Kyle Rittenhouse Can Sue Lots of People (and Media) for Defamation

Kyle Rittenhouse after being found not guilty of all charges
Pool/Getty

Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial began long before he ever set foot in court. Rittenhouse was arguably pronounced guilty in the court of public opinion by corporate media, Democrat politicians and activists, and Hollywood celebrities. Even during and after the trial, when the full story became widely and publicly apparent, a sort of collusion took place to mystify the truth.

Now acquitted of all charges, including several homicide charges, 18-year-old Rittenhouse has come to another crossroads: Will he spend more time in court to hold accountable the people and companies who defamed him?

If courts were to conclude that Rittenhouse is what is called a “limited public figure,” Rittenhouse will have to prove that these companies and individuals acted with “actual malice” — that is, with reckless disregard for the truth. For some false allegations, he would have to show how they damaged his reputation. But specific claims where he was wrongly accused of a felony — factual errors — would no doubt damage his reputation.

Since many high profile people voiced their thoughts before, during, and after the trial, it would be an extremely long article to list everyone who ever defamed Rittenhouse. That being said, here is a by no means exhaustive list of everyone he could sue for defamation.

Media and Tech Companies

In journalism, whether broadcast, digital, or print, due diligence is of the upmost importance, though seemingly often disregarded in the current era. In the Rittenhouse case, some of the biggest corporate media companies repeatedly got the facts of the case wrong or misrepresented them, while insinuating guilt, sometimes a year before the trial even took place. “His mother drove him to the riots,” “They were peaceful anti-racism protests,” “He carried a gun illegally,” “He carried a gun across state lines,” “He traveled across state lines to a town he had no business being in” “He is a white supremacist” — the list goes on.

But worse, and what a judge would consider in a defamation case, are assertions of domestic terrorism and murder — both felonies and factually incorrect, which means legally those assertions cannot be written off  simply as “opinions.” Rittenhouse could also sue companies for accusing him of “vigilantism” and more indirectly painting a narrative to make him look guilty, though he would have to prove how his reputation was damaged by those actions. It should be noted that defamation comes in two forms: slander, which is verbal, and in writing, which is libel.

CNN 

Almost assuredly, there are more than a few examples of reckless coverage from far-left CNN, but here are a few:

    • On August 31, 2020, just a few days after the shootings, CNN published a story on its website titled “Trump refuses to denounce violent actions by right-wing agitators.”

The article says. [emphasis added]:

Social media accounts believed to belong to Rittenhouse portray a young White man with an affinity for guns who supports “Blue Lives Matter” and Trump. Asked if he agreed with armed vigilantes like Rittenhouse taking to the streets, Trump said he’d “like to see law enforcement take care of everything,” but didn’t condemn vigilantism.

At that point, no one knew, factually speaking, whether Rittenhouse was a vigilante or not, and it is therefore not something he should have been accused of or something a sitting president should slammed him in the media for not denouncing. The publication could have saved itself by saying, “alleged armed vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse,” but did not do so [albeit, it would still be obviously biased].

CNN also emphasized Rittenhouse’s support for law enforcement, which given the publication’s audience and the current societal context of “defund the police,” “All Cops Are Bastards,” the Black Lives Matter movement and high profile police shootings, doing so would obviously make Rittenhouse look a certain way and insinuate some level of intent. The headline also by default lumps Rittenhouse in with “right-wing agitators,” again with no proof at the time that Rittenhouse was an agitator.

      • On November 12, 2021, CNN’s Don Lemon hosted a segment in which he and his guests grossly mischaracterized the case and allowed several factual inaccuracies to air without correction — all of which made Rittenhouse seem guilty.

The whole segment was about vigilantism and is littered with talk of white supremacy and white nationalism. Lemon conflated the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the Ahmaud Arbery trial, and the Rittenhouse trial, and he and his guests mixed them all together in an effort to paint them all as examples of racism. There were also several overtures to murder, and Lemon never did due diligence by mentioning the possibility that Rittenhouse was attacked and possibly acted in self-defense.

