In the early goings of the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide proceedings, Judge Bruce Schroeder told attorneys that the case would focus narrowly on the facts and the law. “This is not a political trial,” he said in September. “This is not going to be a political trial.” That was obviously never going to be possible—especially not in a case in which an armed minor, who claims to have been helping protect private property during racial justice protests in a city he didn’t live in, fatally shot two men and wounded a third.
But Schroeder wasn’t actually cautioning lawyers to leave politics at the door as much as he was warning them to leave their politics at the door—the kind of politics that would, say, regard the men Rittenhouse shot and killed in Kenosha last year as “victims.” Indeed, a great deal of politics was permitted in the case, both inside the courtroom and out: The Rittenhouse team was allowed to describe those killed as “rioters” and “looters,” jurors were encouraged to applaud a defense witness because he happened to be a veteran, and the teen’s mother appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program to defend her son ahead of the verdict. She also defended Schroeder in that interview: The judge was “very fair,” she said, and “doesn’t allow nonsense” in the courtroom.
That Schroeder’s court also apparently regarded one kind of politics as neutrality and another as “nonsense” is, of course, an example of the very bias in the legal system that critics have lamented in the wake of Rittenhouse’s acquittal. Insisting something isn’t political in nature doesn’t make it so. But Rittenhouse has continued to do so in his post-trial media tour. Speaking to Ashleigh Banfield in a NewsNation interview Tuesday, the 18-year-old said that he did not “want to get involved in politics at all” and that his case was only about the right to self-defense—“not where you fall, left or right.”
“I’m not a cause person,” Rittenhouse told Banfield. “I’m just a person who was attacked and defended myself.”
But while he may not be accepting any of those internship offers from Matt Gaetz and other right-wing lawmakers trying to out-crazy one another, Rittenhouse hasn’t actually divorced himself from the politics of his case. Before he spoke with Banfield, he sat down for a fawning interview with Tucker Carlson, who had a film crew embedded with Rittenhouse and his defense during the trial for an upcoming documentary on Fox Nation. And, after talking to Carlson, he and his mother went down to Mar-a-Lago to visit Donald Trump, who posed for one of his traditional thumbs-up photos with the smiling teen. (The photo-op, weirdly, took place in front of a photo of the former president meeting Kim Jong Un.) “Really a nice young man,” the former president said of Rittenhouse in an interview Tuesday with Hannity. “What he went through…that was prosecutorial misconduct.”
“Just left Mar-a-Lago a little while ago,” Trump said, describing Rittenhouse as a “fan” of his. “He never should have been put through that,” the former president said. “That was prosecutorial misconduct, and it’s happening all over the United States right now with the Democrats.”
Trump in 2020 described the riots, which grew out of protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake by a white police officer, as “anti-American” acts of “domestic terror.” He also defended Rittenhouse at the time while decrying the violence in “Democrat cities.” Last week, after Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all counts, Trump cheered not only the verdicts, but the teen’s actions: “If that’s not self-defense, nothing is!” he wrote.