debate on social media over whether he intended to kill protesters or was acting in self-defense.
Sheriff Beth said he received a hint of things to come when a caller asked if he would deputize armed citizens to patrol the streets of the Wisconsin town beset by rioting and looting.
“I had a person call me and say, why don’t you deputize citizens who have guns to come out and patrol the city of Kenosha, and I’m like, oh, hell no,” Sheriff Beth said. “What happened last night … is probably the perfect reason why I wouldn’t.”
He said the state and his county would be responsible for the actions of any deputized citizens.
“What a scary, scary thought that would be in my world,” Sheriff Beth said. “Part of the problem with this group is they create confrontation … It doesn’t help us.”