Here is a bit of the transcript from the segment [emphasis added]:

“LEMON: The role of vigilantism, a key factor in the trials playing out in Wisconsin and in Georgia. But what does it have to do with January 6 and the rioters who stormed the Capitol? Let’s get right to it now. CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers and CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams are both here. Good evening to both of you. Happy Friday. Happy Friday. Bakari, I want you to look at all the people at the center of these incidents: the January 6 insurrectionists, Kyle Rittenhouse, the three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery. What is the through line that you see?

BAKARI:  I think, Don, you pointed out something in the word vigilantism. What you’re seeing is that individuals are taking what they believe to be misdeeds in their own hands. You have people storm the Capitol because they felt like government wasn’t doing their job.

You had people in Kenosha or Rittenhouse in Kenosha allowing his mom to take him across state lines with AR-15, which still blows my mind because, I mean, my mom asks me if I had McDonald’s money. So, I can’t even imagine asking her if she would take me across state lines with an AR-15. But that’s a whole another story about where is his father and because government was not doing their job. And in Georgia, you had individuals who thought Ahmaud Arbery was breaking into homes or trespassing, and government wasn’t doing their job. And so, there is this through line where white men feel as if they have to take, you know, this vigilantism into their hands and this is what happens, bloodshed.

CBS

On November 11, 2021, CBS in a now-deleted tweet said Rittenhouse admitted to murdering two men in self-defense.

“Kyle Rittenhouse testified in his own murder trial yesterday, breaking down in tears as he told the jury he murdered two men at a Black Lives Matter protest last year in self-defense,” the tweet read.

The company seemingly realized its mistake, though undoubtedly hundreds, if not thousands of people saw the original post.

MSNBC

      • On November 16, 2021, MSNBC’s Joy Reid did a segment comparing the Rittenhouse trial and the Arbery trial and asked if the cases will serve as proof that white men can act as “executioners.” She also called Rittenhouse a “teenage vigilante.” The Title on MSNBC’s YouTube clip of the segment is  also titled “Joy Reid: Two Cases Will Tell Us If Armed, Primarily White Men Can Be Judge, Jury, Executioner” and seems to assume guilt. [emphasis added]

      • During the trial, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough falsely claimed Rittenhouse’s mother of drove him “across state lines” before “unloading 60 rounds.” Scarborough also said Rittenhouse  “appointed himself a militia member.” He later corrected himself on Twitter saying he misspoke and meant to say he unloaded rounds in “60 seconds.” But the damage via broadcast was arguably already done. 

Twitter and television do not necessarily attract the same audience or demographic.Scarborough’s online “retraction” got a few hundred reactions at most compared to probably 500K to a million views on television.  

      • On Saturday after Rittenhouse’s acquittal,  MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross took aim at Reps. Matt Gaetz [R-FL] and Paul Gosar [R-AZ] for suggestions Rittenhouse could be a congressional intern. The MSNBC “Cross Connection” host then referred to Rittenhouse as a “little murderous white supremacist” in her critique.

She said: [emphasis added]

The fact that white supremacists roam the halls of Congress freely and celebrate this little murderous white supremacist, and the fact that he gets to walk the streets freely, it lets you know these people have access to instituting laws, they represent the legislative branch of this country.

Daily Beast

      • On August 27, 2020, the Daily Beast published an article titled “Teen Vigilante Killed Unarmed Kenosha Protester Who Threw a Plastic Bag at Him: Court Docs” [emphasis added.]

The article characterizes Rittenhouse as a vigilante without evidence and then grossly under-represents the threat to Rittenhouse in the headline by pretending the only threat was a “plastic bag.” The writer mentioned that Rosenbaum tried to grab Rittenhouse’s gun halfway down in the story.

New York Times

This one is more indirect, but the New York Times is accused of burying a story until after the 2020 election which detailed the extent of the violence during the Kenosha riots. It could be argued that the alleged intentional repression of facts, which would influence the way the public sees the Rittenhouse case, is extremely damaging. The void created by a lack of correct information arguably allowed a lie to spread that Rittenhouse went to Kenosha to terrorize peaceful protestors.

ABC News 

In October of 2020, ABC News referred to Rittenhouse as an “alleged white supremacist,” despite the fact that the 18-year-old has no known ties to white supremacism.

According to an archived version of the report:

Rittenhouse, an alleged white supremacist accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the wake of an officer-involved shooting, appeared via Zoom for an Illinois hearing where his attorney contested the teen’s extradition to Wisconsin to face homicide and other charges in connection with the August shootings.

