Social media stokes division and militancy in America

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial shows the dangerous effects of conspiracy theories and social media


Conor Metzger, Staff Columnist

A couple of weeks ago, the nation was shocked by the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse for the shooting of three people during a Black Lives Matter protest. Many saw the acquittal as a failure of the American justice system, while others saw it as proof of the efficacy of the justice system. What should we make of this moment in history? Should we be angry or proud? Or, does asking this question simply show what’s wrong with our society?

The answer is yes. Now more than ever, we are turning our eyes away from nuance and looking for a quick answer about how we should show our emotion. But, instead of taking to Twitter to post hot takes, we should explore the details of the Rittenhouse trial and craft our opinion from facts.

Rittenhouse was 17 years old and used an AR-style semi-automatic weapon in the attack. If you’re not familiar, while this gun is not technically an AR-15, it is still a definite killing machine — it can cause a substantial amount of damage in a relatively open space, within a short amount of time. I personally believe that he should not have been allowed to carry that gun into a known hostile environment — although the question of whether it was hostile before he arrived is debatable, there is no doubt that the presence of that weapon added to the hostility.

Was Rittenhouse legally allowed to carry that gun? The answer is yes. Wisconsin state laws allow minors to carry long-barreled rifles and shotguns. While this legislation was meant to allow minors the ability to hunt, the judge ruled in favor of the plain text of the statute, which put Rittenhouse in the clear.

Nuance is required to understand the more serious murder and assault charges placed against Rittenhouse. For self-defense to be justified, the writing of the law requires proof that you had a reasonable fear for your life at the beginning of an altercation. The defense team reasoned that Rittenhouse did fear for his life as people reached for his weapon and pointed other weapons towards him.

Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges after a careful examination of state and federal law and the resulting decision of the jury. This decision does not demand our agreement or appreciation of the result, but it does necessitate our respect. I follow the leadership of President Biden, who released a statement that affirmed the power and authority of our legal system to make these decisions and asked the American people to respect this verdict. I respect the verdict found in this case because it shows that our legal system will not bend to the opinion of the masses. But, my respect for the decision doesn’t mean that I should just accept the verdict and not keep an open mind to the other aspects of the case.

If I have not yet made it clear in this opinion, I do not agree with several points of the state law that were examined in this case.

First and foremost, Rittenhouse should not have been allowed to carry a gun into that environment; further, the law that allowed him to — if set apart for the practice of hunting — should be redefined in order to make this meaning clear. Additionally, if a person claims self-defense, they must take responsibility for the actions that preceded their need to use self-defense in the first place.

Rittenhouse did not travel to Kenosha intending to unload a firearm on protestors, but he must have known that it was a dangerous space where an underaged, untrained boy might face danger, especially if he was carrying a dangerous weapon. Rittenhouse should have been held accountable for the reason that he was in Kenosha, but the law was unable to perform this function.

We do not always consider all the aspects of a case or the law that judges it. We move in a fast-paced society. Our media works to supply us with a ten-second clip or quick information blast about an event so that we can efficiently move on to the next issue. But, if we could stop every once in a while, and consider the broad effects of a landmark trial, we would see that these are rarely black and white cases. It is rare that someone is 100% right or 100% wrong. Some arguments are better than others: but, you cannot accurately judge these unless you know the full scope of a story.