Weeks after Kyle Rittenhouse said he wanted to “lay low” when he was found not guilty of homicide, attempted homicide and other charges related to last year’s fatal shootings that rocked Kenosha, Wis., the teen was welcomed Monday at a conservative conference to music, pyrotechnics and a standing ovation from thousands of attendees.
“You’re a hero to millions,” Turning Point USA leader Charlie Kirk told Rittenhouse during the group’s AmericaFest gathering in Phoenix. “It’s an honor to be able to have you.”
Amid the pomp and circumstance for an 18-year-old who had the crowd chanting his name, Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two men and injured another during mass protests against police violence in August 2020, suggested Monday that lawsuits could be filed against media outlets for how they covered his murder trial.
“There’s going to be some media accountability coming soon,” Rittenhouse told Fox News.
Rittenhouse did not identify any media outlets he could sue or cite any examples of alleged defamation, and he has not taken legal action against a media company. His attorney and family spokesman did not immediately respond to messages early Tuesday.
If he sues media outlets, Rittenhouse would follow the recent footsteps of Nicholas Sandmann, who announced Friday that he has reached a settlement with NBC News regarding its coverage of an interaction between the Catholic school student and Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington during the March for Life in 2019. When asked by Fox about Sandmann’s latest settlement, Rittenhouse responded, “Good for him.”
The Washington Post settled a lawsuit by Sandmann’s parents last year. Sandmann’s family contended in a suit filed in 2019 that The Post defamed Sandmann in seven articles and in tweets promoting the articles. The Post has maintained that its reporting was accurate and fair.
Although Rittenhouse has told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the polarization around his case was “sickening,” the teen has been embraced by conservatives in the weeks after he was acquitted of all charges for killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27. Rittenhouse admitted shooting the men, but he maintained that he acted in self-defense. Some conservatives have lionized him, while critics have described him as a violent vigilante.
In the month since a jury found him not guilty, Rittenhouse has given interviews in which he has acknowledged that traveling to Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake was “not the best idea.” He recently met with former president Donald Trump, who called him “a nice young man,” and the teen is the subject of a documentary from Carlson airing on Fox Nation titled “The Trial of Kyle.”
Inside the Phoenix Convention Center, the roughly 6,700 in attendance were in a celebratory mood before Rittenhouse’s appearance. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who spoke at the event Monday, praised Rittenhouse — “my new friend” — a couple of hours before he spoke.
“You have the right to self-defense!” Boebert said.
Those in attendance chanted “Kyle! Kyle! Kyle!” in the moments before he walked onstage, the Arizona Republic reported.
A video of his entrance posted to Twitter has been viewed more than 1 million times. It shows pyrotechnics welcoming Rittenhouse onstage, while people in the audience hold up cellphone cameras to capture the moment. A digital version of the American flag has his name emblazoned across the stars and stripes as his entrance music repeats Rittenhouse’s name.
Critics online noted the welcome that Rittenhouse received, which one said included “WrestleMania-quality entrance pyro.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse gets a rock star reception at the Turning Point USA event in AZ,” observed Elex Michaelson, an anchor for KTTV in Los Angeles.
Kyle Rittenhouse gets a rock star reception at the Turning Point USA event in AZ.— Elex Michaelson (@Elex_Michaelson) December 21, 2021
The teen was found not guilty of criminal charges after admitting to shooting & killing two people in WI. He says it was self defense.
He’a now seen as a hero by some activists on the right pic.twitter.com/fBvl2pKT6q
Rittenhouse’s appearance was one of the more high-profile slots at the four-day event for Turning Point USA, the prominent conservative youth organization that has supported Trump and his false assertions of fraud in the 2020 presidential election that he lost to Joe Biden. Rittenhouse showed up the same day that Fox News host Jesse Watters suggested at AmericaFest that people upset with coronavirus measures should “ambush” Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top federal infectious-disease expert, in a street interview with a rhetorical “kill shot.” Fauci on Tuesday called for Watters to be fired.
Some Republicans criticized Turning Point USA for inviting Rittenhouse to speak at the event, saying it diminished the party.
“Whether or not you agree with the verdict is one thing,” Ashley Pratte Oates, a board member for Republican Women for Progress and a communications strategist, wrote in an opinion article for NBC News. “Glorifying someone who fatally shot two people and injured another (even though acquitted) is another.”
But Turning Point USA defended bringing Rittenhouse to AmericaFest, saying that “there’s a lot of people that want to hear what he has to say, and there’s a tremendous amount of interest.”
“You know, he didn’t ask for it, but he became this cultural symbol, a touch point of self-defense,” Turning Point USA spokesman Andrew Kolvet told the Republic. “He got thrust into that, and he has a story to tell.”
In a 45-minute panel discussion with Kirk and others, there was a brief reference to one of the men Rittenhouse fatally shot, according to local media. At one point, Rittenhouse said he was a scapegoat in an alleged government effort to take away people’s guns.
“My trial was an example of them trying to come after our Second Amendment rights, our right to defend ourselves and trying to take our weapons,” he told the crowd.
AZ Right Wing Watch tweeted about how Rittenhouse’s celebrity was held in high regard among those in attendance.
“They asked if any of the women in the crowd wanted to go on a date with him & there were loud cheers,” the group wrote. “Someone had a ‘kiss me’ sign.”
Although the other panelists talked for most of the session, Rittenhouse said the trial had matured him: “You can only live one day at a time.” When he also suggested the possibility of lawsuits against the media, his remarks drew cheers from the sympathetic crowd.
“Accountability is coming,” he said. “I’d be on the lookout.”