Since then, ABC News seemingly edited the piece to take out the language, though there is no editor’s note addressing the change. Instead, the newer version of the article includes a statement from Rittenhouse’s lawyer saying accusations of white supremacy are unfounded.

The update reads:

In their petition, Rittenhouse’s lawyers argued that “misinformation and false accusations … are polluting Rittenhouse’s future jury pool and inspiring threats to his life.”

Among the statements cited were an August tweet by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., referring to Rittenhouse as a “17-year-old white supremacist” and a video released by the Joe Biden campaign which included Rittenhouse’s image in a way his attorneys say “falsely portray[ed] Rittenhouse as a white supremacist intent on committing harm, without a shred of evidence to support those claims.”

In a statement issued in August, defense attorney John Pierce said: “Kyle is not a racist or a white supremacist. He is a brave, patriotic, compassionate law-abiding American who loves his country and his community. He did nothing wrong. He defended himself, which is a fundamental right of all Americans given by God and protected by law.”

Facebook

In a comment to Breitbart News, a Facebook spokesman confirmed that the company is removing posts “in support” of Rittenhouse, because the incident is considered a “mass murder” by the company.

“We’ve designated the shooting in Kenosha a mass murder and are removing posts in support of the shooter, including this one,” said the spokesman.

The company has not said whether it has changed its policy since Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges.

Notable Democrat Politicians

Several Democrat House members called Rittenhouse a “domestic terrorist” and a “murderer,” even after he was acquitted. While House and Senate members are protected by legislative immunity during official speeches on the floor of the House or Senate, committee hearings, and similar official settings. What they say is not protected during press conferences, in the media, or on social media.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley [D-MA]

      • On August 26, 2020, the day after the shootings and well before the trial and verdict, Pressley took to Twitter to call Rittenhouse a “terrorist.”

“A 17 year old white supremacist domestic terrorist drove across state lines, armed with an AR15. He shot and killed two people who had assembled to affirm the value, dignity, and worth of Black lives. Fix your damn headlines,” she tweeted. [emphasis added] 

Rep. Ilhan Omar [D-MN]

On August 27, 2020, Omar tweeted, saying Rittenhouse “executed two people,” calling him a domestic terrorist. She said: [emphasis added]

A domestic terrorist executed two people, and according to Tucker and his supporters this is “maintaining order.”Their murderous rants have inspired many mass shooters and now they aren’t even trying to distance themselves from it, they are excusing it. God help us.

Rep. Cori Bush [D-MO]

      • On Oct. 26, 2021, Bush called Rittenhouse a “white supremacist murderer.”

“The white supremacist murderer is ‘just a kid’, but the victims who were standing up for Black lives are ‘rioters’, ‘looters’, and ‘arsonists’. That’s how much this injustice system values Black lives. That’s how deeply rooted white supremacy is in our society,” she said. [emphasis added]

      • Then, after Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges on November 19, Bush doubled down and called him a “murderer” again.

She tweeted: [emphasis added]

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. I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m heartbroken.

Rep.  Eric Swalwell [D-CA]

      • Congressman Swalwell, who is accused of allegedly having an affair with a Chinese spy, conflated Rittenhouse with Trump supporters in September 2020 and then asserted that “Trumpism has become terrorism.”

“The President is encouraging Americans to take up arms and commit violence against unarmed people. Trumpism has become terrorism,” he wrote. [emphasis added]

Rep. Jamaal Bowman [D-NY]

A day after the shootings, Bowman tweeted about Rittenhouse, saying both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who were campaigning at the time, needed to condemn “domestic terrorists looking to incite a race war.”

He said: [emphasis added] 

We need @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris to condemn the armed militias that killed two people in Kenosha yesterday while working in tandem with local police. These militias are domestic terrorists looking to incite a race war. “Protecting private property” is cover for their agenda.

Now-President Joe Biden

      • As Breitbart News previously reported, Biden could face a civil defamation suit from newly-acquitted Rittenhouse for calling him a “white supremacist” last year — without evidence, and before Biden was able to enjoy the immunities of presidential office.

Rittenhouse’s mother Wendy criticized Biden for doing so, accusing him of defaming her son.

