The law enforcement–obsessed 17-year-old who was charged with shooting and killing two people and injuring another in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests for Jacob Blake appeared in the front row at a Donald Trump rally in January.
Kyle Howard Rittenhouse’s social media presence is filled with him posing with weapons, posting “Blue Lives Matter,” and supporting Trump for president. Footage from the Des Moines, Iowa, rally on Jan. 30 shows Rittenhouse feet away from the president, in the front row, to the left of the podium. He posted a TikTok video from the event.
Seven months later, Rittenhouse went with his rifle to the third night of Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha after police shot Blake, a Black man who is now paralyzed as a result, according to his family. Rittenhouse attended as an armed vigilante, supposedly assisting police and protecting property in an unofficial capacity. Instead, he allegedly prowled the protest with a gun. Videos captured him fraternizing with law enforcement and attempting to get their attention.
By the end of the evening, he was considered a fugitive on the run. He was arrested Wednesday morning in Antioch, Illinois, and is expected to be extradited to Wisconsin to face charges of first-degree intentional homicide. Rittenhouse’s mother did not respond to a request for comment. The Lake County Public Defender’s Office, who represented him in court today, told BuzzFeed News it does not comment on active cases.
Wednesday’s arrest record from Antioch police states that Rittenhouse “fled the state of Wisconsin with the intent to avoid prosecution for the offense.” According to public records, Rittenhouse lived in Antioch, which is about 20 miles away from Kenosha, with his mother and siblings and worked as a lifeguard at the local YMCA.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, Trump 2020 campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said, “President Trump has repeatedly and consistently condemned all forms of violence and believes we must protect all Americans from chaos and lawlessness. This individual had nothing to do with our campaign and we fully support our fantastic law enforcement for their swift action in this case.”
A close look at his social media accounts and background show a teenager obsessed with law enforcement who also identified as a strong supporter of President Donald Trump and “Blue Lives Matter,” a pro–law enforcement movement that evolved in response to Black Lives Matter.
His connections to law enforcement, however, go beyond his vocal support of police on social media. In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, the Grayslake Police Department confirmed that Rittenhouse was a former member of the Lindenhurst, Grayslake, Hainesville Police Department's Public Safety Cadet Program.
According to a description that was recently removed from the department’s official website, the program “offers boys and girls the opportunity to explore a career in law enforcement” through “hands-on career activities,” such as riding along with officers on patrol and firearms training.
Along with the page describing the Public Safety Cadet Program, the organization’s official Facebook account was deleted after images from 2018 of a boy in a police uniform identified as “Kyle” began to circulate online. BuzzFeed News has not been able to confirm that the boy in the image is Rittenhouse.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Lindenhurst Police Department for comment on the removal of both these pages.
Rittenhouse was also a fire protection cadet with the Antioch Fire Department. Its chief, Jon Cokefair, confirmed Rittenhouse was part of the program, which he said has been discontinued since March due to COVID-19. The program, taught by firefighters, introduces high school students to a career in firefighting. “Our weapons are axes and fire hoses. We don’t have any kind of firearms training or anything,” said Cokefair, who declined to comment on Rittenhouse’s charges.
On his now-deleted Facebook page, Rittenhouse is seen posing with an AR-15–style rifle above the words “Blue Lives Matter.” Nearly all of his public Facebook posts are related to the movement, including two posts in memory of officers who were killed in the line of duty. On Dec. 22, 2018, he asked his friends to donate to “Humanizing the Badge,” a “nonprofit organization seeking to forge stronger relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
His social media pages indicated he had access to at least two different types of guns before Tuesday. A video posted to one of his two TikTok accounts on July 21 shows him assembling what appears to be the rifle pictured in his Facebook profile image. In two videos posted Aug. 13, he and a friend are shown firing a weapon he identifies as a 12-gauge shotgun. In these videos, Rittenhouse is wearing a backward cap featuring an image of the American flag that appears to be the same hat worn by the shooter.
Rittenhouse wrote “BLUE LIVES MATTER 🔵” and “Trump 2020 🇺🇸 🇺🇸” in his TikTok bio.
Videos taken on Tuesday night appear to show Rittenhouse running through the streets holding a large gun while weaving through protesters, who’d gathered to demand justice for Blake. Right before midnight, Kenosha police said three people were shot on the corner of 63rd Street and Sheridan Road, and noted that “investigators are aware of the social media video being circulated regarding the incident.”
In one video clip, a law enforcement official in an armored truck is seen handing a bottle of water to someone believed to be Rittenhouse. In a separate video, a man believed to be Rittenhouse says he was "pepper-sprayed by a person in the crowd" and that he was ready to defend property.
In video allegedly taken after the shootings, an armed man, who appears to be Rittenhouse, walks directly toward four police vehicles, holding his weapon and his arms raised. People can be seen shouting at police that he had just shot someone, but the police vehicles drive past the armed man and do not detain him. When asked about the video Wednesday, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said that in those situations police have “incredible tunnel vision” because of the loud noises — “there’s screaming, hollering, and chanting” — and could not explain why they did not detain him.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Beth said he’d been asked by a group of armed vigilantes to deputize citizens to allow them to help law enforcement during protests. Referencing the shootings that killed two people, Beth said, “I think they were part of this group that wanted me to deputize them."
According to court records, Rittenhouse appeared at Lake County Circuit Court on Wednesday and will appear in court again on Friday for an extradition hearing.
Ellie Hall is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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