“I was so angry for a while at him and what he did to my son, he defamed him,” Rittenhouse’s mother said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Biden has not back-peddled his statement, and his administration dug him a deeper hole by saying the president condemns “vigilantes” armed with “assault weapons” as the trial wrapped up in Wisconsin.

“What I can reiterate for you is the president’s view that we shouldn’t have, broadly speaking, vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a daily briefing.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki

In addition to associating Rittenhouse with “vigilantes” during his trial, Psaki, in a briefing on Tuesday, linked Rittenhouse to the Proud Boys, implicating that he is a violent “white supremacist.”

Fox News’s Peter Doocy asked Psaki whether the president would apologize, given Rittenhouse’s acquittal, and the lack of any evidence that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist.

“Rather than answer the question, Psaki attempted to blame former President Donald Trump for the violence, claiming that he had “actively” supported white supremacists and militia groups during his presidency, and that the violence involving Rittenhouse was a consequence,” Breitbart News reported. “She also claimed that Rittenhouse had “posed for photos” with the Proud Boys, a right-wing group.”

Unlike the president, Psaki does not enjoy immunity from civil torts while Biden is in office. Given the outcome of the trial, the contrary evidence against tying Rittenhouse to white supremacist or militia groups, and the judge’s rejection of a connection with the “Proud Boys,” Psaki could arguably be said to have acted with “actual malice.”

Other Notable Democrats and Celebrities

Stacey Abrams

      • During a November 23, 2020 interview on MSMNC, failed Georgia governor candidate Abrams said Rittenhouse committed “murder.” 

Abrams said:

So, I believe that, where possible, no-cash bail should be used. But I do believe in retaining a system that says that, if someone is dangerous, there should be the ability to hold them. And I think Kyle Rittenhouse is proof-positive that, when someone is willing to cross state lines to commit murder, that is a signal that we need to absolutely have a system of justice that actually understands that justice matters in each instance.

Colin Kaepernick

Following Rittenhouse’s acquittal, Kaepernick, a former NFL football player who is infamous for taking a knee during the National Anthem, accused Rittenhouse of “terroristic acts.”

“We just witnessed a system built on white supremacy validate the terroristic acts of a white supremacistThis only further validates the need to abolish our current system. White supremacy cannot be reformed,” he said. [emphasis added] 

Pedro Pascal

      • On Saturday, Star Wars star Pedro Pascal jumped to his Twitter account to memorialize two of the men who threatened and attacked Rittenhouse, insisting they were “murdered.”

“Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 27, murdered August 25th, 2020,” he said, posting a photo of the two men’s faces. “Rest In Peace.”

Actress Rosanna Arquette

Arquette, who once compared U.S. law enforcement to the “Gestapo,” called Rittenhouse a “murderer.”

Actor Chad Lindberg

Universal’s The Fast and the Furious actor Chad Lindberg called Rittenhouse a “murderer” and a “terrible fucking actor.”

For a list of other celebrity takeaways, click here.

Next Steps

The idea that Rittenhouse could specifically sue media companies for defamation began to gain momentum after Nicholas Sandmann penned a column in the Daily Mail exploring that very possibility. Sandmann himself settled a $275 million lawsuit against CNN in 2020 over the network’s coverage of a confrontation involving himself and his classmates and a Native American man during a school trip to Washington, DC.

“The attacks on Kyle came from the national news media, just as they came for me,” Sandmann wrote. He later continued:

Kyle should also be prepared for a long trial which will be present in his mind for years. I personally am still involved in six media lawsuits as January approaches marking three years since the confrontation took place at the March for Life. So, if Kyle is prepared to take on another burden in his early life, with the acceptance that it might result in nothing, I answer, give it a shot and hold the media accountable.

Following Rittenhouse’s acquittal “#defamation” was even trending on Twitter, with thousands of users calling for accountability.

According to a Townhall report, Rittenhouse’s spokesman, David Hancock, hinted that “accountability in the form of lawsuits might be coming.”

“The potential exists for quite a lot of lawsuits,” Hancock said. “The false reporting cannot be overlooked.”

A Twitter thread from journalist Drew Holden and several Breitbart News reports were helpful in making this story possible. 

Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter.

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